As online review sites such as Yelp, Foursquare and others, have grown - Yelp alone surpassed 41 million monthly visitors last year - more and more small businesses are grasping to understand if, when, and how to pay attention. And, among those I've consulted with lately, I'm hearing some common misconceptions that I'd like to dispel...
The truth is, anyone can post about any business, regardless of whether or not that business has established an official profile on the site. That's the nature of a community-generated review site. In their book "The Now Revolution," authors Jay Baer and Amber Naslund tell the story of a man who wrote a negative review on Trip Advisor about his stay at a motel that has gone unnoticed by the motel for years (despite it even being published...in a book.) Small businesses should not be afraid of joining the conversation by claiming the profile, (where it's allowed) and monitoring and learning from posts, and responding as appropriate.
The truth is, when someone posts a review of a business online, they are doing so in a public forum, with an audience. And, if they have a valid problem or suggestion that goes ignored, well, an entire audience is watching that silence. While there is value in taking a heated situation to the back-channel (as you should), a public response indicates to the wider audience that this business is addressing the issue. To sit in silence is akin to having a customer speaking to you face to face, in your crowded business, plugging your ears and walking away.
The truth is, for most small businesses, it's not necessary to invest in expensive tools for monitoring or to hire someone to do so. Some simple free tools like Google Alerts will serve well in providing notification of online mentions of your business name. Additionally, I recommend building a list of review sites specific to your industry and then dedicating a small block of time (perhaps an hour per week, to start) to visit each and do a quick search for your company name.
The truth is, people are wired to share their experiences. Social channels and online review sites make it easier for people to share with a wider audience, and they do so, good, bad or indifferent. Many business owners are fearful of a slew of negative reviews appearing, but it's important to realize the opportunity for positive reviews. Let's face it...if you're good at what you do, you're likely to have a loyal customer base, and repeat business. If, on the flip side, you have a ton of angry customers, online review sites really are not your first problem. It really is The End of Business as Usual (thank you, Brian Solis). Everyone has a voice, and, the customer-centric businesses willing to listen to that voice will ultimately elevate business as we know it.
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I’m a consultant, strategist, author, educator, and speaker with more than 30 years of professional experience. I’m passionately curious, fairly sassy, kinda dorky and seriously good at what I do.