For brands, the trouble is that Facebook holds all the cards. The social network chooses the game and we play by their rules. The latest instance of this comes with unannounced change that affects all businesses – their switching from a peer five-star rating system to one fueled by a simple “yes” or “no” recommendation from users.
On the one hand, this will differentiate Facebook’s review system from competitors like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Google, who all employ a peer-selected five-star rating system. On the other, it muddies the waters for those being reviewed.
It Begins: A/B Testing
So far, the networking giant has unleashed A/B testing on this new scheme. Some business pages now only have recommendations, not ratings, but who’s relegated to this new testing module isn’t transparent and little information is being shared. Furthermore, the Facebook powers that be haven’t deigned to give a timeline on when this testing will end nor when star-rated reviews will be phased out, but they’ve alluded that existing starred-reviews will be repurposed into the new system at some point.
Falling Stars: The New Star Rating
Technically, there’ll still be a five-star rating system on Facebook, but users won’t be able to choose a number that reflects whether service was great, so-so, or just plain bad. They’ll get the option to recommend, or not, the business in question. The five-star rating, then, will become an algorithmic interpretation of these recommendations.
Frustratingly, Facebook hasn’t yet revealed how this will work, how the algorithm will generate the new “star” rating on business pages. The early guessing is that if 9 out of 10 people recommend a business, it’ll get a 4.5 out of 5 rating. Perhaps it’s more complicated than that and the algorithm will glean context from the accompanying text reviews, but without full disclosure from Facebook, we’re left speculating.
Either way, it won’t be as clear-cut as when users themselves rate on a scale of one to five and then results are averaged for an overall rating. In fact, one could surmise this is akin to “grading on a curve,” allowing lesser companies to get a higher starred review because their patrons are simply being asked if they recommend the company or not, as opposed to rating the quality of the overall experience.
The Perception Problem
The average user often doesn’t know or care about the intricacies in how ratings happen. If they see a 5-star rating, they’ll assume it’s gleaned as an average from user-selected stars.
This can be a perk for a company squeaking by with recommendations merely because they’re a serviceable business, resulting in a 4.5-star rating that makes them seem fantastic.
That’s fine if that’s your business, but if it’s your competition and they’re getting a leg up with a potentially more generous rating than they may deserve, then that’s a serious perception problem that could undercut the efforts you’ve made to better your brand against an underdelivering competitor.
The Moderating Challenge
If you’ve noticed recently on your personal page, when someone asks for a recommendation in their newsfeed, and you weigh in with an opinion, you get pop-up thumbnails for businesses you’ve mentioned, with an option to include their page links in your comment.
When this happens in the future, it seems these will be pulled in and counted as a recommendation for the company’s reviews. The comment, however, is not expected to be shared to the business page’s feed, meaning what could be glowing commentary accompanying that recommendation gets filtered out to a simple “yay, someone likes this business” kind of arbitrary “yes” vote.
Ultimately, with these reviews requiring a written comment from those making recommendations, it will affect how moderation happens through our internal teams tasked to monitor them, and it’ll hamper the speed at which moderation happens too. To what end, we’ll find out in the coming weeks and months, at which point we’ll share our findings with you.
We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know
On the upside, this recommendation feature is likely to increase support for local businesses, and that’s great. Unfortunately, though, there’s a great deal unknown about the ramifications in these changes. And, of course, the effects will vary, especially with those excelling under the present system.
We’re as curious as you are as to how all of this will shake down when it’s all said and done, but we’ll need to know much more before we decide if these changes are positive for our clients, and how best to capitalize on them.
In the end, though, with over a quarter of the planet’s population still on Facebook regularly, it’s their game, their rules, and we’ll simply have to outplay our competition. Luckily, we have a lot of experience in that.