By Beth Borrego / Published July 2016
Just about everyone knows what social media sites are these days, and most of us are connected to it both personally and through our businesses as well. Navigating social media isn’t easy. For years, many of us have marketed our businesses in a non-interactive fashion. We’ve placed ads in phone books, run ads in coupon mailers, placed ads on billboards, and focused on making a certain number of impressions to gain top-of-mind awareness rather than creating an interactive approach to marketing.
With today’s increasing popularity of electronic devices, we live in a very socially engaged and reactive world. People are online more today than they’ve ever been before, and are in constant communication with each other, openly sharing their experiences, ideas, suggestions, opinions, and complaints freely to anyone online who will listen. We have become a world who likes, shares, tweets, retweets, pins, photographs, and blogs about everything we have any opinion on. Good, bad, or indifferent, it’s where we are today, and business owners need to adapt. Businesses that want to maintain their edge need to shift their marketing to include personal engagement with their clients. Companies that wish to increase sales need to tell stories that promote the use of products and services in a meaningful way that the customer can relate to and even interact with. Sharing on Facebook, retweeting on Twitter, and re-pinning on Pinterest are examples of this.
Positive sharing and promoting by others seems to be not only natural but habitual these days, but people also share negative feedback. Consumers have found their voices online and are using these platforms to share their experiences, both good and bad. Some small business owners cringe at the thought of online reviews and wonder how these reviews will impact their business. No one worries about the good reviews, but the bad ones can be daunting. Determining the best course of action for a poor online review is the tricky part. How should you handle it?
First of all, don’t react defensively or post an angry, attacking, or personal response. If you get a negative review online, whatever you do, do not panic, and be careful how you respond. Reach out to the person via phone or e-mail privately and try to open a dialogue. You need to show the consumer that you are listening and that you honestly want to make their experience better. Sometimes customers will remove negative posts on their own, and sometimes they will post an updated response with the outcome and information on how the complaint was handled. If you do respond online, remember that it’s important to be factual, stay polite, and do not get defensive. Consumers generally recognize that not all businesses are perfect and will weigh the good and the bad when reading online reviews.
It’s actually important for the customer to see that you are not perfect, or made up of all four- and five-star reviews. Every now and then, you may have an unhappy customer. That’s just the way it is in business, and it may make your company seem more honest with that negative experience having been disclosed. If you do respond, make sure you thank them for bringing the circumstance to your attention, and let them know you will be in touch to resolve the issue. When handling a negative review, change the conversation to a positive and forward-moving tone, focusing on what your company will do to resolve the issue and letting the customer know you are committed to resolving the issue. It’s also a good idea to assign the task of monitoring social media to someone within your company and instruct them on what to do if a negative response should ever occur.
Google is starting to pay more attention to online reviews as a way to rank websites. This can be extremely harmful and is another reason to make sure you handle complaints swiftly before a customer goes online to post a review; or if that’s how you learn about the complaint, then deal with it as soon as you become aware of it. There are other things you can do to help boost your rankings using organic methods. Using social media sites to promote your business is an excellent way to push a negative result farther down. If you have not already done so, set up business accounts for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram and feed them with announcements, photos, videos, and information about your business. The concept here is simple: when the content that you want people to view outperforms the content that you don’t want people to see, you’re going to improve your online reputation.
Thankfully, there are Web-based tools available that are designed to help you monitor your online reputation. Reputation-monitoring tools like Social Mention, Reputology, Review Trackers, Tagboard, Hashtagify.me, and Tweetbinder are some of the popular ones. Social Mention offers a free version, and many of the others offer affordable plans for small businesses. Google Alerts is another great, free tool used by many small business owners. It can be set up to deliver notifications based upon key words right to your inbox. Those using a paid version of Hootsuite may already have the functionality available to them, as well. If you wish to monitor your online reputation, you’ll need to make a list of keywords and hashtags related to your business and your brand, your products, your employees, and your competition.
Remember to encourage customer reviews. The more positive reviews you have, the less weight a potential customer will give to a negative review, and as a successful business owner with many happy customers, you’ll naturally receive many favorable reviews. This is not to suggest that you should encourage people to leave only positive reviews. All of us are professionals who want our customers to have an excellent experience when they do business with us. Just remember that it’s their experience. Let them express it as they have experienced it; this will give you valuable insight into areas that may need improving and also will come from a much more personal, believable place that others can relate to.
When you have the opportunity to speak to your customers and thank them for their business, it’s a golden opportunity to ask them if they participate socially online and if they would mind reviewing your business, mentioning you socially, or liking your business page. Mention all of the review sites such as Facebook, Yelp, and Angie’s list to get them thinking about where they might go online to read or write reviews on their own. Some people would rather offer a written review on paper, and that’s fine too. Let them share in whatever way is most comfortable for them, and remember to thank them for it.
If you have a core group of clients that you use as references, consider asking their opinion if you get a bad review online. That’s right, instead of crawling under your desk, look at that review as a growth opportunity. Ask your customers what they think of it, and tell them you want their feedback in order to improve. Then listen to their responses to the negative review. If they are able to relate at all to the complaint, they will tell you. In fact, they might even offer suggestions on how to improve your business. And what’s even more amazing is that sometimes your best customers will become your cheerleaders and naturally go behind an overly negative review without being asked to do so, posting a positive response in support or defense, if you will, of your business. After all, yours is a company that they do business with, and everyone wants to feel good about purchase decisions they have made and wants to support companies they frequently buy from.
Share your reviews with your employees. Everyone likes to get feedback from time to time. Feedback helps not only our businesses to grow, but it helps our employees in many ways as well. Learning what they did right, what the customer loved, and what they can improve upon for next time builds a positive, customer-centric attitude and mindset among staff. This is one of the most natural ways to teach improved customer service as it relates directly to the job that you have at your disposal. Use it well.
It’s clear to see that as the Internet continues to evolve and social media sites become greater in number and more prevalent in use, it has become even more important than ever to remain abreast of the latest online trends and social tendencies of consumers. The days of not having any sort of online presence or website are gone if you want to attract new customers and grow within your market. It’s not only important to seek out new niches and segments that will purchase your products or services, it’s also important to understand how those consumers share experiences and look for new companies to do business with. Today, more and more word of mouth, referral work, and social sharing are driving business in ways that small business owners don’t have any direct control over and many have never imagined.