Jun 14, 2010 at 11:17am ET by Tom Leung
The worst fear of a restaurateur used to be opening the newspaper to find a critical review of his or her food. Same for performances or new products and gadgets. This anxiety could keep business owners up at night—but at least they knew when to expect a review to hit the streets.
In today’s online gusher of consumer opinion and dialogue, reviews and rumors come in little spurts and splashes on a variety of different websites, blogs and even comments to those blogs. There’s Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Citysearch and a vast sea of other websites to monitor and manage. The web is the modern day comment card—the only difference being that it’s publicly visible to millions.
So, it’s important for all businesses to understand what people are saying, spot customer trends, see how they stack up against their competition and check to see if information, such as directory listings, is accurate and updated. While large corporations typically employ a team of communications specialists to do this monitoring, small- to medium-size businesses are usually left to their own devices. As a result, owners or managers wind up spending either a lot of time monitoring online comments, or even worse, no time at all.
However, online reputation management doesn’t have to be as complex as many people make it out to be. Realistically, there are four easy steps that all companies should take:
- Update and/or correct your online listings to ensure that customers (and potential customers) can find you
- Listen to what your customers are saying about you online
- Engage with your customers in these online communities
- Incorporate customer feedback into your decision-making to improve your business
“Our online reputation is critical to our business,” said Steve Rosen, co-founder of Seattle restaurant chain, Blue C Sushi. “There are really only two factors that go into someone’s decision-making when choosing a restaurant like ours—they either hear about it from a friend or they check online.”
So what’s a business owner to do if a negative review does pop up?
Fortunately, there are now tools that easily uncover what is being said about a business, organizing commentary by subject or sentiment, and laying out ways a business can make improvements or promote praise.
It’s called online reputation management, and it’s one of the most important new strategies in marketing. Why? Because, according to Opus Research, 35 percent of small businesses claim to have received new customers from positive reviews. And online customer reviews influence the purchase decisions of 84 percent of consumers, according to the Opinion Research Corporation.
The tools are available, and the time is now. BIA/Kelsey expects the email, reputation and presence management (ERPM) category to grow from $460 million in 2008 to $3.1 billion in 2013. Additionally, the number of SMBs using ERPM will increase from approximately 500,000 to nearly 4 million during the forecast period.
Given the hundreds of different sites on which a review could appear, reputation management tools can be a smart investment for businesses, especially for those in the service industry where reviews and the websites that not only welcome, but relish, criticism could cause serious damage. Meanwhile, being able to see what is working and making customers happy is important, too. Still, to repeat the American pop culture adage, knowing is only half the battle.
Take it from Rosen: “The whole idea of reputation management is not just about reading reviews. It’s about actually doing something about it.”
Through online reputation management, business owners can turn what initially seems like a negative—a bad review—into a positive by taking the customer feedback and using it to better their business.
Do your customers think you’re understaffed during busy happy hours? Bring in another server. Is someone unhappy with your variety of merchandise? Consider expanding your selection. Knowing what your customers want is sometimes half the battle. But once you do, more times than not the fix is a fairly easy one.