As a lifelong book lover (and recent self-published author), I was taken aback by Amazon’s recent announcement that they are buying social reading website Goodreads. Although not for the ridiculous One Billion Dollars that Bloomberg posited (cue pinky-to-mouth Dr. Evil pose.)
I love Goodreads. I love Amazon. I’m just not sure that as a consumer and producer of books, I love the two being in a state of peanut-butter-and-chocolate, Reese’s Cup togetherness.
However, as a professional who provides content strategy at an ecommerce company, I have to set aside my personal quibbles and look at this move from a business perspective. From that point-of-view, there are some interesting implications.
Why was Goodreads a necessary get for Amazon, a company that already had reviews and active discussion forums? What does Goodreads bring to the table? One important piece Goodreads adds to the Amazon mix is organic content discovery at a scale comparable to their own impressive algorithmic recommendation engine. While Amazon’s book suggestions are sometimes freakishly on-target, it’s not the same as a personal recommendation from a friend. And more of your friends are already on Goodreads than you might realize.
Since Goodreads profiles are tied to social profiles, particularly Facebook, there’s an added layer of high-influence reading advice. As an article on Forbes pointed out, this “real person” credibility also adds weight to the reviews from Goodreads. Since Amazon is constantly beset with accusations of faked reviews, that’s a serious bonus in building trust that leads to purchase–a critical conversion lever for any ecommerce company.
Mitigating Buyer’s Remorse with Human Recommendations
The influx of independently-published books over the last few years means the problem for most readers isn’t finding something to read. It’s wading through the unfathomably deep virtual “shelves” of wildly mixed quality to find something they’ll like. With a glut of $.99 ebooks out there and ubiquitous eReaders, time has replaced money as the cost customers have to weigh as a risk of purchase. But it’s still a risk, and they still want a measure of assurance against it to nudge them down the path to conversion.
Beefing Up Content Discovery with Social
Effective, personalized content discovery at the individual level has never been more important for Amazon to move their product. They have possibly the world’s best recommendation engine. They still couldn’t resist complementing it with an additional rich set of qualitative customer preference data and an army of living, breathing readers to provide curation and personal suggestions. And Goodreads integration with Facebook means that content discovery extends beyond the borders of Amazon or Goodreads, and into the Facebook activity feeds of users. This frictionless sharing of book recommendations means even consumers who aren’t on Goodreads stand a good chance of seeing that content while they’re surfing their Facebook feed.
Of course, there are concerns as well. Can Goodreads still be considered a neutral source of information, now that it’s owned by a book retailer? Will the platform lose the credibility that built its value? Will readers migrate to LibraryThing or another unencumbered social network? Amazon already acquired the similar Shelfari in an attempt to co-opt a social reading community, and gained little in the effort.
So what are the takeaways for ecommerce content strategy?
- The “problem of choice” is a real problem @scale for big online retailers. Content discovery = product discovery.
- A kickass recommendation engine isn’t enough. People still seek human advice on purchase decisions (even for a free or $.99 “purchase”).
- Tying product reviews to social profiles like Facebook improves trust and credibility and discourages spam reviews.
- If you have an intrinsically social product that drives conversation, being a gracious host for that party can yield big rewards.