Reviews and Reputation Management
Internet reviews seem to be the most widely criticized pieces of the online presence puzzle. This is especially true for small business owners. If you have not been affected by an online review you are lucky and may not know what the fuss is all about. Online review sites such as Yelp.com and RipOffReport.com allow users to voice their opinions, good or bad, in near anonymity. Even sites like Google+ make it very easy for people to speak their mind. The problem is there is very little these sites do to verify the identity of the reviewer or that the review is real, and even less that you can do to fight it. This poses an interesting problem for you as a business owner. These review sites are important for much of the same reasons as social media. They offer the search engines social signals to follow, and consumers a way to share your brand. However, if ugly, or sometimes blatantly false, information is posted about your business you have very little options for responding. Due to some restrictions on customer confidentiality you may have in your contracts and the anonymity these sites afford their users, your choices are very limited. Do not get frustrated. There is a way to take advantage of these increasingly popular and important tools
First you need to embrace these sites, as it appears they are here to stay. You have to play the game. Next, do not get angry, regardless if it is an old customer or your competition that posts a negative review. In order to turn this negative into a positive you need to swallow your tongue and apologize. Whether you did something wrong or not, you can turn it all around with a simple statement such as “I’m sorry you had a bad experience with our business, please contact me directly so we can resolve this issue.” A statement like this accomplishes a couple of things. First, if the person truly is upset it gives you a chance to resolve the issue before it gets any bigger. It also shows any other prospective customers who might read the review a sense that you are on top of your business and that you care. A timely, courteous, and professional response takes the wind out of anyone looking to cause trouble and could ultimately save you from further headaches. Do not discuss the specifics of the matter or get into a posting war. Just as with social media a negative response will cause you more headaches, even though it may make you feel better.
Getting good reviews from your customers and making review sites work for your business is not as difficult as you might think. It is more of a numbers game then a chore. To get the biggest bang from these types of sites you approach them like your directory listings. You need to locate, claim, clean and correct your profiles. Once this is done you need to let your customers know that you want to hear from them. Encourage them to review you by placing a link on your site or other advertisements. This may seem like a scary proposition but it can actually make your business better. Of course if you are going to put yourself out there you need to monitor them closely so you can respond to reviews and put out fires.
Do not be tempted to cheat the system to get positive reviews for your business. There are very clear rules that the sites have for getting reviews. These types of sites want the reviews to accurately depict the public’s opinion of your business, therefore you are not allowed to pay or compensate your customers in anyway for their reviews. Likewise you cannot have non-customers give you fake reviews. There have actually been hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines levied against businesses caught inflating their positive reviews. These online reviews fall under the same FCC rules as user testimonials or spokesperson. Though getting reviews may seem tough and scary, it is not impossible. The more customers you ask the better your odds are of getting the reviews you need.
Just as with social media there are companies that can help you manage your reviews. These are known as reputation management companies, and they often promise to make negative reviews go away. This is simply not true. They can work to get more positive reviews to outnumber and bury the negative ones, but they cannot delete negative or unwanted reviews from any of these sites. These review sites clearly state in their rules that, aside from a court order, there is no way to delete the negative review. Reputation management companies also use various PR sites to flood the search engine results page with information about your business in an attempt to push the review site down. This is usually a short term, fix, not a long-term solution to negative reviews. Another hurdle small businesses face obtaining reviews is the fear some customers have about posting things online. If you find that many of your customers feel this way, you can always have them write testimonials for your own website. This way you can assure them that you control the name and appearance of the testimonial. This may give them a better feeling and it gives you great content. However do not copy reviews from the review sites to your own website where you will be penalized.