When something doesn’t smell or taste right to you, what do you do? You tell your friends around you to smell or taste it to see if they agree. They hesitantly comply and either confirm or deny your position. A similar scenario unfolds with social media all the time, but with an adverse effect. Peer reviews are being posted and instead of readers jumping on board to share the displeasure, they’re simply accepting their peers’ opinions as their own.

Location-based services (LBS) like Foursqure, Gowalla and Facebook Places – the apps consumers use to ‘check-in’ at your business, or review sites like Yelp!, Google Local / Google Places, OpenTable and Citysearch, the services consumers use to rate and review your business, can make or break your business. Consumers will opt not to visit your business if they read a bad review. Likewise, positive reviews can send swarms of customers your way. The problem is customers usually only post reviews when they’re upset.

Unlike your company website or Facebook page, which you have some moderation control over, location and review sites are managed by third-parties – or they are controlled by consumers themselves. This means potential customers are finding out about businesses before ever stepping foot in the actual place of business or before trying out the product or service for themselves, because consumers now have the access to rely solely on reviews posted from average consumers just like themselves.

When customers are fired up from experiencing a sub-par service or product, they feel validated by letting prospective customers know of their discontent, when the fact of the matter is, many of your customers are happy…they just aren’t posting so. You’re always going to have some negative reviews – what you really want is to sway the ratio to have more positive than negative sentiment.

What Can You Do About It?

Social media and peer evaluations are now relevant aspects in the business community and have legitimate influence on a company’s image, so awareness and adaptation are key to managing the issue. Here are some suggestions to make social media work for your company, not against it:

1. Allow customers to bring in their positive review posting for a discount – reward repeat customers for sharing their experiences online

2. Have picture contests on social media outlets that customers can upload pictures from their recent visits – seeing is believing after all

3. Record testimonials from customers with a Flipcam – or ask for permission to reprint nice emails your customers send you  – and post them to your company website, Facebook Page or Google Places account

Encouraging positive input through the power of online reviews will not only generate good PR for your company, it will allow you to take your brand identity back by validating your customers for sharing their satisfaction.

What do you think? How can you encourage your patrons to share positive feedback about your business? Do you feel reviews help or hurt your business? What other advice would you offer business owners?

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