From Zero to Five Stars: Online Reputation Management 101

Business.com / Branding / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

88 percent of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. How can you get a hold of your online reputation?

Imagine this scenario: you Google two competing companies. For company A, 7 of their top 10 reviews are positive. For Company B, it’s just the opposite: 7 of those 10 reviews are negative.

Which company would you choose? Most folks would go with Company A, and that’s bad news for Company B, especially if those negative reviews were all incorrect or unfounded.

This is an example of the “megaphone effect” where anyone with a computer or mobile device can fire off a review in less than 60 seconds that’s read by thousands of people across the world—and can have a major impact on your business.

Nearly nine in ten consumers (88 percent) read online reviews to determine the quality of a local business, with 85 percent of consumers saying they read up to 10 reviews, according to the 2014 Local Consumer Review Survey reported by Search Engine Land. Seventy-two percent say that positive reviews make them more likely to trust a local business. Here’s the real kicker: 88 percent of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

From dissatisfied customers tweeting complaints to biased online reviews, controlling your business’s online reputation may seem like a losing battle. While you can’t please all the people all the time, it’s still important to keep an eye on what folks are saying online about your business and be prepared to fight back. After all, as the 2014 Local Consumer Review Survey found, those online reviews truly impact consumer purchase decisions.

The following steps are a good start for online reputation management:

Related Article: Reputation Management: The Missing Ingredient in Your Marketing Strategy

Keep Tabs on Your Own Profile.

You can’t fix what you don’t know. Even if the majority of customers you interact with each day say they’re satisfied with your service, it’s inevitable someone out there has a complaint or had a negative experience and is taking to the Internet to vent his frustration. Don’t assume your reviews are positive.

To monitor your online reputation, start by identifying the review sites that generate the greatest referral traffic to your website. While you’ll want to keep an eye on these sites, they’re probably the ones with the strongest reviews. Is an obvious industry review site missing from your referral traffic list or did it suddenly drop from #3 to #20? If so, there’s a chance negative reviews could be the culprit for this sudden traffic drop.

Don’t go it alone: tools like ReviewPush provide multi-site monitoring with email alerts and notifications so you’re never blindsided by a bad review.

Monitor Industry Review Sites.

Remember there’s more to monitor than just your Yelp and Google reviews. Many online review specialty sites aggregate reviews about similar products all into one place.

For example, let’s say your business was searching for a new web-based project management platform or business telephone system. These are pretty big fields and if you’re not starting with a specific recommendation, there are a ton of products and services to consider.

If you’re new to the marketplace or unfamiliar with the different options, you won’t know which specific companies to look up. Instead, you’ll head to a review site that offers multiple project management software reviews or virtual PBX reviews all in one place. The same goes for services like healthcare; physician review websites like Vitals and Healthgrades are now two of the most popular places for choosing a new medical doctor.

Related Article: Customer Reviews: The Secret Sauce For Your Website

Respond but Don't Confront.

Negative reviews are inevitable; it’s how you handle these reviews that makes a difference. This is especially true for sites like Yelp where reviewers can later log back in and submit a revised review based on your response. Often the best way to address negative reviews is with a quick online response that asks the reviewer to contact you at their convenience and take the conversation offline.

When you do speak with a reviewer who was dissatisfied, remember that the timing and tone of your interaction is sometimes more important than the end response. You can’t fix a mistake that happened in the past; what you can do is respond promptly, sincerely and empathetically. If they’re willing to try your product or service again, offer a significant discount and ask them to leave new feedback based on the second experience.

Build Positive Word-of-Mouth.

Most folks that are satisfied with a product never post a review; it’s the people who are unhappy who are more likely to take to the Internet to vent. While you can’t force folks to write a glowing review of your business, you can incentivize positive word-of-mouth. A referral program may sound a bit old-fashioned, but it still has a place in your marketing mix.

Target your best customers and incentivize them with free product or service discounts to share your business with their friends and colleagues. Uber, for example, does this well by incentivizing both the referrer and the referred with a dual $20 ride credit.

Bottom Line 

Never turn your back on online reviews. Be aware of what people are saying, respond promptly, improve where change is warranted and invite negative reviewers to try again with your business.

Finally, remember that personal recommendations still matter. You can’t control the content of online reviews, but with a strong referral program, you can give happy customers an incentive to spread the word.

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