By Sokratis Papafloratos is Head of Social Products at international directories business, Yell.
Small businesses know referral is the single most important method for attracting new customers. When considering which local businesses and services they might use, customers often choose a particular company based on a personal recommendation.
Increasingly, this word-of-mouth dialogue is moving online, as customers can now review and rate products and services on a variety of websites. The trend was first popularised by service sector sites like Trip Advisor and Top Table, which allow customers to review hotels, bars and restaurants online. However, new sites including Trusted Places from Yell are extending this facility to businesses of all shapes and sizes.
So, how can small businesses go about taking advantage of this opportunity to be seen online?
Getting to grips with review sites
Before engaging with online review sites, it is important to understand how they work: the benefits and the pitfalls.
Most dedicated review sites allow anyone to write and post a review of the businesses featured on their database. A good review site will have a large and well-managed list that is kept up to date. Sites do not control what is written - with the exception of obscene or defamatory comments - making the recommendations and feedback provided particularly impactful.
Review site etiquette - and UK legislation - dictates that business owners should not review their own companies. However, there are some simple things small businesses can do to positively raise their profile to reviewers online.
• 41% of UK consumers expect a reviews facility as a standard element of any good business website
• 70% of UK internet users trust recommendations from strangers when looking for information about goods and services online
• Consumer reviews are 12 times more trusted than product or service descriptions
How to engage with review sites
Most review sites offer free tools that allow you to upload rich content about your business. So, sharpen up your writing skills and put up an engaging business description; take a few good photos that best showcase your business and in general create as much relevant content as you can. Remember that more content means more exposure, traffic and, eventually, more customers.
Get customers involved
Your customers are the best advocates of your business, so encourage them to leave reviews if they have had a good experience. Include links to selected review sites on your website, Facebook and Twitter pages to make it as easy as possible for customers to get involved.
If you have avoided setting up a Facebook page or Twitter account so far, stop reading this article and do it now!
Monitor reputation and engage reviewers
There are simple ways to monitor your reputation online. First and foremost, check your reviews regularly. Some sites enable email alerts when a new review of the business is posted or encourage you to subscribe via RSS. It is important to engage consistently, not only if a negative review has been posted. A sincere ‘thank you’ to a good review is a great way to show appreciation.
Responding to negative reviews is harder, and it can be difficult to keep emotion out of the equation. Establish a dialogue in order to find out more about the reviewer’s experience, be gracious, apologetic and try to turn the situation around. However, be wary of promoting special discounts or freebies, as it may appear you are trying to influence reviews.
It is crucial to remember that any conversation conducted on a review site will be visible to all visitors. Carefully consider your response to feedback and utilise the opportunity to demonstrate the quality of customer service and after-sales care your business provides.
Avoid posting reviews about your own business, competitors or businesses you haven’t used. This is a sure-fire way of damaging your online reputation.
Consumers are savvy and value a variety of opinions. Gushing, officious or even overtly negative reviews may seem suspicious.
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