The more hands-off business owners are with online reputation management, the more vulnerable they are to bad reviews. Learn more about strategies for engaging with customers and staying in control of your company’s reputation online.
Americans are spending around 11 hours every day with some form of digital media. They’re using it to scope out where to eat; where to find a great deal on a hotel room; where to find furniture. And now it’s never been easier for them to share their experiences about these businesses with other consumers. With instant access to numerous opinions and customer experiences, businesses find themselves in a rather vulnerable spot: if anyone anywhere can review a business, how can business owners make sure that consumers are getting the whole story?
Short answer: They can’t.
Long answer: Active review management can.
The more hands-off business owners are with their online reputation, the more at risk they are for a bad one.
What can business owners do?
Yelp was recently the subject of a substantial law suit which affirmed that it was lawful for them to be selective with the kinds of reviews that they publish to their site. Although they won’t divulge the exact details of the algorithm they use to establish credibility, the Opinion published by the United States District Court for Northern California states that Yelp employs such tactics to offer consumers a measure of good faith so that business can’t pad their online reputation with phony accounts and trumped up reviews.
What this means for the average business owner is that it’s not enough to provide excellent services and hope that your customers take the time to leave a positive review. After all, you can’t be completely sure that a positive review will appear on Yelp even if someone was kind enough to leave you a delightful hat tip.
Online reputation management has gone beyond the bounds of Yelp and has entered into the social realm as a whole. By actively engaging with customers on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn, businesses can choose how they want to be seen. In other words, the more engaged and in control a business is with their respective online profiles, the likelier they are to remain in control of their image, mission and reputation.
Does humor help?
Businesses across the globe are taking different steps to maintain control of their online reputation. Last year the owners of Amy’s Baking Company, Amy and Samy Bouzaglo, were featured on Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares.” The episode became infamous for being the only one thus far that Ramsay walked off. The negative press rolled in, but rather than managing their online profiles respectfully, the Bouzgalos lashed back at their negative Yelp and Facebook reviewers with acidity we rarely see from professionals. Their responses to their negative reviews were so mean spirited that bystanders would assume the Yelp and Facebook reviewers were accurate in their assessment of the company.
Ouch. This isn’t exactly a moment of pride for the baking company, but it does serve as an industry-wide lesson: do not fight fire with fire. It doesn’t work; you just end up with more fire.
Other businesses are making it their priority to snub Yelp after being fed up with San Francisco’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that it’s totally okay for Yelp to manipulate ratings based on business ad spend. Co-owners Davide Cerritini and Michele Massimo from Botto Italian Bistro incentivized negative reviews from their customers by offering discounts on pizza and cooking lessons. This is a bold move for the bistro which clearly says they know their business; they trust their repeat customers to keep coming back despite any potential negative press; and they won’t be held hostage by Yelp’s secret math.
Yelp responded by asking them to stop offering incentives for negative reviews. They also removed all of the 1-star reviews which Yelp claims violate their terms of service. Botto’s story shows that businesses have a choice when it comes to how they want their business represented: being active with their online reputation shows that Botto is in control of the conversation flow.
Portland’s own (and one of my favorite restaurants in town) Laughing Planet has their own spin on how to respond to negative Yelp reviews. You can wear one! Spend any time clicking through their website and you’ll quickly see that this kind of response is exactly what Laughing Planet might do. They don’t take themselves seriously, but they absolutely take their business seriously.
Laughing Planet’s choice to poke fun at themselves while allowing their customers to proudly display someone else’s disdain is another bold response to review management. Like Botto, and all effective online reputation management, Laughing Planet chooses to be on the forefront and driving the conversation.
In one last example, Brooklyn based Mexican restaurant, Taco Santo, found themselves in an interesting position a few weeks ago when a Yelp reviewer posted that all Taco Santo employees fled the restaurant after hearing an ice cream truck go by.
Redditors quickly found the review and it made it to the front page of Reddit a few hours later. When Taco Santo caught wind of this, they turned the whole thing around by poking fun at themselves. The next day, they posted a picture of all staff members sitting outside the restaurant eating ice cream cones with a pointed comment at the reviewer who claimed everyone fled the restaurant. Taco Santo noted that the bartender who was serving the Yelp reviewer remained at his station while his co-workers left.
In Taco Santo’s case, as with Laughing Planet’s, taking the opportunity to turn negative exposure into a positive message is a critical move for businesses who want to stay in control of their online reputation.
How can a business respond without humor?
I know humor can’t win the day every time, and it’s not appropriate for all businesses under all conditions. However, there are still some basic guidelines for how to respond to negative Yelp, Facebook or Google+ reviews:
- Remember the case of the Bouzgalos: Keep a cool head.
- Acknowledge and appreciate the time a customer spent leaving a review, even if it’s not the most glowing review of all time.
- Don’t admit fault or give credence to a Yelp review that you know has untrue elements—it will encourage other reviewers to believe the negative comments and perpetuate a story you didn’t intend to tell.
- Respond to positive reviews in equal measure. Spending all of your time responding to negative looks as though your main priority is putting out fires and not having a conversation.
- Keep engaging! Post early, post often. Keep your customers up-to-date with what’s new at your business by giving them worthwhile social media updates.
Being active with your online reputation is as crucial as your regular reputation, so be sure to treat it with the same care as you would if someone were responding negatively in person. In our increasingly digital-meets-analog world, the internet’s opinion of your business carries significant weight.
If you find yourself needing guidance on managing your online reputation across multiple platforms, reach out to our social media specialists today and turn the conversation around.