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19 5 Ways to Rock Customer Review Sites

local businessThere’s been a fair amount of coverage recently about the ins and outs, good and evil, usefulness and rudeness of customer rating and reviews sites. No matter how you feel about these social recommendation sites, if you own a small business of any kind, it’s time to get serious about figuring out and playing the game.

Customer review sites are basically local directories that allow users to add and express their opinions about the various businesses in the directory. Visitors to the site can conduct a search for a plumber in San Diego and get listings along with ratings and reviews from customers of that business.

The biggest players currently are:

There are other directories popping up to serve vertical markets such as FriendsEat for restaurants and MyDocHub for physicians and you might also be on the lookout for directories that serve your city only.

A great deal of the grumbling about these sites revolves around two things 1) businesses don’t like to read that they have bad service 2) people who want to game the system or cause some harm to a business have used these tools to do so. Again, no matter, because these tools are here to stay and making their way into the mainstream of search. Google aggregates reviews from many sites and puts them in search results on Google Maps and Yelp reviews show up on page one for many Google local related searches – so, all this to say, let’s see what we can do to use these sites for good!

Below are five ways to benefit from customer review sites

1) List, claim, and build – The first step is to take the time to create accounts with all of the sites listed above, make sure you are listed (others can add your business so don’t be surprised to find a listing), go through the process to claim and take control of your listing and then look at this listing and profile as a brand asset and take the time to complete it fully – think of it like a brochure – add photos, links, brands, products and anything else that helps describe your business.

2) Use it to make you better – If you find a bad review or two, and you might as negative people tend to be more motivated, don’t freak out and start crying foul and spattering hate down on the reviewer. Look at the review and see if there’s something you can add to further explain what went wrong and if the review is clearly off base or possibly an attack from a competitor (it happens) review the policy for resolving these kinds of issues and take some action. However, some bad reviews are a legitimate reflection of the experience your customers are receiving. Step back and ask yourself if this bad review might be a gift in disguise and dig into the core of your business to see if there really is something that needs fixing. (How many dissatisfied customers just go away without a review?) Use reviews, good and bad to help you get better!

3) Monitor profiles – Tracking brand mentions and managing your online reputation go hand in hand with marketing in this social web world. You should set-up alerts that allow you to easily monitor when a new reviews hits one of these sites. You’ll want to know about any and all reviews so you can reach out and engage a customer that expresses a negative opinion and so that you can reach out and thank a customer that had a great experience. In fact, one part of monitoring is so that you can grab these great reviews and add them to your other marketing efforts. The easiest way to stay on top of the reviews is to grab the RSS feed for your profile and set it up as a Google Alert – then you will get notices when something changes. You can also bookmark all your profiles and scroll through the list each week.

4) Get proactive – What’s that saying, the best defense is a good offense – one way to combat any potential negative is to overwhelm it with positive reviews. In addition, sites like Google Maps seem to be giving higher rankings to local listings with more reviews. So, now’s the time start going after reviews from happy customers in a proactive way. Most of the review sites ban the practice of paying for reviews but there’s certainly nothing to stop you from showing customers that give you compliments, refer others, and keep coming back how to write a review on a review site. You can print up a little tutorial, place positive reviews in the window, mention reviews on your web site and in your newsletter and shower lots of appreciation on those that take the time to write a review. Get creative and I’ll be you can create dozens of positive ratings for your profiles.

5) Consider advertising – In most cases these review sites live on ad revenue and have created some special privileges for businesses that advertise. I have heard some great results from some businesses using premium services and some not so great from an ROI standpoint. What you need to analyze and test is whether the premium listing, for example Yelp! allows you to pick your best review and run it in the listing that can appear right next to your competitors, is worth it from an overall branding and lead generation stand point.

62 Survey Finds Small Business Adopting Social Media Rapidly

A new online survey of more than 2,000 US small business by Internet2Go, an Opus Research advisory service, and MerchantCircle, suggests that a growing segment of small business owners are using social media to promote their businesses. The survey, conducted September 8-18, 2009, found that roughly 45 percent of respondents have a presence or profiles on Facebook and Twitter to promote their businesses.

Although the survey focused on Merchant Circle’s most active publishers, a group predisposed to me more online, it certainly suggests that small business owners are coming to understand the power of social media and the relative low cost vs. high return opportunity. However, the survey further suggests, to me at least, that while it’s easy to get on Facebook and twitter, there’s still a gap in understanding how to make them pay. The danger in jumping into social media networks, with no barrier to entry, without a strong “hub” foundation of a blog or content portal is that it’s difficult to convert someone from the awareness that might be gained through Facebook to the trust needed to make a sale. (See the final point below)

Other survey findings include the following:

  • 79% of respondents report annual marketing budgets of less than $5,000 per year with the 44% spending “less than $1,000” annually on advertising and marketing
  • 80% of respondents have four or fewer employees
  • Asked about their “biggest complaint” regarding online marketing the top two were “too costly” (26%) and “there’s not enough time to do it well and still run a business” (15.9%)
  • 75% said they monitor online reviews of their business. The most common method was by visiting specific review websites (47%) and by searching on their business name (44%)
  • Despite its popularity social media showed the biggest gap between SMB adoption and perceived effectiveness as a marketing platform.

17 Your Pizza Sucks And . . .

Yelp t-shirtsIn this new age of social media marketing and user generated content, marketers are learning first hand the impact of directory sites that allow visitors to rate and review the products, service and services of companies at the local level.

These sites garner a fair amount of bad feelings from small business owners as they often allow rants from disgruntled customers, but few protections for the actual small business against unfounded or competitor sponsored bad reviews.

These sites do serve a useful purpose for the consumer, are growing in popularity, and are here to stay, so now’s the time to learn how to navigate them, participate in them, and use them to your marketing advantage.

But first, here’s some interesting coverage on this issue for background.
1) One of the sites getting some of its own negative reviews when it comes to posting reviews without any recourse for the business owner is Yelp! – in this New York Times article Yelp! is criticized for its hands off policies.
2) One San Francisco Pizza hot spot took matters in their own hands and turned the tables, so to speak, on Yelp! by creating Yelp! t-shirts for their staff to wear that featured some of the most absurd one star ratings. The coverage Pizzeria Delfina received, including a national spot on NPR and a mention on American Idol may have actually led to Yelp!’s decision to change some of its policies and allow more control over reviews for business owners.
3) A New York Times follow-up story quotes Yelp’s co-founder and chief executive, Jeremy Stoppelman announcing that business owners will now have the ability to publicly respond to reviews, particularly those they feel are unfair.

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