5 tips for making the most of online reviews

The technology that enabled internet users to write their own content on websites has revolutionised the internet. For businesses, user generated content (UGC) has ultimately led to an unprecedented transparency across all consumer and b2b markets, where customer reviews of products and services have changed the way people make purchasing decisions online.

Word of mouth recommendations have always been the holy grail of marketing and the advancement of the internet has taken this a step further. First forums and then blogs gave the average joe a voice. Now social media has provided countless outlets for the world and its dog to have a say. But the ability to write a review of pretty much any company, product or service and to have it appear live online instantly - that has been a complete game changer.

In this transparent age of the internet there is no-where to hide. A television studio knows within hours whether an episode of its TV show has been a success, and if not why it failed. A business with shoddy customer service will get called out by disgruntled customers. A camera will be compared directly to its competitors, revealing all the failings alongside its positive features.

Yet while this activity has been developing at a fast pace, many businesses have been slow to pick up on its importance and work out a strategy for dealing with it. It’s all to easy to be caught short by an unexpected backlash from a customer or by an employee who has been using your brand name in all the wrong ways. And word spreads pretty quickly online which puts your reputation on the line. You know that word-of-mouth you were after? It works both ways.

All businesses should be asking: are we ready to deal with this? And if not, what can we do to stay on top of this fast moving trend?

We’ve put together a few tips to help you embrace the new transparent online marketplace.

1. Monitor your brand online.

This is a very important step for all businesses to take, even those which don’t have a website. Customers can and will talk about brands online and it pays to know who is talking about yours and what they are saying.

If people are talking about your brand positively, then that’s great. Work out a way to capitalise on that. If they aren’t positive about it, then at least you’ve caught a problem before it can escalate and destroy your reputation.

Here are a few tools you can use to help you monitor your brand among the huge range of social media and review sites on the internet.

Google Blog Search
Blogpulse Conversation Tracker IceRocket Google News

If you already know some of the sites where your brand is featured (for example in a local directory), then check them regularly and set up email alerts to let you know when someone has posted a review.

2. Engage in conversation

If someone has taken the time to write something nice about your business, it’s polite to thank them. And doing so publicly by replying to their review or post is even better. Perhaps you could think of a good way to show your appreciation like giving a discount voucher or a free gift. By doing this you are making a real connection with a customer or potential customer.

Customers like to know that there is a real person behind the company they are using. That’s why it is good for your brand if you get involved with conversations on the forums, social media and blogs where your customers are likely to be. Don’t just plug your products or services though - you can add value by offering help or advice on your area of expertise, or by posting useful links.

3. If a customer complains, respond

If you come across a less than flattering review of your business, it is important to respond as soon as you can. There are different reasons why people post bad reviews and one if them is that they had no luck when they complained directly to your company. Either way, a polite response explaining the problem or which offers help or compensation goes a long way.

Responses also cast a positive light on your business for other reviewers and visitors to the site. They will see that you care about your customers enough to make a personal response to a complaint, no matter how small, and that when there are problems you will deal with them in a timely and competent fashion.

4. Listen and make changes

Listening to customers is great, but unless you take some action based on the comments you receive you are wasting a great opportunity. Not all customer comments can be actionable of course but if you can show you are improving your service based on public feedback then it will promote trust and loyalty among your customers.

5. One true voice

Keep control over who manages and responds to reviews, and over how your company puts itself out there in social media. Giving just one or two people that control means that your message will be more consistent with your brand. Ensure that employees are guidelines as to how they are allowed to mention your brand or your company online and tell them what is unacceptable. For example a social media group for employees could lead to trouble if there are no guidelines laid down.