Consumer reviews of businesses, products and service is having a growing influence over what other consumers choose to do than ever before. The importance of what your family and friends say about different restaurants, stores, movies and the like can be seen in the number of apps and online sites that encourage reviews by customers. Apps like Yelp, Foursquare, Around Us, and thousands more have been built around the idea that sharing our opinions with people is a part of the social engagement known as social media.
A 2013 study by BrightLocal found 85 percent of consumers say they read online reviews for local businesses, up from 76 percent in 2012. What’s also interesting is that the number of reviews consumers read before trusting the business has gone down. Before forming an opinion of a business, 67 percent of consumers read six or fewer reviews, up from 52 percent in 2012 — which means those reviews are more powerful than ever.
In previous columns I’ve discussed the need to engage with people in the social media world whether you want to or not. But this evolution of online surveys and business ratings that are found everywhere by anyone has prompted the development of a new line of online services for small businesses.
It’s no longer enough to do your best in your business with your customers. It’s no longer even enough to ask your customers for a referral. Today, businesses need to be much more proactive when it comes to positioning themselves best for those soft marketing opportunities.
The first phase was to monitor your online brand. What were people saying about your agency on Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn? The next phase was to take it a bit further and be open about any negative comments, do whatever you could to resolve the issue and let people know; be transparent in the process as much as possible.
Now we’re in phase three, with companies developing products designed specifically to promote and generate a positive reputation. Two in particular come to mind: GetFiveStars.com and Reputation.com.
GetFiveStars is a software tool that “improves your relationship with your guests, ignites great word of mouth, and helps your business market itself,” according to the website. The tool prompts your customers to provide you with reviews and alerts you to any not-so-great review, which gives you an opportunity to respond and resolve their issues. That attention promotes strong customer loyalty and another positive review.
You can then publish the good reviews to your website and ask those customers to leave the comments on more public review sites. Negative experiences are more likely to find their way online than positive ones; it’s just human nature. So proactively encouraging happy customers to say something online can help raise those numbers.