Your customers are talking about you — and the whole world is listening.
Local review sites are reshaping the world of small business by becoming the new Yellow Pages, one-stop platforms where customers can find a business — and also see independent critiques of its performance.
How do you manage your reputation when everybody is a critic?
For some business owners, this is a terrifying prospect that seems more like mob rule than the wisdom of crowds. Negative reviews can hang an albatross around your neck if they appear prominently in search results. Happily, there is a big upside: referrals from happy clients are traditionally the best source of new business — and online forums are powerful word-of-mouth. The review process has been democratized.
But managing your online reputation requires a whole new skill set, including monitoring the online conversation and engaging with customers and the tech-savvy to promote yourself in the best channels. These skills are becoming essential for mainstream businesses. According to a survey by the Opinion Research Corporation, 84 percent of Americans say online reviews influence their purchasing decisions. (Still not convinced? Tell us why.)
“Social media for business now is life or death,” said Dan Simons, a restaurateur in the Washington area who closely monitors these forums. “You could open a business and do everything right, but if you’re unaware of these social media you will perish. Social media can take a business and put a bullet in it.”
Once you’ve tuned into the online conversation, the tricky part is managing it.
Claim your listing on the local search sites. Many of these listings are free (although some sites offer premium services only to advertisers). The more detailed your profile, the more readily your business will appear in search results.
Responding to reviews is a delicate act of customer relations. A snarky review may make your blood boil — if so, step away from the keyboard and calm down until you can respond graciously.
“Hands down, when I’ve seen a conflict, it’s usually because the business owner is enraged, furious or personally hurt,” said Jeremy Stoppelman, chief executive and co-founder of Yelp. “Give yourself some time to cool off and engage in a respectful, courteous manner.”
You don’t need to respond to every review, especially if the overall consensus is positive. A negative review, however, demands special attention. Some business owners post public responses to apologize and try to win back the customer. Some privately message the reviewer.
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