This year’s Golden Spiders shortlist has been announced and if you’re interested in seeing what new things Irish companies and organisations are doing online this is probably a good place to start. You should keep in mind that companies enter themselves into the Golden Spider competition and so the shortlist is limited to those companies who think they are doing something innovative and are willing to pay the competition entry fee to ensure that others think so too.   Among the usual collection of to-be-expected websites of some of the larger Irish companies there are plenty of ventures worth a second or third look. I would draw your attention to the smaller less commercial sites and the sites that are enabling user-generated content – plenty to whet the appetite in the “community or charity website”, “best blog”, and “best social networking site” categories. These sites have a lot to teach us about how to engage users with our brands.

Menupages Logo

I was particularly drawn by the menupages.ie site which is shortlisted under both the “best new indigenous website” and best “user generated content” categories. This website gives me everything I as a consumer could ever want when deciding where to dine out, and for that reason as a restaurant owner I would be a fool to ignore it.

The site categorises eateries in as many possible ways as you could imagine; by location, by genre, by rating, by popularity, by number of reviews, by special occassion, by budget – the list goes on and on. While that’s impressive enough, the real power is in the user-generated content on the site. Site users can rate and comment on restaurants accross a number of different areas including service, atmosphere, food quality and value. The available menu from each restaurant is available and the particular dishes most recommended by the site users are highlighted. So not only can you see which are the best restaurants, but you can also see at a glance which dishes are favoured. I was glad to see that the spicy chicken wings from the Elephant and Castle had received their deserving star!

As a member of menupages.ie you are incentivised to contribute; earning points which can be cashed in for vouchers to be used in a selection of the restaurants featured on the site. Reviewing a restaurant or booking a meal at a restaurant through the site earns you points. Membership also allows you to compile your own list of favourite restaurants and even invite someone to dine with you in one of them.

Restaurant owners can log in to keep their listings up to date and presumably to respond to negative comments. While this is good for restauranteurs it is also good for diners as it means that the listings are kept up to date. At the end of the day however, users have the final say here. Business that don’t interact with this type of site run the risk of losing out to those eateries who are keeping their sites up to date and responding to customer criticisms. Forrester Research recently highlighted that hotels with negative reviews in Trip Advisor can lose upto 30% of their bookings if they don’t respond to the negative feedback.

The power of these types of sites for consumers is the access to experiences of hundreds of other consumers and the ability to use their experiences to make an informed decision. As a consumer you are now far more likely to seek and trust the word of your online peers than what the business owner might tell you in an advertisement.

Menupages.ie epitomises the power of the current phase of the Internet for both consumers and businesses – give customers what they want; make the experience engaging and you will bring them closer to your brand. The challenge for sites like menupages.ie is how to monetise this brand interaction in a sustainable way. Advertising is an obvious mechanism already in use, but charging restaurant owners to access the site and have input into their restaurant profiles could be a worthwhile avenue to pursue.

All the best to the menupages.ie guys in the Spiders; hopefully the judges’ palates will be satisfied by the site. Mine was.