Looking for an explanation of why social media matters? Look no further than this quote from “The Thank You Economy,” by Gary Vaynerchuk: “Consumers have more direct, daily contact with other consumers than has ever been possible in the history of the planet. More contact means more sharing of information…in short, more word of mouth.”
This quote effectively captures the degree to which social media has given the audience a voice in the conversation that’s equal to – and sometimes even louder than – that of even the biggest brands. This is great for us as consumers, because now — for the first time in human history — we can access a critical mass of our peers from just about anywhere at just about any time, giving us access to better information about products and services. It presents tremendous challenges for businesses, however, since reputation management can take considerable time and attention, and since it can feel like we’re no longer in control (spoiler alert: we’re not).
Some businesses are responding by dismissing the importance of consumer opinion sites or downplaying the impact of negative reviews. This is a huge mistake, however. In a recent study by Fan & Fuel Interactive Digital Marketing Group, 97 percent of consumers said customer reviews factor into their buying decisions. And in the same study, 35 percent of respondents said just one negative review can make them decide not to buy. It does matter, whether or not we like it.
It’s also important to understand that reviews don’t exist in a vacuum. In addition to consumers actively seeking them out on sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp, they’re also happening upon them during Google searches even when they’re not searching for reviews. Google’s local search, also known as the three-pack, includes not just links to a retailer’s website and address, but also a star rating and a link to Google reviews. Furthermore, these reviews have at least somewhat of an impact on search results, with research from a variety of sources indicating that companies with higher rankings, or even just more reviews, are more likely to appear in the top three results.
With this in mind, it’s becoming more critical for those in the B2C space to take an active role in managing their reputation – on Google and elsewhere. Here are a few keys to success:
- Fix what’s broken. Every business has challenges. If yours are customer facing, it’s more important than ever to fix them. Your flaws will inevitably be amplified on consumer opinion sites, and the more prevalent they are, the more likely this becomes. There’s no substitute for addressing the root cause of those issues.
- Do the research. A somewhat obvious first step is to look at the major review sites to see what’s being said about you and your competitors. Whether it’s positive or negative, you’ll want to be aware of what’s out there. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.
- Ask customers to review you (as long as you expect the results will be favorable). If you are confident that you provide excellent service, more positive reviews may be available to you – if only you request them. One option: send a request to your email list with a link to all the relevant review sites. This is a good strategy even if you already have plenty of good reviews, but it’s absolutely essential if your online reputation is not what you’d like it to be. The best antidote for bad reviews is good reviews.
- Repurpose good reviews. Once you have an inventory of positive reviews, reach out to some of your most ardent advocates and ask if you can use their comments elsewhere: on your website, in your brochures, enlarged and slapped on the wall of your building – the opportunities are endless. Use every opportunity to get these comments in front of prospects and customers.
- Capture customer testimonials on video. While you can’t control what someone says in a review, you can create testimonials that show you at your best. Make sure you don’t let them languish on YouTube, however: share them on your website and via social media to give them a better chance of being discovered.
- Consider using a reputation management dashboard or outsourcing the effort. Like anything else in your business, reputation management takes time and effort. One option is to invest in a tool like BirdEye, which captures reviews from a variety of sites and allows you to see them all in a single dashboard. If you want to save even more time, you can outsource the effort and have someone monitor, respond to, and generate new reviews on your behalf. You may be able to trade a few dollars and get back more time to spend with your customers in the real world – which may, in turn, lead to more positive reviews.
There’s no question that customers are paying more attention to what their peers are saying online. That means it’s an imperative that you do, too. The conversation will happen with or without you, so take an active role. With a little effort, you can substantially mitigate the negative, amplify the positive, and differentiate your business – which ultimately will result in more prospects becoming customers, and more customers becoming true advocates.