Last week I kicked off the ‘5½ Questions with…’ series by asking Paddy Donnelly a few questions on design, social media and education. This week I’d like to share an interview with Lee Munroe, a user-focused freelance web designer and the creator of Lookaly.

What is Lookaly and how did it come about?

Lookaly helps people find the best places and services in their area based on reviews and ratings from others.

It came about when I was studying a Masters and wanted to create a web application to help find the best places in Northern Ireland.

  1. It was hard to find good recommendations for places to eat or go out in Northern Ireland (this was in 2007).
  2. Northern Ireland was somewhat lacking well developed web applications/communities. I think was maybe Northern Ireland’s claim to fame at the time so I wanted to create and be part of something different.

Lookaly - Find and review places in Northern Ireland.

Has it been difficult to build an audience and keep users engaged? What advice would you give to someone trying to build a community?

Definitely a lot harder than I expected.

The website/business is made up of myself and James Gallagher. Myself a designer, James a developer, so our primary focus is developing a useful web application, which we do in our free time so trying to keep users engaged and the community growing is challenging, but it’s amazing how it has grown with little to no budget on our side.

Our community is still vert tech savvy orientated though so we’ve still to hit that tipping point. That’s what keeps me going :-).

Lee Munroe's Portfolio border=

A big concern many businesses have is the ROI on social media investment. What metrics do you think are the most important to track?

For us it’s user sign ups and reviews. We’re a review website so the more reviews we get the better.

Our social media presence is focused on reminding people that we’re there and they can use us to find places or write reviews.

Tweet NI border=

Businesses tend to be wary of review sites incase a customer says something negative about their product/service. Do you think businesses are beginning to realise they can use these opportunities to turn negative reviews into positive experiences?

Yes and no. Northern Ireland is a very traditional market and a lot of business owners tend to be scared of the internet or don’t understand it.

We get a lot of angry business owners demanding that we remove their bad reviews, and we don’t because we’re impartial facilitators and can’t just remove bad reviews because they want us to.

But we also get a few smart businesses asking about how they can get in touch with the individual reviewer to apologise and ask us how they can help improve their Lookaly reputation. We do our best to help them as we don’t like to see any business get hammered with bad reviews.

Lookaly iPhone app

What’s next for Lee and Lookaly? Will we see Lookaly expand beyond the reaches of Northern Ireland?

I hope so. We’ve spent 2 years developing the web site and iPhone app and now we’re testing out our business model in Northern Ireland. If we can get it to work here then I don’t see why we wouldn’t expand.

Most people have a book that changed their life, the way they thought or even just how they conducted business, what’s yours?

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Thanks Lee for taking the time to answer questions about Lookaly. If that’s left you wanting to know more then you should follow @lookaly and @leemunroe on Twitter.

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