A blog is a website where an individual makes entries in journal style and these entries are displayed in reverse chronological order. Blogs often provide reviews, views or news on a particular subject, such as food, politics, or local news; some function as more personal online diaries. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, web pages, and other media related to its topic. The ability for readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important part of many blogs. So, essentially a blog is a modern interactive way for people to express their views on a diverse plethora of topics and also to gain knowledge from them.
We can say that a consumer is empowered when he has knowledge about what he is consuming, power to make his consumption decisions and the legal right to redress his complaints, in case, the consumer is being cheated. Thus, consumer empowerment is a holistic concept which ranges from the knowledge to the legal rights of the consumers.
Now the issue here is how consumer reviews empower the consumers?
Essentially, blogs act as a means of spreading awareness. As of now, almost all blogs have no sign-up cost and, thus, anyone and everyone who has access to the internet can start one. Thus, anyone can start his/her blog, read other people’s blogs and also post a reply on them. As a result, a person’s knowledge increases and he can get to know diverse views on the same subject. Blogs provide the consumers with the opportunity to know about various aspects of the thing they are consuming and the nitty gritties related to it. Thus, blogs increase the awareness of consumers.
More importantly, blogs are not subject to any ‘editorial restrictions’ and people can express views on any issue without being subject to any restrictions. This encourages people to be frank and openly express their thoughts which, in turn, enables the consumer to get the opinion of his fellow consumers and get knowledge from them about their experience regarding it. Thus, the consumer can get an honest and truthful opinion from other consumers as compared to the excessively covered up and one sided view given by the companies selling the product. As a result, the consumer is protected from the ‘salesmanship’ of the company.
Blogs have the unique distinction of having a personal touch. They are used to express the views, thoughts or experiences of an individual. It acts as a sort of an online journal. So, reading another person’s blog will provide the consumer with an insight and knowledge, alongwith the experience, which that person has had with a particular consumption decision. It also allows the consumer to relate to the other person and, thus, more closely understand his viewpoint and experience. As a result, there is a greater understanding for the consumer.
Let me illustrate this with the help of an example. Suppose, Apple has launched an updated version of its iPOD, which consumers were eagerly awaiting. A few weeks after the launch, a number of people agreed with the company’s claims that:
a) Its battery life lasts longer than the previous versions
b) It can store up to 10000 songs, 2000 images and 300 videos
c) It has a standby time of 6 hrs and a playing time of 3 hrs
d) Most importantly, it is value-for-money
However, one techno-savvy blogger buys the product and after using it for many days comes to a conclusion that is different from the current market trends and the company’s claims. He posts the following conclusions on his blog:
a) The battery life is almost as long as the previous versions, except that it takes less time to charge up.
b) Its storage depends upon the size of files. The larger the file, the more space it consumes. Apple also hasn’t told the consumers about the most appropriate file formats in which images, music and video should be converted so that they do not occupy too much space.
c) The standby time is actually only 4 hours because its display lights up during darkness and, thereby, more battery power is consumed. The playing time is just about 3 hours but it’s the same as its previous models.
d) It certainly is not value for money. There are other companies who provide similar, or in some cases, better products that are priced lower than the iPOD. It’s because of the brand name and the roaring success of its earlier products that its new version is creating such a hype.
From this example, we can see as to how a blog can change the perception of the public.
Also, if a consumer feels cheated or mislead by any company, then, he can post his experience on his blog. Through this, more people will get to know about the cheating done by the company and, consequently, the company will be compelled to take action to redress their mistakes. This will also ensure that the company is very careful and will not try to do the same thing to other consumers. Consequently, the consumer’s probability of getting cheated falls.
However, we must also keep in mind that this phenomenon of blogging is not very pervasive. It is limited to the English speaking world and only to people who have access to the internet. Even though it has the potential to be a very powerful tool in the hands of the consumers, it’s potency will depend on how seriously it is taken by the concerned parties, i.e., consumers and sellers. Also, blogs are seen only as a means of expressing views and is not taken very seriously. Since blogs don’t require the individuals to reveal their real identity, there is a possibility that the views expressed will not be trusted upon.
In conclusion, we can say that blogs are here to stay. They can be very useful in empowering the consumers but the extent of their usefulness will depend on the seriousness with which they are taken. Thus, blogs are a way of empowering consumers, but in today’s world they are limited because of the lack of spread of the internet. Thus, we can see how technology has enhanced communication, networking and awareness in society.
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/barnett/2836828090/]