Remember that day in Junior High School when everyone was suddenly mad at you, and you had no idea why? It probably started because a single person was miffed for some reason, real or imagined, and her story got caught up in the gossip grapevine. That was no fun, but we’ve all outgrown that particular predicament by now, haven’t we?
Unfortunately, no. Today, if you’re a business owner or marketing manager, you are right back in middle school when it comes to your company’s reputation. The difference is that now, you may not know if your reputation has been damaged, because the evidence is not in front of you unless you know to look for it.
The world has always been full of critics, but today they have a popular platform to share their opinions with every one of your potential customers. In the last few years, the use of online ratings sites for posting and researching reviews has exploded in popularity. On websites like Yelp, Google Places, Citysearch, Yahoo Local, Angie’s List and ePinions, happy or disgruntled individuals can post a review of any company, and they can say whatever they want with limited oversight. These are the same places that potential customers look for word of mouth reviews to determine which vendors are solid and trustworthy.
Do these reviews really matter? It depends what business you are in, but most of the time it matters a lot, particularly if yours is a local or service business. Cones 2011 Online Influencer Trend Tracker study found that 80% of consumers decided against buying a product based on a negative online review. Conversely, having a positive review brings new customers to companies who might not have gotten them otherwise. More and more people are using online reviews to help in decision making. The biggest review site, Yelp, currently has 31 million unique users per month. And any time a consumer does a search for a local business, Google, Bing and Yahoo automatically show each competitor’s ratings right there in the search results.
As you’ve probably guessed, most reviews are posted by those who are either very upset or very pleased with a company: the vocal minority. In this climate, it is essential that you monitor your online reviews to create and maintain a positive reputation.
Here are five things you can do:
1 – Talk with your employees and remind them to treat all customers with respect. If a staff member has difficulty with a particular customer, make sure he brings you directly into the conversation to prevent any potential for ill will or dissatisfaction.
2 – Monitor your online reputation by regularly checking in on the review sites. You may also get timely information through Google Alerts. Enter your company name in the search field and Google will alert you by email every time something is posted about your company on the web.
3 – Respond immediately to negative reviews. Reply in the public forum or, if the reviewer has included contact information, contact him and let him know that you are sorry he had a poor experience with your company. Tell him you take his feedback seriously. See if there is anything you might do to remedy the situation and then ask if he’d be willing to change his review. Be conciliatory and positive at all times.
4 – Stack the deck with good reviews. If every one star rating is matched by a flurry of five star ratings, your overall standing will be very good. Ask your customers to post a review of your company on each of the various sites. True, this may be an uncomfortable thing to request. But most people will feel honored if you let them know how valuable their opinion is to you, and that you’ve chosen them to represent your company. It’s best to make your request face to face, but you may also do it by email or through your newsletter. The goal is to maintain a steady stream of positive reviews.
5- Be aware that even with your best efforts, some of these review sites may not prioritize your best reviews, or may refuse reviews that are suspect in any way. You also may find yourself victim to the reviews from disreputable competitors or other pranksters. If you run out of options, consider contacting a reputation management company such as Reputation.com or Integrity Defenders. It may cost you something, but will likely pay for itself in repairing the damage and opportunity loss of negative online reviews.
If you’ve spent money on advertising and marketing but not yet recognized the effects of online reviews, the time has come to place this additional task on your list. Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com says: “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Make sure you are in the room. –
You can find many more of Jen White’s marketing tips in her ebook compilation, “Smart Marketing for Small Business Owners”. Just click here for the Kindle version: amazon.com If you have a Nook or iPad, or would prefer to download a pdf to your PC or laptop, use this link: other formats