Online Reputation Management: Who’s Talkin’ About Your Local Business?
Imagine this: You’re at a new neighborhood boutique restaurant with your better half for Friday date night and are looking forward to epicurean brilliance and great service. Over the next hour, your server who never seems to be available, allows your wine glasses to go dry, gets your order wrong and doesn’t even offer dessert. […]
Imagine this: You’re at a new neighborhood boutique restaurant with your better half for Friday date night and are looking forward to epicurean brilliance and great service. Over the next hour, your server who never seems to be available, allows your wine glasses to go dry, gets your order wrong and doesn’t even offer dessert. Not living up to your expectations or the price, you whip out your mobile device and write a scathing user review on your favorite local search web site. Instantly your voice is heard by millions of like-minded consumers as this information is picked up by the other related web sites, blogs and web services offering aggregated consumer reviews.
Think about how this information almost instantly shows up on iPhone apps like iWant and Urbanspoon. The consumer’s voice is heard, and while many of us are now using our mobile devices before going to a business or restaurant, we are strongly influenced by the business ratings, scores and consumer comments. That real-time empowerment influences our decision to visit a business with less than stellar reviews.
As more user-generated reviews web sites such as Citysearch and Yelp are accessible on mobile devices, and with social network web sites that offer real-time status updates like Facebook and Twitter, consumers now have the power to share their experiences as they’re experiencing them. While this can capture the immediate excitement of finding a new restaurant, it can also serve as a channel to express frustration or disappointment with an outing gone wrong. Previously, consumers had to wait until they got home to post a user review. Now, they can do so in the heat of the moment, when passions run high and filters are non-existent. The result can be crushing for the local small business owner.
While the newfound accessibility is great for consumers, often businesses feel powerless when it comes to negative reviews and comments. We are fortunate to enjoy the freedom of speech, and folks are certainly entitled to their opinions. But what about the voice of the local business owner? How can he or she tell the other side of the story or clarify inaccurate or unfair statements?
Businesses are speaking out and are demanding an equal voice on these user review web sites. And the web sites are listening. For example, last week, Yelp announced a new offering enabling local businesses to respond publicly to inaccurate facts or statements, which is a service some other web sites, such as TripAdvisor already allow. Citysearch and Marchex’s Open List enable businesses to provide their own description of their business and provide updates to their online profiles, ensuring contact and other important information is accurate and current.
But is this enough?
Truly successful reputation management calls for business owners to be proactive for anything being said about their business online. But let’s back up. There’s an assumption that businesses are even aware of what’s being said about them while I contend that most likely aren’t. With so many new aggregation sites popping up daily, both positive and negative user reviews—along with the business’ reputation—instantly permeate across the web and mobile communities, right into the hands of consumers. So how can business owners harness this to their benefit? Here are a few suggestions.
Jump in and learn. To fully protect businesses’ reputation, it is critical to do some level of monitoring, such as a regular search for your business name on multiple search engines, including Twitter’s search engine, as well as searches on user review web sites. Search for the business by name, category, and location.
Discover your web and mobile footprint. Another option to consider is investing in a reputation management service that can be your eyes on the internet, alerting you to any potentially slanderous or inaccurate content, and giving more control over how the business is perceived online. This is a more nascent service, as related to online business reputation awareness, but gaining traction very quickly with offerings from Marchex, Trackur, BrandsEye and a few others. These services can provide a quick snapshot of the business’ footprint on the web and mobile community, and provide tools to take action.
Use the same web sites/medium to speak to your customers. Listen to what is being said and carefully consider whether a response from the business is even appropriate. Many user reviews or blogs are shared within a community and that community can feel threatened if an outside voice appears defensive. If the comment is to correct an inaccurate statement, think about responding by first thanking the reviewer or commentator for the feedback, and then offer a remedy and/or a response that shows you are taking action and will do what it takes to regain the trust from the customer for this isolated incident. Remember, those consumers that take the time to post their review of a business want to be seen and heard. When you validate their voice, you build a stronger relationship with them and hopefully as a result, they will be inclined to try you again and write a glowing review next time.
When it is not possible to mitigate a bad review or join in on a blog or Twitter discussion, you can still treat the situation as a free focus group with feedback that can help improve the business. You can even scope out the online and mobile reviews for your competition. You’ll be amazed at the insight that is out there and how you can fold that into your ongoing business strategy and marketing efforts.
The worst business problem is an unknown one; consider the information something that can empower your business to become better than the competition and worthy of people to talk about—in a positive way.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.