The Power of Peer Recommendations & Reviews

Do book recommendations from peers really make that much difference in our book-buying habits? What about blog or Amazon reviews?

I was recently chatting with my hairstylist about how she decides which books to buy and read. She said she doesn't pay attention to general advertisements about books. Instead she only looks at the reviews of people who've already read the book and bases her decision solely upon what readers are saying.

Her comment got me thinking about the power of reviews. Just this week I was buying swimsuits for my kids through Land's End, and I realized how easily swayed I was by the reviews for or against certain suits. I read them carefully and took them to heart.

Reviews and recommendations are a new powerful marketing tool in the online world. Most of us trust the word of mouth from other ordinary people like us. I recently ran across this statistic: 78% of consumers trust peer recommendations. Only 14% trust advertisements.

We look at the comments of other consumers, and then we make our purchases accordingly. It's true for everything from furniture to TV's, from comforters to curtains. And, yes, it's VERY true for books too.

Over the past months since the release of my book, many readers have contacted me testifying that they bought my book as a result of positive reviews or because of recommendations from friends. In fact recently, I had my first Skype session with a book club, Read 'n Rally (pictured above), as a direct result of peer influence.

Around the release of my debut book, blogger Lynn Simpson, began to see interviews and positive reviews on my book around cyberland. Because of what others were saying, she decided to buy the book when she saw it at a local bookstore in Canada. She said, “I eagerly picked it up. I wasn't disappointed. I was so taken with the book that I recommended my book club, Read 'n Rally, to choose it as our next month’s read.”

Based on Lynn’s recommendation, the group agreed to read The Preacher’s Bride. Thus, every single person in the group purchased a copy and read it.

Lynn contacted me via email to ask if I’d be willing to talk with her group—more specifically if I’d Skype with them. I was honored and thrilled with the request. So we arranged a time and date.

When the night of the interview came, I was nervous. After all, it’s been over three years since I researched The Preacher’s Bride. And it’s been about a year since I last read the book (when I went through my Galleys). I’m currently writing another book set in a completely different time period, so I hoped I would be able to recall everything and keep the facts straight.

Finally, the big moment arrived. We went live. I suddenly found myself facing a conference table of women. And I thought, “Oh wow. This is incredible. I get to meet real readers. I get to see their faces. I get to hear them share their thoughts and feelings about my book. What an awesome opportunity for any author.”

And it was. We spent about 45 minutes chatting. Fortunately, I was able to remember most things (it’s amazing how it all comes back!). They were incredibly kind and gracious. And I couldn’t have asked for a better first Skype. Thank you, ladies! And thank you to everyone who wrote positive reviews about my book that eventually led to the wonderful Skype experience!

3 quick lessons (among many) I learned from the experience:

1. Skype is an excellent tool for interacting with readers. I highly recommend it!

2. Influencers, interviews, and blog & Amazon reviews should play a key part in a writer's marketing strategy. Whenever a friend asks me how they can help promote my book, I always tell them they're welcome to write a blog review or a review for one of the major online bookstores. Those positive reviews can make a huge difference.

3. Because peer reviews have such a strong influence, we need to be wise with what we say. Not only that, but we should be honest. We don't want to mislead others. In fact, when we gush about books that don't deserve gushing, we might even put our own reputation and trustworthiness on the line. My policy is to use extreme tact or to remain silent about books that I can't positively recommend.

So what do you think? Have you ever been swayed into buying a book after reading a blog review or Amazon review? Which influences you more—peer recommendations or advertisements? And why? 

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