How do reviews affect what we buy?

Friday 21st January 2011

As I was searching for a book online, I was struck by a thought about how reviews influence our opinions, and ultimately what we buy.

I was looking for any interesting books focussing on the role of social media in a B2C environment – something I am keen to know more about as social media is rapidly becoming more integral to what we do as a company. The first book I stumbled across had an average rating of 3 stars. On closer inspection this average was from just two reviews. The first was a 5 star review, the second a meagre one star with the damning comments “350 pages of the totally obvious”, and “if it was well written, funny or interesting it may get away with its lack of ideas and originality. Unfortunately, it is not”.

Strangely, despite the 5* reviewer being flagged as one of Amazon’s “Top 100 Reviewers” and the reassuring Amazon affirmation that the review was penned under the author’s real name, it was the negative comments from the person who has only felt compelled to review this one book that instantly made me close the window and search for something else.

This made me wonder how reviews affect our opinions of music, both live and recorded. Specifically, do we respect the opinion of the “expert” journalists in the national papers and music magazines (my use of quotations is to avoid offending very intelligent non-journalists, not to suggest that the press are not experts in their field), or is a review from a friend, peer or even stranger online more influential?

I have changed my mind on numerous occasions about purchasing a CD after a friend of mine has said they did not enjoy it (and vice versa – bought something I may not have considered after someone has sung its praises). The same is true for live performances – I have been to see a concert because someone on facebook or twitter has assured me that the performer is worth me spending my money on.

And though I find the opinions of reviewers in the newspapers very interesting – it is not that often that I am convinced to go (or not go) to a live event. Perhaps the reason for this is that many classical reviews are from one-off concerts, rather than a long tour or run, and on the occasions where there is an opportunity to see the concert again, it has been sold out for months already, so it isn’t possible for me to go, even if I now wanted to.

I can think of two big exceptions to this, however. The first being ENO’s 2010 production of Don Giovanni (see our video blog about that here), which outraged the press to such an extent that I felt that I simply had to go and make my own mind up about it (and I loved every minute!). The second was not a review, but a recommendation. Andrew Clements’ “The best classical music for 2011” made me rush off to various websites, yelling “GET ME A TICKET FOR THAT” – his concise list of 2011 highlights was varied and appealing and instantly had me reaching for my bank card.

So what affects your ticket and CD purchases? Do you prefer to listen to feedback from your friends on facebook or the people you follow on Twitter? Or does the printed press send you running to (or from) the concert hall? And what is more powerful at influencing our opinions – 20 positive reviews, or one negative one?