Anxiety anyone?  Today's marketers are staring in the face of more than 300 million actively, socially engaged consumers.  They can no longer afford to ignore the voice of the individual or the collective voice of the crowd.  In fact, peer-to-peer reviews and recommendations – now more than ever – play a vital role in how a brand is, well… branded.

The most recent Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey gathered data from 25,000 consumers from 50 countries.  Nielsen reported that 90 percent of respondents said they trust recommendations from people they know; another  70 percent of consumers are said to trust consumer opinions posted online.  Over the years, “this consumers' reliance on word of mouth in the decision-making process, either from people they know or online consumers they don't, has increased significantly."

Consumer reviews are very simply a form of social media.  And yet, everyday we hear that companies are still fearful of opening up their brand to consumer-generated content for fear of negative feedback.  Thus, they're leaving the opportunity to connect on the table.  Is the fear justified?  What impact do negative reviews really have on a brand?

The recent article, "Even bad reviews boost sales,” argues that negative reviews can actually be good for a brand.  The author asserts that allowing good and bad customer reviews to live on a brand's Web site is valuable to marketers.  It allows consumers to interact with one another and provides a venue for collecting honest feedback that can be woven into product development.  Sounds like free market research to me.

Consumer-to-consumer reviews are even said to be more effective than traditional advertising in boosting brand trust.  Think about this for a minute.  Advertisers are clearly biased.  No company would pay for ad space that says, "this product would be great if only…"  When you're on the other side, however, interacting as a consumer vs. a marketer, that's exactly what you want – the honest truth about what you can expect from the brand, the company and the product. 

I'll be watching closely as brands and consumers approach this year's holiday season.  Which companies will embrace my feedback and which will shy aware in fear?  What do you think?  Are you more willing to purchase a brand after reading consumer reviews, or do you trust the marketer's slant?

– Contributed by Chantal LeBoulch.  Follow her @cleboulch