Clients often approach me in a crisis, after seeing a particularly bad customer review on Google Reviews, Yahoo Local, City Search, Yelp or other highly visible social media review site. They’re breathing fire and demanding that I get the review pulled down. It’s the worst time to introduce them to the concept of “Reputation Management” – the discipline and service of tracking, improving and protecting a client’s reputation online.
Part 2 of a Series | Part 1
Most business people have been insulated from serious criticism for decades. I’m not talking about the doctor who gets caught in an affair, or a CPA charged with embezzlement. That’s always been a publicity nightmare. But generally, the only types of businesses facing widespread media criticism (or praise) have been those in the restaurant or entertainment industries – whose performance is subject to the local restaurant critic.
Word of mouth has always been important to businesses, but generally because of its benefits. Until the internet, there was little opportunity or venue for regular customers to do a widespread smear job on a local business. For most people, the Better Business Bureau was the only real place to vent, and honestly, complaints there are generally meaningless.
But that all changed with the internet – from the bulletin boards of Web 1.o and AOL to the full-bore social media of Web 2.o. If you’re a business-owner now, you can almost count on the fact that a customer searched keywords related to your service before picking you . . . and paid attention to comments and reviews from other customers. And you can count on the fact that a dissatisfied customer now may well start smearing you online, sometimes while still in your waiting room. And unlike the Better Business Bureau route, a complaint on a major review board can have real-world impact on your bottom line.
If this hasn’t happened to you yet, great. But that just means you need to take action now and insulate yourself from the coming blast.
So the first thing I do with frantic clients is to have an honest talk, and tell them the 7 things they have to accept about bad reviews:
1) It’s inevitable – Your business already has listings and pages on many review sites. The major sites create them automatically, and set up the tools for customers to review you. And it’s just a matter of time until the first very happy customer – or the first angry customer – uses those tools.
2) It’s protected speech – Many times, our clients’ first reaction is to call a lawyer. Save your money. Unless you can prove actual libel, there’s nothing you can do legally about an opinion about your goods or services. And even worse, even if the complaint is libelous, you can’t legally force the web publisher to delete it.
3) You can’t make it go away – Whatever a sales rep may tell you, except under very special circumstances, there is nothing that can be done to make a review disappear.
4) You can’t opt out of the conversation – People have the right and the inclination to talk about you online, and you have no choice about it.
5) You can’t control the conversation – Traditional marketing is about controlling your image and message. Social media – of which review sites are an example – are about customers controlling the message. Your only choices are to ignore it or to participate.
6) It can hurt your business – The majority of purchases now start with internet searches and research. And reviews – bad and good – are showcased in search results. You can’t just ignore it.
7) Unhappy customers are naturally the most likely to post – Satisfaction is not a powerful motivator to post reviews. Anger and frustration are powerful motivators. And social media – review sites – help ease the feeling of helplessness that frustrated customers feel.
Fortunately there is life after a review attack. We’ll cover that in Part 3 of the series.