Good online reviews can make your business, and bad online reviews can break your business.
If you listen to anything I’ve told you about marketing your small business, let it be this: proactively take control of your online reputation, as much as you can, now. Sometimes there is damage that cannot be undone later.
We all know if you are in business for any length of time, someone you deal with is going to be unhappy. The amount of damage to your reputation that can result from that unhappy customer (or ex-employee or competitor) depends on how much disaster mitigation you put into place before the negative review is posted online. And that requires some planning (which is where I often come in). Here are four ways you can mitigate for the worst:
- Publish as much content online for your business as possible. This should be an ongoing effort. Create a Facebook Page for your business, a Twitter account, Flickr photos, and a YouTube channel. Create a LinkedIn Business Listing and claim all your listings online. If you get a negative review — and that’s all that people see about your business when they search for you online — you’re in a bad place. But if you’ve taken the time to deliberately market your business: collecting and publishing testimonials, publicizing good reviews when you receive them, uploading images and video, writing a blog or managing a Facebook Page — then you are in a much better position. Then, the negative review may not be the first thing a person sees in the search engine results, and the good content will balance the bad.
- Don’t let your customers leave unhappy; fix the problem now. Constantly check in with your customers before they have the chance to write a bad review. Don’t wait until your guests check out of your hotel or bed and breakfast to ask them how things are going — call the first night and make sure everything is to their satisfaction. If you manage a restaurant, make sure you walk the floor and ask each and every customer, every day, every meal, if everything is completely to their satisfaction. And if it isn’t — do anything you have to do right then to make it right.
- Make it easy for people to review your business online. You can prevent fallout from negative online reviews by encouraging online reviews. To do this, post links to review sites on your website, blog, and Facebook Page for example, so people can easily find your listings and read other reviews. Most online reviews tend to be positive; Yelp claims that 85% of their reviews are 3 stars or higher.
- Develop a way to keep track of your customers so you can promptly respond to complaints posted online, whenever possible. For example, if someone makes an appointment for service, you probably have their phone number. If you then discover that the person has written a negative review, you can contact that person to learn more. In some cases, the person may go back and revise their review! It is worth almost any effort to turn that situation around. Monitoring your reviews are key; you have to have business listings with review sites and Google Alerts in place to quickly respond.
Sure, there are some customers that will never be satisfied, but heed my advice: take your online reviews seriously. Negative reviews — approached the right way — can be a positive thing for your business! They are not a forum for excuses, but they can be an opportunity to tell your story, and to turn things around, even get advice. They can help you identify trouble spots and service issues that can keep your business from getting more negative reviews.
Here are five important online review sites, plus strategies for dealing with them.
Last month — in one month — 38 million people visited Yelp, which features reviews about everything from dentists to realtors to restaurants (see chart for breakdown). If you do not have a business listing on Yelp, you can create one. If you do have one, you should go ahead and claim it (it is free), and upload as much content as you can: upload photos, logos, special offers You can also monitor activity on your listing — all for free. You have the option of responding publicly or privately (or both) to reviews on Yelp, and Yelp provides excellent guidelines for handling both negative and positive feedback from reviewers that I recommend all business owners read.
TripAdvisor attracts 35 million visitors monthly who read the restaurant, hotel, and attraction reviews. If you have a restaurant, hotel, or attraction, you MUST claim your TripAdvisor business listing and take full advantage of the free features it offers business owners, including the opportunity to respond publicly to positive and negative reviews. You can also upload images and video on TripAdvisor. Think about that: you could upload video testimonials. TripAdvisor is tremendously influential and provides a way for you to enter the conversation.
Google Maps/Google Places
You may have a business listing for Google Maps or Google Places. If you do, you should claim it (it is free). If you don’t, you can create one for free, and I recommend that you do. Unless you are a very small business, chances are one will be created for you eventually, if you do not, and this is a listing over which you want to have as much control as possible.
The bad news is you have virtually no control over the the reviews posted on your Google listing, which includes both reviews posted directly on the site, as well as reviews found on TripAdvisor and elsewhere online. It’s hard to tell who the reviewers are, and you cannot respond to the reviews, publicly or privately, and there is no real way to remove a listing, unless it was fraudulently put up.
Yahoo Local Reviews
Yahoo Local doesn’t wield the power of Yelp — it appears to receive about 11 million views per month — but it does offer free business listings. It is possible to comment on the reviews that are posted there.
Facebook Page Reviews
If you have a Facebook Page, you have the option of putting a Reviews tab on your Page. Should you do this? In my opinion, no. Facebook Page reviews are not that searchable. I think you should have a tab for reviews on your page, but you can create that manually with FBML and add your reviews, list style. Then you can add a link to Yelp or TripAdvisor to encourage your Facebook Page users to visit those sites and review your business.
Should you pay for online reviews?
I hope you know that the answer is no. You should not hire someone to do this, or ask a friend or family member (unless they identify themselves as such) to write online reviews for you, or reward people for good reviews. People see right through that. Good thing, too, as ex-employees and competitors are not above writing fake negative reviews to sink a business. Sylvia Rector, a restaurant critic, has identified several ways that she and other savvy review readers may suspect the veracity of a review:
- The reviewer only has one review.
- Several reviews are written in one day.
- There are few specific details but extreme opinions.
Has your business been reviewed online? How did you respond? What are your plans for managing online reviews?