Online reviews, online reputation marketing. referrals, testimonials. More than ever before we rely on the verified reviews of others to help guide the purchasing decisions we make and the choices we consider before engaging a business. I have been thinking a lot recently about the nature of referrals and the huge impact they make on our lives.

In truth, online consumer reviews are just an extension of the referrals we have sought out and relied on for thousands of years, in some form or another, in all types of media platforms. Human beings rely on the opinions of others to help them make choices. I’m sure that since we started communicating with each other, we have offered opinions and sought out the experiences of others.

When I started to branch out in to my own musical preferences in the late 1970s I did more than rely on the weekly offering of the top ten on Ready to Roll. My friends and I were critics of everything – the best lollies, the best movies, the best TV shows and the best music. We would compare and contrast and while away many hours breaking down what we thought was cool, and what we thought was stink. That peer group was my first microcosm of the world of active referrals and testimonials. I bought a number of records based on what my friends thought of a band, before I had heard them.

When I fostered my own taste in the heady days of 1980s pop, and alternative music I turned toward another reliable format – the weekly reviews of newly released albums in the New Zealand Listener . Most of the bands were completely new to me and rather than go through the record bins and make choices with absolutely no knowledge – except perhaps for a snappy and inviting album cover – I began to value the opinions of reviewers that I enjoyed reading. I bought an album by a band I still rate and listen to based entirely on a review by Chris Knox. I bought tapes and vinyl solely on the referrals of Karen Hay on Radio with Pictures. I have bought countless albums only because of reviews and recommendations from people I respect.

I have lost count of the fantastic restaurants and cafes I have gone to, only because of a recommendation or a review in a magazine, newspaper, of online. I used to love eating in restaurants that were empty until I was reliably informed that empty eateries are empty for a reason. The woeful food attested to that absolute truth.

I have sought out cafes that I have been told serve amazing coffee and I have returned the favour in my own recommendations to friends and family. It’s how it goes – we share our experiences to help each other out – no matter if the experience was fantastic, or dreadful. It is part of the way we collectively negotiate our way through life – learning from each other, taking value from the previous experience of someone else so we do not make a terrible choice – whether that be in selecting a cafe, choosing a film, or purchasing a computer online.

Online reviews then are an extension of my childhood peer group – minus the sitting round guzzling 20 cent mixtures and Fanta. The internet created the faith in the referral of a stranger that will will never meet in real life and we accept their recommendations as much as we would an active one from a family member or friend.