Amazon.comAmazon’s Vine program connects prolific Amazon customer reviewers with products in need of reviews. I recently wrote about community monetization alternatives to display ads. The Vine program could serve as inspiration to certain communities, especially those who are dominant in a specific niche.

Vine is largely a win for everyone involved. While you won’t have to look hard to find criticism of it – especially from writers who feel their book was unfairly reviewed or that the average person is not qualified to critique their work – for the most part, it works really well.

Win #1: More Product Reviews for Amazon

Product reviews drive sales. Good and bad ones. The more products that Amazon has reviews for – and the earlier they have them – the more likely that Amazon will convert a viewer to a buyer. In some cases, Vine products are sent pre-release, because the manufacturer wants to have some reviews before it is available for purchase. Amazon then grants the Vine reviewers the ability to publish a review early.

This community content drives further engagement (votes on whether or not the review was helpful and comments on the review) and leads to increased traffic as the reviews themselves are indexed by search engines.

Win #2: Increased Revenue for Amazon

Outside of the increased product sales, which is the true revenue mover here, companies also pay Amazon to participate in the program, in addition to providing the products.

This amount means nothing to Amazon’s bottom line, but it accomplishes at least two things: it helps pay for the Vine program itself, and it creates a barrier of entry. If it was free to participate in the program, it would be a mess. There’s no reason not to pay for it.

However, the revenue from such a program could provide a nice boost to the community owner who has a successful community that companies want to reach, and could use the extra money.

Win #3: Rewarding and Empowering Amazon’s Best Reviewers

The Vine program is invite only. Amazon identifies active product reviewers in their community and gives them the opportunity to join. Since you are able to keep the products you receive – you have to pay taxes on them – this is a great perk for these community members. Amazon encourages reviewers to be honest and, since companies cannot choose the reviewers their products are sent to, Amazon protects those who write critical reviews from being ignored by companies who only want 5 stars.

Though it might create a fear of missing out for reviewers outside the  program, I believe that it motivates many to get to the level where they are deserving of an invite. Vine provides Amazon’s best reviewers the chance to review products they wouldn’t otherwise buy or be able to afford.

Win #4: Companies Receive Reviews, Leading to Increased Sales

Tying back to win #1, the companies benefit from the sales. Both good and bad reviews can generate sales. The core goal here, for a participating company, isn’t simply to have more reviews, it’s to sell more product. Reviews do that and, as such, this is just a part of their overall marketing spend.

Win #5: More Reviews for Amazon Customers, from People Who Actually Own the Product

I understand this is debatable, and some would say they don’t trust the reviews from the Vine program because they feel the reviewer can’t be objective when receiving something for free. I would counter by saying that Vine reviewers have no more issues than any other review on Amazon.

Many (probably most) Amazon reviews are written by people outside of the Vine program, who didn’t buy it from Amazon. With those reviews, you have no idea if the reviewer actually owns the product or not. But with the Vine program, you know they at least received the product. Vine reviews are disclosed and marked as being part of the program, which is important (and legally required). It would not be wise to assume that because another review has no disclosure, that there is no conflict of interest or bias. At least, in this case, you know and can form your own opinion.

I have a close friend who is part of the Vine program and writes reviews for products that he receives through it – and products that he purchases, as well. He writes detailed reviews, positive and negative. There are many people in the Vine program who take it seriously and believe it is their responsibility to be fair, but honest.

The Potential For Your Community

Just like Amazon is in a position to connect influential reviewers with companies who want to spread the word about their product, I believe that a community that is dominant in a niche has the same power and can accomplish the same 5 wins.