Use online reviews, criticisms to your advantage

If You Ignore What’s Said About You Online, Does it Matter?

Not too long ago someone wrote an editorial for this paper bemoaning the rise in popularity of online review sites, like the enormously popular Yelp.

The point of the editorial was to decry consumer review sites as mechanisms for slander and false statements meant to hurt the business. The argument went something like this: people can get on there and say mean and untrue things about the business with no recourse.

True. Very true. But also true is the fact that consumers love them and are using them on a daily basis to tell other consumers about you and your business or brand.

These sites—actually Yelp in particular—work like this: consumers create user accounts, and then have the ability to provide recommendations and reviews about everything from plumbers to restaurants. Other consumers chime in with reviews and ratings, give feedback about other reviews or ratings, and create communities.

The reviews and ratings can be—and often are—shared among other social networks, like Facebook or Twitter. And, they are further ranked at the top of the list for search engine results in search engines like Google or Bing—meaning that the reviews are often the first and perhaps only thing consumers might read about any particular business.

And how popular are they, you ask?

According to their most recent press release, Yelp saw a monthly average of 61 million visitors per month in the third quarter of 2011 (up from 16 million in 2008) reviewing their over 17 million reviews. And while they haven’t disclosed data about the number of users who write reviews, according to the Pew Research Center, over 24% of internet users have posted comments or reviews about products or services (there are currently over 272 million internet users in the United States).

So, people write reviews and people read reviews, so what? Well, according to a 2009 study by the Nielsen Company, 70% of internet users trust those online reviews and opinions that others are writing. This is second only to the trust they put in the opinion of friends and family (90%).

What’s more, the highest they trust the advertising or opinions from businesses is 70%. In other words, they trust online opinions and reviews from others at least as much as they trust you, if not more.

So, like it or not there are two facts you must face. First, that people are probably going to post reviews and comments online about you and there’s nothing you can do about it. Second, people will read and trust those reviews, whether you like it or not.

Not fair you say? Perhaps, but unfortunately that’s the reality. You can’t hide from it, dodge it, or manipulate it. You can, however, accept it, and learn to direct or work with it in the following ways.

1. Start listening. You can hide your head in the sand and ignore the possibility that people are talking about you, or you can begin monitoring the conversation. You can use tools like Twitter Search, Google Alerts, or Back Type to search for what the online community is saying about you, your product or service. With any luck, negative reviews are about competitors, but even if they aren’t you can know in real time what’s being said in cyberspace. Whether it’s bad or good, the fact remains that there’s a good chance, your customers are reviewing your services or product. Wouldn’t you rather know what they’re saying?

2.  Think of online reviews as opportunities. Unless your product or service really does stink—and furthermore you don’t care about that fact—any review, good or bad, should be looked at as an opportunity. Wouldn’t you want to know if the service your employees are providing is lousy or wonderful? If lousy, surely the people who posted weren’t the only people that noticed. By learning about it you gain the chance to correct the problem and right the ship. Also, the same tools that the consumer uses to review you give you an outlet for announcing to the world that you’ve fixed the problem.

3. Use the Opportunity to Engage with the Satisfied and Dissatisfied. If your customers leave bad reviews, you have the opportunity to tell them you’re sorry. What’s more, you can tell them you’re sorry in front of everyone else who happens to land on the page with the review you respond to. Frankly, that’s PR gold, because anyone else who looks in at the conversation sees a caring business owner trying to please the customers. Likewise, if someone leaves a good review, you should also demonstrate graciousness and tell them—once again—thanks for their business. In either case, you end up winning.

There is a stark reality facing businesses: the tables have turned. Consumers now hold the bullhorn, not the business-owners. Social media mechanisms allow people to inform each other and supplant the business’ self-promotion. While you can’t control what’s being said, you can work with it and use it to your advantage.

 

Is It Time to Update Your Website?

True story: The website for the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology was deployed in about 2000 and had not been updated significantly or redesigned until I was hired to do so in 2008. From 2005-2009 freshmen enrollment was fairly static. We deployed the new, updated website mid-2009 and the following year our enrollment jumped almost 30%!

Coincidence? Well…maybe. The website alone certainly didn’t account for the entire increase (which was consistent for 2011), but I’m confident it played a major role in that growth.

And this should serve as a lesson for any business or organization, whether a local small business or a government entity: a fresh, updated and up-to-date website is not a luxury but a necessity in today’s digital business climate.

Consider this: according to the results of a survey study released in January of this year, 70% of adults rarely or never use a phone book to find contact information. Instead over 60% of them turn to the internet.

Combine the above with the results of a 2008 survey study, which stated that when choosing which business to contact, 83% of potential clients and customers are influenced by the business’ website. And 74% of these people count the website as an influence on the final buying decision as well.

And that study is almost four years old. It’s surely increased by now.

Have I made my point? You not only need a website, you need and up-to-date website.

Not sure if you’re website is current enough or not? I’ve put together a few things to consider that might help you decide.

Does it keep up with the Jones’? Online competition is even more proliferate than the brick-and-mortar kind you face from local businesses. And even if your competition down the road has a lousy website, there’s a good chance 500 of your online competitors have great online presences. Consider the results of the study above—your website—not your store or business—is being measured against others. Make sure it is at least as good as those it is being measured against.

Is the technology out of date? I’m not talking about fancy graphics, animation or slideshows here. I’m talking about the technology driving your website. As web standards change and get updated, the code used to write your old website might not be supported anymore. When that happens the site falls apart: font sizes shift, graphics are broken, things are no longer aligned. Make sure that you or an expert goes through the code itself and verifies that it follows the most current web standards according to the World Wide Web Consortium (w3c.org)

Is it leaving money on the table? The final point—and to business owners the most important one— is to make sure your website is actually producing for you. Think of your site as a sales associate. What would you do if you hired someone, paid to have them trained on your product, and then they sat around and did nothing—didn’t greet customers, follow up on leads, or close sales? Of course you’d fire that person and get someone else to do the job. Your website is the exact same thing: it is an active member of your sales force that should be driving traffic and converting sales every time someone looks at it. If it’s not doing that, then it’s time to fire it and hire another one!

 

Simply Put: What Works and What Doesn’t in Digital Marketing

One of the comforting things about traditional marketing is that it really hasn’t changed all that much over the years. Billboard advertising, for example, has pretty much had the same strategy for the last century. So too has print advertising and radio. But digital marketing—marketing carried out through online media—is sometimes tough to get a handle on. Just when you think you’ve figured out how to use the latest technology, something new comes along and the old methods just don’t work anymore.

Remember flashing banner ads? They were popular ten years ago. Today we think they’re the most annoying things on the web, but guess what: they worked. A decade ago empirical studies proved that banner advertisements, blinking at the top, bottom and sides of a site, would drive people to the intended target. Only five years later, though, studies demonstrated they were no longer effective, and the results of the research even coined a new term: banner-blindness—when internet users ignore banners, their text, images and message.

Semantic or targeted online ads—those type of ads you see on Google when you conduct a search—were also seen as extremely effective—if not groundbreaking—only five years ago. But again, their effectiveness has worn off, and while still driving traffic and converting sales, they fall far short of the results of only a few years ago.

So how is a small business to know where to focus its time and money? To help you out I’ve created a list of the top online marketing initiatives you should focus on. I’m not going to say forget the rest, but they might not be worth your energy.

Brand/Business Website: This is still the most important component of a business’ marketing strategy, online or off. Without an eye-catching and effective website, your business persona is simply not as professional. Not to mention the fact that since 2005 more people have been using the internet to find businesses over traditional sources of information, like for example the phone book.

Search Indexes and Directories: After your website is made, you need to get it listed in every online search index available—Google, Yahoo!, and Bing at least. Yes, you have to do this yourself to make sure the site is found. You should also make sure to list your website and your business in each online directory, such as Dex.com, Yellowpages.com and others. Most types of businesses can also find niche directories to list in.

Social Media: Social media strategies aren’t just for teenagers trying to connect on Facebook. They’re deliberate, patient and dedicated, and they are probably the most effective form of marketing available to businesses and brands today. In 2010 Pepsi decided to forgo a 20 million dollar investment in a Super Bowl ad and instead put that money into social media marketing. You absolutely need to learn to harness and use social media—blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yelp, and others—for your business.

Email Newsletters and Announcements: While email use as the primary source of online communication has dropped among 13-25 year olds (replaced by social media), it has risen amongst users over 50, and remained static for users between 25-50. The message? Email is still the most inexpensive and effective ways to communicate with customers and potential customers. Invest in a well-designed email template, and send out regular—not occasional—newsletters, coupons and updates to drive traffic to your website and to your business.

Contextual Affiliate Advertising: Okay, at the beginning of this article I said online ads aren’t as effective as they used to be. That’s true, but really only for the generic ads that suggest something we might be interested in. Instead, though, businesses are finding success with very targeted affiliate advertising on websites they know they’re users are frequenting. Own a bike store? Then provide online ads on the outdoor section of the local online paper. Own a small loan company? Then place ads on local car dealership websites. This type of targeted strategy is much better than the shotgun approach.

Digital marketing is difficult, but if you do it right, you’ll find that it pays much more than traditional advertising methods. What’s more important is that with a little patience and knowledge, even the smallest brand and business can have a huge presence on the web.

 

Advertising on Social Media

A few months ago I followed a local, Las Cruces business on Twitter to see what they had to say. After about three days of bombardment from their ads I deftly unfollowed them again. It was nothing personal, I like the business and I’m interested in what they sell, but I just didn’t want to be spammed.

But that’s what they were doing about every few minutes: “Come in and buy something from us” “We’re having a special, buy something” “Spend money here” “Buy, buy, buy!” and on and on.

This is the worst and most common error small businesses can make in digital marketing: they mistake social media for an advertising mechanism. It’s not.

Social media is a social mechanism. It enables personal, real-time conversations between people. If a business wants to enter the conversation then fine, but it needs to have something worthwhile to say.

In other words it needs to add value to the community, and it doesn’t do that through advertising. It does it by providing pictures, videos, articles and information potential customers may find valuable and entertaining. Otherwise people stop following them, unlike them, or in other ways leave them talking to themselves.

Does that mean businesses can’t use social media to market themselves or their products and services? Of course they can. But they need to do it correctly, meaning they need to engage the community, not shout at it.

Traditional advertising media is based on interrupting our conversations. Billboards interrupt our view, magazine and print ads interrupt our reading, and television commercials interrupt our program viewing.

In contrast, social media marketing is permission-based: people give businesses permission to reach out to them if they “like” the business’ Facebook page or follow them on Twitter. But people expect something in return for giving businesses that permission. They expect some type of content that makes it worth their while, and that content is not a steady stream of advertisements.

Businesses can give their social media followers discounts or deals, tips or tricks, or they can share quality information that people might not otherwise see elsewhere. In other words, businesses need to make it valuable to follow or like them.

And for doing this businesses gain the opportunity to put their name, their brand, their services and products in front of our eyes on a daily basis. We might not buy something from them immediately, but when people need whatever it is they sell, that business is at the forefront of their minds when they decide to purchase.

Social media marketing has emerged as one of the most powerful mechanisms in a small business’ arsenal to increase revenue, but it has to be done correctly or the initiative will utterly fail.

Remember: don’t advertise, engage!

Does Facebook's "People Talking" Feature Actually Help?

Recently Facebook launched its "people are talking about this" feature, which displays a number representing the collective amount of peopletalkingconversation about a Facebook page.

According to the email I received from Facebook regarding the feature on a non-profit's page I administer, "It’s designed to highlight recent conversations happening about your Non-Profit or Fundraiser page."

The feature is also on the pages for businesses and commercial groups I administer.

The question that comes to mind is, what are people talking about exactly, and what are they saying?

We don't know. Facebook won't tell us. And in truth, I don't think Facebook knows. The email I received states that the number is arrived at through "a variety of interactions that can occur on Facebook over the past seven days."

Specifically the interactions include:

  • liking a page
  • posting on a page's wall
  • liking, commenting on, or sharing a post
  • mentioning a page in a post

The email I received then ends with the exhortation to "Give your fans something to talk about (stuff they can comment on, share, or like). Make sure to post content regularly, and watch this number soar!"

And here is where we see the motive.

The interactions measurement isn't about how I'm doing, it's about how Facebook is doing. The more activity I engage in, the more content I provide, the more people use Facebook.

In truth the number they provides is completely worthless. As a page administrator it doesn't help me in the least. I keep track of responses, likes, mentions and so forth myself, so for Facebook to display a completely arbitrary number doesn't do a thing to help me (and it is arbitrary, by the way, at least for now I have no way of knowing how they precisely arrived at that number).

If Facebook wanted to help me (and not just them), they would give me real measurements. What are some analytics for post interaction? What times and days get the most responses? What keywords trends are present in both my posts and responses? Do I get more interaction with pictures, links or videos?

That type of information would help the page administrator. It's clear Facebook is really only out to help itself.

 

Word One Consulting
575-496-6807
clint @ wordoneconsulting.com
2263 S. Main
Las Cruces, NM 88005