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.


Word One Consulting
clint @
2263 S. Main
Las Cruces, NM 88005