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Why People Spend Hours Writing Product Reviews

Humans are social creatures: We like to help one another and feel we are part of a community.

Online shopper woman computer emilybinder.com

The abundance of thorough reviews on sites like Amazon, Yelp, and tripadvisor may appear puzzling at first. Why do people bother? Many of the reviews surpass being simply helpful; they’re invaluable resources when shopping online – especially on Amazon. These mostly unsolicited reviews illustrate and reinforce fundamental principles of society.

Here is a 753-word Amazon Kindle Customer Review by Jeffrey Stanley (a Top 1000 Reviewer). As of this posting, it was on the front page of Amazon, it had received 126 comments, and 7012 of 7153 people found Stanley’s review helpful.

Amazon Top Reviewers

Like Foursquare, Amazon has a badge system to reward Top Reviewers. But climbing to the Top 500 Reviewers list or being added to other users’ Interesting People lists is the only compensation (save the Vine product testing group).

iPad Review Amazon emilybinder.com

There is no tangible reward for the effort of publishing a highly detailed 1545-word iPad review. It’s no shock that the iPad reviewer’s moniker is Just Trying to Help.

You must register in order to publish a review. It takes a good twenty minute or more compose a really detailed, thoughtful review like ones on many tech and fashion products. Compensation is  just a tiny virtual badge. Why do we do it?

Social Psychology | Why We Share

Humans are evolutionarily motivated to share information primarily by the desire to help their friends or network. Second, sharing or recommending a product/brand serves to establish oneself with certain values or associations; it reinforces one’s identity. Robert D. Putnam touches on this idea of social capital in Bowling Alone.

Facebook is a petri dish for social helping:

An October 2010 report by Eventbrite found that the average Facebook share of event information generated $2.53 in ticket sales, (compared to 43 cents on Twitter). The average Like on a Facebook event posting drives $1.34 in ticket sales, (compared to 80 cents per Tweet,) according to Eventbrite’s analysis of the 11 million tickets the sold in 2010.

Further confirming the evolutionary psychology framework to support the sharing concept,

…the motivation to share is higher once the purchase is made and the attendee is committed…  that share is more meaningful than a pre-purchase one. A post-purchase share on Facebook drives 20% more ticket sales per share than a pre-purchase one…

People are much more likely to share a product with their friends once they have purchased it because they have personally verified it via experience, or they have a stake in proving they are happy with their purchase pre-experience (as with event tickets). Really, it is not a waste of time. We spend hours writing reviews that benefit our networks because of self-expression, reciprocity norms, and the chance we’ll earn a badge.

Do we post reviews to help our friends and networks or because we suffer narcissistic keyboard diarrhea?

  • Anonymous


    Glad I saw this post. I think a part of review gifting is that users also experience the Amazon review space itself to be gifted. Something that might not be conscious to the actual user is the sense that Amazon puts its brand upon the review space, and people feel that they are operating under its auspices to some degree.

    It is not enough to put review generosity at the doorstep of our evolutionary psychology in my opinion. It is about finding the right level of description that makes us look for answers that change results. Because gifts are almost always in the context of other gifts – related to an experience of (positive) debt – when gifts abound like in a review space, it is helpful to ask: What is being repaid?

    Why am I posting this comment? Am I just trying to “help you”? Or…”serve myself”…or “hear myself talk”? Somehow none of these reductions seem to really get at it. With this blog you donated a house for comments (which are really donations). You gifted this house. There is a repayment drive that kicks in when the gift is well done. I think it is less about reward (for x you get y) and more about creating creative imbalances. I agree that a lot is wrapped up in identity – what I think about as “status”.

    Not sure that I would agree with Mr. Putnam that “the very fabric of our connections with each other, has plummeted, impoverishing our lives and communities,” but I would say that the fabric is under deep revision, and in many ways may have grown more rich. – yet to read the book tho’.

    Great post, look forward to more.