Reader raves help spice up Web

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By: Carl Sullivan

Many Web executives love reader-generated content. It encourages reader loyalty, and hey, it’s cheap. And it can even create a local craze, what we’ll call, in this case, “Beer Eye for the Lake Guys” in Chicago.

In that city, the Chicago Tribune’s Metromix.com has created quite an online community with its Reader Reviews. “We’ve now got more than 30,000 opinions, and that’s with reviews cycling off after nine months in order to keep them current,” says Editor and Product Manager Leigh I. Behrens. “We launched it as a quick, easy way for our audience to share their opinions about everything from restaurants and movies to bars and theater, and it’s really taken off.”

Submitted at the Web site, the Reader Reviews were so popular that Behrens launched live panels, where Metromix readers volunteer to form reviewer teams. After getting a deluge of candidates, Metromix winnowed it down to finalist groups and then let readers pick the reviewer team they preferred. “Then the audience also decided what places the group visited each week,” Behrens says. The audience loved the Beer Garden Guys, who rated the best places to enjoy a brewski outdoors during the Windy City’s brief summer. “They’ve actually become local semi-celebrities,” Behrens adds.

The next reader review panel: The Low-Dough Diners, who went in search of restaurant and bar deals for $10 or less. Now Metromix plans to do live panels once a quarter. “Reader Reviews have the potential to work in any market because they tap into the ‘word of mouth’ buzz factor, and are a natural way to strengthen the relationship with readers,” Behrens says. “But you’ve got to know your audience and tap into what your audience really cares about.”

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