Online Brand Reputation Management – Keeping Bad Online Reviews From Killing Your Business
In business, your brand’s reputation is everything. In this day and age of the Internet and social media with near instant information dissemination, a single bad online review can haunt your business for years. To make matters worse, there may be bad reviews about your business out there right now, directing precious customers elsewhere, and you may be totally unaware of them. That’s where online brand reputation management comes in.
The (Social) Proof is in the Pudding
There’s nothing like social proof to drive sales, and nothing like a bad reputation to turn your business into a virtual leper (no disrespect intended to Mycobacterium leprae sufferers). Think about it. You’ve used them yourself to make decisions about where to buy; those little gold stars accompanying local search and online business directory listings. It’s only common sense that the more great reviews your company has, the better your brand’s reputation, and the easier it is to bring in new customers.
That being said, how are you to ensure that your reputation is as glowing online as you’d like, with those wonderful gold (Google, Bing) and red (Yelp) stars shouting to all within earshot how great your business is? There are two components to your online rep; good reviews and poor ones.
Obviously, your goal is to maximize the former, while minimizing the latter. In addition, you need to ensure that poor reviews don’t rise to the top when someone does web search for your business. The million dollar secret is how to accomplish this Herculean task. Your most effective strategy is to attack the problem from both ends; reduce poor online reviews, bad online press, and negative social feedback, while increasing positive showings.
Who Looks at That Stuff?
Come on, how much can it really matter, anyway? Do people even look at those things before making their buying decisions? Don’t they just ask their friends? Is it worth actively managing your online reputation? Great questions, all, and here are the answers. Quite a bit, they do, of course, and YES!
According to the 2011 BrightLocal Annual Local Consumer Review Survey, it’s crazy not to engage in some type of active reputation management, if only to see where you stand in consumers’ eyes. The firm discovered that as of April, 2011, 70% of local consumers use the Internet to find local business, and nearly all of those read online reviews when deciding which business to patronize.
A surprising finding is that a significant majority, 69%, of consumers surveyed trusted online reviews as much as personal recommendations. An overwhelming 86% of consumers said the online reviews they read influenced their patronage decision one way or the other. Simply put, they carry a lot of weight, so they need to be dealt with.
Here’s the kicker: 57% of consumers will avoid a business that has negative online reviews. That doesn’t mean your business can be killed by a single bad one, but a preponderance of poor reviews may well mean that you’ll soon be calling someone else “Boss” in the not too distant future. How many does it take? That’s probably research you’ll want to leave to others.
The survey found that the average consumer prefers to read about 10 reviews before making a decision. Take that for what it’s worth, because if you have even 5 scathing reviews and no good ones, rest assured most prospective customers will be using a different contractor, and shopping, eating, or staying elsewhere.
Again, think about your own response to poor reviews when choosing a provider. Are you likely to prop open your mouth for a dentist who has 6 one star reviews? Only if you’re a glutton for punishment, most likely.
If you’re a business owner, board member, or exec, you’re now well aware of the fallout that these negative impressions can deliver, if you weren’t before. How then, do you initiate your counter strategy, and bring your online rep back from the brink?
What Are People Saying About You?
Before you can do this, you have to know what people are saying about your business online. The old saying is that ignorance is bliss, and many business owners are blissfully unaware of their online rep, and how badly it really hurts them. In this case ignorance kills your bottom line.
If this describes you, your first step is awareness. Your days of siting idly by on the sidelines while customers choose your competition because those other businesses have a string of gold stars and great online reviews are over. Your first order of business is to discover what people are saying about you out there.
You may be on the right path already. If so, congratulations. On the other hand, if your stars are only half gold, and there are a string of reviews out there saying less than charitable things about your company, it’s time to go to work. Maybe you have no reviews at all…..
Well, don’t just sit there, you’re missing out on all that business that’s going elsewhere because they’d rather take their dollars where other customers were happy. If you don’t have positive online reviews, no matter how satisfied your customer base, you’re losing customers, there are no two ways about it.
Start by doing a search for your business name on Google. In many cases your business directory profiles will be listed at or near the top, in come cases eclipsing even your own company website. Next, repeat the search with search modifiers such as “scam” “reviews” “service” and so forth.
Next, look at your Google places listing to see what your review profile looks like. If your not already on the first page when someone looks for what you do, dig deeper, you’ll find your listing eventually. To speed thing up a bit, look over on the left.
When you find your business, you’ll see either gold stars or the number of Google reviews you have, right on your local result. You can see how having a nice solid stripe of gold stars helps pull people in. It draws people’s eyes right to your listing, even if you’re not near the top of the search results. You don’t get to actually see the gold stars until you have at least 5 Google reviews. Fewer than that, and you’ll see the number of reviews listed in text, unless you have none, in which case it will be blank.
Five gold stars is best, and all gray stars is where you don’t want to be. If you discover that you have more gray stars than gold, unfortunately, you also have some less than flattering comments associated with them. Yes, as we saw earlier, people really do look at those when making their decisions. After you’ve checked your Google reviews, you’ll also want to make a similar check on Bing and Yahoo local, then start perusing local business directories such as Yelp, Trip Advisor, and Foursquare.
Okay, so now you have a better picture of what your business looks like to others when they’re out searching. Hopefully, you’re happy with what you find. The unfortunate reality is that even if 95% of your customers would walk up hill, barefoot, in a blinding snowstorm, to patronize your establishment, you’re more likely to get reviews from the other 5%.
And They’ll Tell 2(,000) Friends, and So On…….
If you’ve bee in business for more than a week, you know that if someone s happy they’ll tell two friends, but if they’re unhappy, they’ll scream to 200. So it is with your businesses’ online reputation, and how it’s built.
First, look to increase your positive reviews. That’ important for two reasons. First, good reviews counteract poor ones, and second, if you have no reviews at all, it gets you started on the path to the 5 you need for the stars to appear in your Google local search listing. There, all those gold stars can start to influence people to give you a call or visit. In addition, it is relatively easy to get them, so go out and do it.
Strategies for Increasing Positive Online Reviews and Exposure
It is time to be proactive. Yes, that is highly effective for many things business, and this is yet another.
1) Look at your negative reviews first. Yeah, this is about increasing positive reviews, but one of the most effective ways to do that is to address the concerns voiced in your negative ones. Look at specific concerns and find a common thread. Do you have a reputation for slow service, rude employees, or poor product selection?
Promptly respond to an negative reviews in a professional, courteous manner. Remember, what you say is on display for all the word to see, including any prospective customers out here. Explain any extenuating circumstances behind customer complaints, and more importantly, tell exactly what you’ve done to mitigate the risk of such problems occurring in the future.
2) Use the negative reviews to drive a formal, customer experience improvement strategy. Although this is the 21st century, people haven’t really changed very much in the last 100 years. They still want the same things from the businesses they patronize or hire.
Reliability, good value, and professionalism lead the list of traits that customers are looking for when choosing a business. Excelling in these will lead to more happy customers and more importantly for the purposes of this discussion, more positive recommendations and fewer (hopefully zero) negative ones.
3) Go after the positive reviews with a vengeance. According to the survey, there are specific things that influence customers to leave the positive reviews you’re looking for. Be sure your business exudes these qualities.
No surprise, the most important are very similar to those that drive people to choose a new business to give their hard earned dollars to. Simply replace professionalism with friendliness and you’ve got what it takes to get good reviews. There’s no question, you must have these to compete in the current business environment.
4) Institute a program to get the reviews you need. Beyond simply elevating your service level, product selection, and reliability, you want to actively solicit online customer reviews. Train your staff to ask for customers to review your business on Google, Yelp, and Bing.
If you have a customer e-mail database (if you haven’t built this valuable resource yet, we need to talk) now is the time to use it. You should already have a regular communication schedule already, so you can effectively market to your exiting customer base. Use the old fashioned method of just asking for reviews. Important: If you haven’t started delivering valuable content to your email subscribers, don;t just come out of the gate with an online review request, deliver regular, high value content to your subscribers / customers first.
5) Have no website yet? Join the 21st century and get one, now! Why? Think about this, at some point, you will get a poor review, and when you do, Google in all it’s web crawling efficiency will index it and associate that expletive laden rant with your business name.
What happens next can be devastating for your business. That bad review rises to the top of the search engine results page for your business name. Since you have no website of your own, it can easily be the first thing the prospective customer sees, and Boom! No more prospective customer. Don’t let that happen.
You can’t prevent your business from ever getting a negative review, but you can mitigate the risk somewhat.
The most important points in an online reputation management strategy are these:
1) Get positive reviews to counteract the negative ones.
2) Minimize the number of negative reviews
3) Reduce the chances of the negative reviews being seen by prospective customers.
To implement the strategy:
1) Institute a solid customer experience improvement strategy.
2) Actively solicit online reviews from satisfied customers. Look to long time regulars for these first.
3) Suppress any negative reviews and their effects by ensuring your desired content is found first in when people look for information about your company and quickly responding to any poor reviews.
Chances are you will get a bad review at some point in your business’ life. The chances of someone having a bad day, whether that is a customer or staff member, coupled with the propensity of people to leave bad reviews more often than good ones, make it a likely occurrence, no matter how good your track record.
How you manage your online reviews can literally make the difference between success and failure. Online reviews are only going to become more important going forward, so get ahead of things now, and implement an online brand reputation management strategy. Your business may well depend on it.
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