Online reviews are a significant part of your company’s reputation, especially for small businesses. You should measure it like you do other metrics, and set a goal of having your current customers help you generate new ones, even if they have never met.
A Harvard Business School working paper on restaurants found that a one-star rating increase on Yelp leads to a 5-9% increase in revenue. In addition, the ability of small businesses to boost their local reputation has helped them gain a larger market share over large chains since the era of online reviews began.
With so much as stake, many small business owners and Yelp have been sniping at each other over what the owners perceive as an unfair playing field. Yelp uses a filter to eliminate what it considers to be “fake” positive or negative reviews. The system seeks to neutralize deceitful negative and positive posts such as a competitor attempting to lower your score, or your mom’s glowing, yet biased, opinion. No system is perfect, so the filter will eliminate some legitimate reviews and accept false ones. Small businesses’ allegations have become so pointed that Yelp responded to criticism extensively on their blog last month.
Whether your online reputation is your sole source of promoting your business or part of a broader marketing effort, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and other review sources affect your company.
Here are some tips for using this opportunity:
Ignore the conspiracy theories: If consumers believe Yelp ratings are for sale or otherwise untrustworthy, the site’s usefulness will end. That is the company’s biggest risk, and the reason its filter is not punishing your company simply because you do not advertise on their site. An imperfect filter does not equal a malicious one.
Publicly address negative comments: When someone does leave a negative comment about your business, address it publicly on the site. All the major review sites allow business owners and managers to respond. The function not only helps you satisfy the complaining customer, but also lets other internet searchers know that you are attentive to customers and will do everything you can to satisfy them.
Promote your online reputation in your real world location: The success of online review sites is driven by customers’ trusting reviews from “real people.” Show your customers that you trust your reputation in the hands of your customers by encouraging them to see how well you rate and to write their own reviews. It demonstrates confidence in your products and services, and helps customers feel like they are a part of your success.
Online review sites are part of your company’s broader reputation management, and offer major opportunities for companies on small budget. View them as an extension of your online community and marketing programs and take advantage of the free promotion they give your company.