"Congratulations, Dr_Steph! You're An Advisor!"Feb 19, 2001 (Updated Feb 21, 2001) Write an essay on this topic.
The Bottom Line Being an advisor is not nearly as rewarding or enjoyable as it used to be, but I still see some value in the role. Maybe I'm just deluding myself...
It's hard to express how much those words meant to me when I first saw them over a year ago in an email from Caty James, the Category Manager for Kids and Family. Actually, the title back then was "Expert" but that's another storyÖ
I had worked hard in hopes of earning the title but really doubted whether I would qualify. After all, I didnít write TONS of reviews, though the ones I wrote were all rated highly. I had also participated in a reading circle of sorts (with 2 other members, LOL) during my first week at Epinions and I lived in abject fear that my past indiscretion would be uncovered.
Somehow, though, another Epinions advisor (GwenK) had noticed my valiant efforts and nominated me for advisor/expert. When I got the news that I had been selected, I was so elated that felt like I was walking on air! I rushed home to tell my husband, I called my sister, and I emailed my internet Mom's group. Heck, I even put it on my vita at work! Can you tell that I was just a tad pleased?
Some of you are probably shaking your head in disgust, thinking what a pathetic life I must lead to be excited about something so trivial. The point is, it wasnít trivial, at least not then and not to me. I saw it as an honor, and I still do, though the advisor role and selection process have evolved (or "devolved") somewhat since then.
So why was the role of advisor so important to me? Why is it more important than ever right now?
What It Means to Be An Advisor, According to Dr_Steph
At the risk of sounding like a sanctimonious boy scout (or girl scout, as the case may be), I'll try to express my views of the advisor role at Epinions:
Write Excellent Quality, Useful Reviews
One expectation of advisors that has always been understood is to consistently post well-written and informative reviews. That often means exceeding the paltry 100 word minimum and carefully checking your writing for spelling or grammatical errors (though the occasional mistake does "hapen."). Reviews should be well-organized and easy to read (i.e. not jargon laden). Most importantly, they should provide enough useful information to help other readers make informed decisions about products and editorial issues. I completely support this expectation. I typically spend hours, and sometime days, writing and rewriting a single review so that, when I post it, I can be proud of my work and know that it will be useful to others.
Some would also say that an advisor should crank out reviews more frequently than the average member. I know that was an expectation when I was selected and I'm pretty sure that expectation still holds up. Everyone I know who has lost their advisor hat recently has done so because of insufficient rate of review writing. However, no one seems to know the magic number of reviews that it takes to earn or lose an advisor title.
I do have some problems with this last expectation. It seems to me that there often is an inverse relationship between quantity of reviews and quality. In other words, many people (not all, though) who churn out reviews on a daily basis sacrifice some quality in their writing. I know that my very favorite writers on Epinions post very infrequently, so that when they do have something to say, it really means something. Of course, few of them are advisors because of this unwillingness to pump out reviews in an assembly line fashion.
The frequent posting expectation is especially biased against those advisors who have multiple role responsibilities (like being a parent to young children and holding a demanding, full-time job outside the home). I think this kind of life experience can enhance Epinions, but the powers that be must make a conscious decision to account for that in their selection process. Right now they don't.
Read Often and Rate Fairly
I also strongly agree with the expectation that advisors spend time reading other reviews, especially in their category and that they rate these reviews thoughtfully and fairly. Advisor ratings do carry more weight than non-advisor ratings so it's especially important that this responsibility be taken seriously.
I've known some advisors to rate reviews in under 10 seconds, assumedly basing their judgement simply on the length of the review (we call these people "rubber-stampers" - you know who you are). This is a pretty careless practice, since not all long reviews are good, nor are all briefer ones poor. Advisors owe it to other members and to Epinions to take the time to actually read the reviews from beginning to end and determine a fair rating based on that review, not based solely on the length or how other people rated the review.
Be a Good Role Model
Especially now that the Category Manager positions have been terminated, many Epinions members will look to advisors more and more for guidance on how to write reviews and how to behave as a member of the Epinions community. I believe that advisors have a special responsibility to provide guidance and leadership to others, as needed or requested. For example, I recently had a member email me and ask if it was OK for her husband to write reviews under her user name. I carefully explained the problems with that practice and she wrote back, thankful for the advice.
By the way, responding to email and guiding new members is a huge part of being an advisor. I really like being able to help others out, but the time commitment is significant, so I'm doing less of this than I used to,
In many cases, being a good role model shows up in the type of comments that are left on reviews (or whether comments are left at all). In my opinion, comments should always be courteous and helpful, not overly critical or demeaning. Everyone has been a "newbie" at one time and has probably made some mistakes. New members who are given positive guidance are much more likely stick around and continue to improve their reviews than those who are ridiculed off the site by mean-spirited advisor comments.
Of course, one of the most straightforward ways of providing a good role model for others at Epinions is to faithfully follow through with the first two responsibilities of writing well and rating fairly. New members often look to advisor reviews for an example of how to write their own reviews. Adhering to the Epinions User Agreement is also essential if advisors are going to model appropriate behavior to other members.
Value Integrity and Ethics
I suppose this last area can really be considered a subtopic under "Being a Good Role Model" but I'm tackling it separately because I want to emphasize my personal belief that advisors should be held to a high standard of integrity and ethical behavior in all interactions related to Epinions. What this specifically means to me is:
~ Be selective in your WOT: The Web of Trust carries a lot of power in Epinions. People who trust you expect you to have decent enough taste to trust worthy writers at Epinions because their reviews are the ones that members are most likely to see. I review my WOT regularly and drop people who I no longer feel should be there. I also periodically add new people who I feel are especially deserving of my trust. What I won't do is add someone to my WOT simply because they added me to theirs. I also wonít add someone just because I liked one of their reviews. I need to see a pattern of excellent reviews before I take the plunge.
~ Avoid crude and inappropriate behavior: Naturally, making crude and rude comments on other people's reviews is frowned upon, but I'm also talking about how people behave on off-site, Epinions-focused bulletin boards. I really donít understand this behavior. Do you honestly think that no one is going to connect your racist, sexist, hateful remarks on an Epinions bulletin board to you, as an advisor, in Epinions.com? Most people are not that capable of compartmentalizing their thoughts. In my opinion, you canít be a "trash talker", bashing other Epinions members in one site and then a respected Epinions advisor here.
~ Avoid reading, rating, and click circles: This has certainly become a controversial issue lately, especially with new advisors. When I was originally selected to be an advisor/expert, reading circles were clearly and explicitly frowned upon. Now some advisors have told me that the Epinions management is OK with reading circles. Others have refuted this. I honestly don't know where the management currently stands on this issue, but I can tell you where I do: I think they are wrong and I think any advisor worth their salt should avoid them. Why? Because ultimately they are not good for the Epinions community.
These circles all have the same result of inflating the number of reads and VH ratings on reviews that don't necessarily deserve those ratings. When advisors get in on the mix, it makes it even more of a problem because their ratings are more heavily weighted. Therefore, a mediocre review that goes through a rating circle with advisors in it can move to the top of the pile of reviews, burying much more worthy reviews underneath. In many cases, these inflated reviews were never even read by the people rating them; they just clicked, rated, and moved on to the next one.
Since IS (income share) is largely dependent on non-member reads, those crummy reading circle reviews at the top take money from the more well-deserving, but less read reviews, beneath it. My IS has decreased significantly since the new advisor system kicked in.
Some have argued that these circles are no different than Epinions email notification of reviews (when thatís working), posting reviews in the "Just In" of Epinions Addicts, or using Ptiemannís notification site. I disagree.
In all of the above situations, there is no assumption, explicit or implied, that specific others will actually read these reviews and rate them. They are notification systems Ė that's all. In the reading/rating/click circles, it is generally expected (and sometimes explicitly required) that everyone read each other's reviews. Sometimes I read other reviews posted in Epinions Addicts, sometimes I don't. Sometimes other people who post there read mine, sometimes they don't. It doesn't matter. What brings most people to my reviews is either a) they are interested in the topic, or b) they want to know what I personally have to say. Absolutely no one (not even my husband) is obligated to read my reviews.
Like a lot of other members, I'm disappointed in the decreasing number of people who read my reviews under the new Epinions system. The lack of email notifications is partially to blame. In some cases, my most faithful readers have left the site. It's very discouraging and has made me question whether I want to continue to invest my time and energy into this site. When I see a bunch of second-rate reviews with 100s of reads, I get really annoyed as I struggle to get 70.
Does that mean I should cave in and join one of these circles? Hardly. It just means that I'm going to need to work hard on building other peopleís trust in me by rating fairly, leaving helpful comments, and mentoring new members. It's a time consuming process and not always productive, but I see that as the fair and honest way to build my readership.
What Advice Would I Give Epinions As An Advisor?
Epinions has gone through so many significant changes in the past few months, and most of them are not for the better. One change has been how advisors are selected. Many people complained that the previous nomination system was biased and unfair. Maybe it was. However, I'm not sure that the current computer-selected process is any better.
Once human judgment was taken out of the advisor selection process, the options for abusing the system increased dramatically. Now someone with a bunch of mediocre, reading-circle inflated reviews can become an advisor. Even more discouraging is seeing some of the finest, most ethical advisors lose their status simply because they canít produce as many reviews as do the advisors who abuse the system.
Please, Epinions management, use some good judgement in how you select advisors. Let the computer screen potential candidates, but then have a real human being take a look at the candidate's behavior, WOT, and reviews carefully to make sure that's really the kind of person you want advising other members. I donít mean to imply that every advisor selected by the computer is unworthy of the position. Most are more than deserving and have my highest respect. However, a few people slipped through the cracks that really shouldn't have.
Furthermore, once Epinions selects people to become advisors, you need to define their role more clearly and give them some guidance about what you expect from them. Most of the new advisors have reported that they have received little or no information about what it means to be an advisor. This was a job that the Category Managers used to fill (miss you, Paige!). Someone at Epinions needs to take it over and provide some leadership for the advisors. How about an advisor newsletters, at the very least? I think most advisors really DO want to do a good job and be helpful. They just donít know whatís expected of them. Now if the response from Epinions is that we have no expectations, then that is even a bigger problem. You have a terrific, hard-working resource available to you. Guide it and nurture it, don't neglect it.
Finally, behavioral science will tell you that most people will perform better in their specific roles if they receive some reinforcement and encouragement to do so. Currently there really aren't any "perks" to being an advisor (other than being a featured reviewer occasionally).
We donít get any more money per read but we do get hassled and negatively targeted more by certain members, just because of our advisor role. Our reviews are no longer listed as advisor reviews, our ratings are not listed as advisor ratings, and, in many cases, our advisor reviews are not necessarily prominently placed in specific categories. It would help morale tremendously if Epinions gave some more recognition and appreciation to advisors. A bigger portion of IS would help. A little honey can go a long way in motivating people to work hard.
Though many feel that the role of the advisor has become trivialized lately with the huge influx of new advisors and waning standards, I personally think the advisor role is more important than ever right now. Without the Category Managers to address problems that come up and keep the categories current and in good shape, there is a tremendous vacuum that needs to be filled. Advisors can help by diligently serving as the eyes and ears for the Epinions community, identifying problems that exist and recommending solutions.
Advisors can also provide the kind of leadership and mentoring that can turn this site back into the kind of community to which people want to belong. Or we can be selfish and greedy and just grab as much of the pie as we can for ourselves before the whole system comes crashing down around our ears.
I prefer the first option. I guess that's why I still feel honored to be an advisor. No, it's not as much fun as it used to be. I really miss my dear friends who have left Epinions by the droves. The money is the pits. Readings and writing is much more effortful for me these days. However, I'm still planning to stick around for awhile and see if I can regain some of my earlier enthusiasm. Until the ever-wise Epinions computers chews me up and spits me out as a has-been advisor, I'll try to do my best to make Epinions a worthwhile place to spend time. After all, if I don't, who will?
Iím pleased to be a part of this write-off on "What Does Being An Advisor Mean to Me", the brain child of my friend, Amy (Workingmomof2). Participants in this write-off include: 401402, Conradd, Counsel, Curtisedmonds, Dannyzmom, Dr_Steph, Erik_kosberg, Grouch, Irishma4, KCfoxy, Pogomom, Prepoia, Ptiemann, Redlass, sgentile & Workingmomof2. I encourage you to check out their reviews. They are probably MUCH more cogent and insightful than mineÖ :)
Thanks for reading! Please leave comments about your reactions.
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