Something to Talk About

Protect your reputation and profits by monitoring what's being said about your business online.
by : 

Phillip M Perry

September 1, 2012
Something to Talk About

People are talking about your business. Do you know what they're saying?

The answer can spell the difference between success and failure. Positive reviews on internet message boards help boost revenues and fatten your bottom line. Negative reviews can spike your best business plans.

“People are increasingly putting reviews online as the internet becomes more social,” says Daniel Burrus, a business consultant based in Hartland, Wis. (www.burrus.com). “All of the reviews are in the cloud and available for anyone to read.”

And read they do: For many businesses social media sites are quickly becoming the best sources of new customers. Just a few of the most popular are Yelp, Twitter, Angie’s List, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube. A recent study from Harvard Business School revealed a direct correlation between star ratings on Yelp and revenues at a business.

Why the upturn? A big reason is technology’s growing heft. “Our main computing device is shifting from the laptop to the smartphone,” says Burrus. “And unlike our laptops, our smartphones are always with us.” Smartphones are constantly getting faster at processing data. That helps people quickly post reports on their business experiences while searching for the most highly ranked providers of goods and services.

Watch the sites

Watching for reviews about your own business on social media sites poses a challenge. Monitoring them all would take a lot of time, and time costs money.

What to do? Set up an automated search to alert you whenever your business is reviewed. Google offers the most popular of such alerts. “Google Alerts are easy and free,” says consultant Bob Phibbs, Coxsackie, N.Y. (www.retaildoc.com). “You can create an alert that sends you an email every time your business name is mentioned online.” If such alerts are too numerous, you can specify that Google send you a consolidated report once a day (Google Alerts is at www.google.com/alerts).

You should also set up an alert in Twitter to let you know when your business is mentioned in a tweet. Twitter is especially important for your online reputation because people with smartphones use Twitter all the time. Your customers are most likely already using Twitter, and you want to pay attention to what they say. A free, easy Web app for this is Twilert (www.twilert.com).

Bonus tip: Ask your customers what internet sites they use to find businesses like yours.

Respond to negative reviews

Every business will get some negative reviews. “People gripe for a lot of reasons,” says Phibbs. “Maybe they did not get waited on fast enough, or maybe a coupon expired and you didn’t honor it.”

When your business receives a negative review, it’s important to respond with an online message that prospective customers can see, says Phibbs. “Posting a response shows you are listening to your customers and taking action.”

Avoid impersonal or canned posts. Compose your posts in words that directly address the complaining customers’ concerns, suggests Phibbs. “Personalize your message with words such as ‘I own the business with my wife Mary, and we are sorry to hear you had a bad experience.’”

Your responses should also note that you’re attempting to improve whatever areas the customers found lacking (cleanliness, customer service, employee friendliness, merchandise selection). “Finally, invite the customer to contact you,” says Phibbs. “Include an email address or phone number.”

Carefully written responses can turn a negative situation into a positive one. Paying attention to customers and taking action on complaints can build loyalty. You can even turn an angry person into a raving fan.

From time to time you will run into a review that, while legitimate, comes from a customer who is simply being unreasonable. “You often have outliers on the negative side, because the unreasonable customer can be very vocal,” says Greg Sterling, a San Francisco-based internet analyst (www.internet2go.net).

“While most consumers are reasonable and will look at the consensus and not ascribe too much weight to a single negative review, it still has to be addressed,” says Sterling. Post a response in terms that illustrate the importance you place on the area the customer has addressed. Emphasize that you intend to do better in the future.

Bonus tip: Look at negative reviews as informal customer surveys that help you identify and rectify business problems.

Handling illegitimate reviews

Social media sites have their dark side: Not all negative reviews are legitimate. What do you do if you suspect a negative review has been posted by a competitor or a disgruntled former employee?

One thing not to do, says Burrus, is stir the pot. “Don’t create a fight and don’t incense people in ways that make them do more negative things.”

Stay positive even in the face of unfair practices. “If the poster is a competitor, post some evidence to the contrary underneath what they wrote,” suggests Burrus. “You might say something like ‘Here is a link to 50 customers who disagree with you.’”

And how about if the poster is a former employee? “Have your lawyer contact the person to let them know they must cease and desist,” suggests Burrus. “Let them know they cannot smear a reputation without ramifications.” A legal letter can convince the person to remove an offending review.

The challenge is even greater for sites that allow anonymous postings. If a review is blatantly unfair (for example, a personal attack on an employee), you can contact the site and ask for it to be removed.

Finally, there are the gold diggers. “Some people will give you bad reviews in the hope that you will contact them with deals such as half off a future purchase,” says Phibbs. Don’t take the bait. Instead, post a reasonable response that conveys the actions you are taking to provide quality service.

Respond to positive reviews

Your good business will likely get a lot of positive reports. “It is just as important to respond to good reports,” says Phibbs. A simple “Thanks so much for the compliment” may do for a general report, but take time to address any specific topics the customer has mentioned. (It’s not necessary to respond to every favorable report once you start getting more than a handful.)

Phibbs suggests printing good reports and posting them on the wall in your store, perhaps under a headline such as “Raving Fans of Our Business.” Copy them to your website and to your Facebook page, as well.

Bonus tip: Don’t be afraid to ask people to post good reviews. But avoid offering rewards for doing so—websites frown on that practice.

Monitor your reputation

Google Alerts, as already mentioned, is a great service for getting a heads up on the lowdown. But you may want to invest a little more effort and time into managing your reputation. That’s where online reputation tracking services come in. “Most small businesses don’t know about the many online reputation tracking services, and just search their business names once in a while,” says Sterling. “Yet the specialized services can give you important information.”

Such as? You can have reviews sent to your mobile phone and have message threads with negative reviews tracked in real time, giving you granular control over responses. This can be particularly helpful when damaging disputes break out about your business. In contrast, says Sterling, emails from Google Alerts do nothing more than inform you that a post has been made, and even that information arrives after a time lag.

For a list of such services, see the sidebar “What Are They Saying About You?” on p. 46. Be aware that yellow pages and newspapers may include reputation monitoring tools in advertising packages. That can reduce your costs considerably.

Suggestion box

Reputation monitoring may seem like more trouble than it’s worth. Keep in mind, though, your business is at stake: More people than ever are turning to online reviews for help deciding what business to patronize.

Indeed, every online review site is a valuable suggestion box for your business. “There is a great deal you can learn from reviews,” says Sterling. “They can help you think of new products and services for your customers. Be open and embrace them.”


What Are They Saying About You?

“Online consumer reviews count very heavily in terms of influence on ultimate purchases,” says Greg Sterling, an internet analyst in San Francisco (www.internet2go.net). “They are widely consulted across the board as people do online research before making purchase decisions. Surveys show they are heavily trusted, second only to recommendations of friends and family.”

Don’t have the time or inclination to monitor what all those sites are saying? Or need professional assistance in developing a strategy for beefing up your business image? Here are some services that will help:

  • AmIVisible (www.amivisible.org). Monitors client business names, specializing in local search sites.
  • Chatmeter (www.chatmeter.com). Tracks online chatter and creates graphs that illustrate trends in impressions.
  • GetListed (www.getlisted.org). Assures clients are listed properly on search sites such as Google Places, Bing Local, and Yelp.
  • MyRepMan (www.myrepman.com). Searches client business names on the most popular online directory sites.
  • Needium (www.needium.com). Monitors posts on social media sites to identify potential customers for clients.
  • Reputation.com (www.reputation.com). ReputationDefender service offers to fix damaging Google search results.
  • Twitterfall (www.twitterfall.com). Filters Tweets mentioning clients, consolidating results on a single Web page.
  • StepRep (www.steprep.com). Provides weekly reports; specializes in local businesses.
  • Yext (www.yext.com). PowerListings feature updates client listings on all sites when clients correct a listing on a single site.

Phillip M. Perry is a freelance business writer with over 20 years of experience in workplace psychology, employment law, and marketing.