There’s an old saying in PR and marketing that goes something like, “Your brand or your reputation is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Former Texas State Treasurer turned Governor, Ann Richards had a much more direct way of putting it—she was often heard exclaiming “When you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu”.
The same is true of businesses and customer reviews – even if they aren’t sharing their opinions with you directly, your customers will share their opinions online. It’s imperative that you’re monitoring online reviews and keeping abreast of those comments (both good and bad) in order to resolve problems, glean valuable feedback and mine the bottom-line benefits of a great reputation.
Why Are Online Reviews So important?
Do you put a lot of store in online reviews or do you feel like they’re out of your control? If you fall into the latter camp, you’re not alone. It’s actually quite a common sentiment with many businesses feeling that reviews are something outside of their control.
However, there are plenty of research-backed reasons why online reviews are such an important element of your brand and marketing.
Year-on-year, our own Local Consumer Review Survey shows the store consumers put in reviews is creeping up. In our 2019 report, 90% of consumers used the internet to find a local business in the last year, with 33% looking every day. That’s a pretty powerful sales tool right there.
No matter if you agree with a review or not, the comments customers leave are a vital source of business intel. They give you feedback you may not otherwise have access to, with actionable suggestions on how products and services can be improved.
You’ll only be able to track what people are saying about you and how consumers really feel about your brand if you monitor online reviews. Fail to keep tabs on what’s being said and you miss out on clear opportunities to delight your customers and add additional value to your service.
From a purely commercial standpoint, it also makes sense to monitor online reviews – if you don’t, you can be sure that your competitors are. That means they are snapping up valuable market insight and getting a priceless steer from customers on what they actually want and expect. These are all advantages that can have a direct bottom-line benefit.
If you aren’t set up for online review monitoring, you could also be left unaware of potentially fake reviews – untrue public opinions that could shape consumer perceptions of your brand if left unchecked.
The UK consumer group, Which? says Amazon is littered with fake reviews, while local SEO expert Joy Hawkins says fake reviews are a growing problem for small businesses. With reputation so important today, being aware of what is being said and spotting fake reviews as they appear means you can take steps to have them removed or dealt with accordingly.
Leaving fake negative reviews for genuine customers to find could be catastrophic to your reputation and sales figures. You can only safeguard from this threat if you have a systematic process in place to monitor online reviews on a regular basis.
Monitoring Online Reviews
So, we’ve established that online review monitoring is essential.
We know that it’s a useful method of gathering feedback (both good and bad) and that it’s something competitors are likely doing already. Monitoring your online reviews is also helpful for ensuring their continual growth. There are two key reasons why ongoing review acquisition is desirable as a small business owner.
First up, The Oxford Academic Journal of Consumer Research article, Navigating by the Stars: Investigating the Actual and Perceived Validity of Online User Ratings concluded that many consumers based decisions and perception of product quality on average star ratings rather than the individual review comments.
Research also shows that 40% of consumers only factor online reviews left in the last two weeks into their decision making (an increase of over 20% in the last 12 months) so you’ll need a regular influx to satisfy expectations. 89% of consumers also read business’s responses to reviews, which means that being proactive about monitoring and managing can nurture the whole process and encourage others to share their feedback with you.
So, once you’ve accepted that you need to keep tabs on what is being said about your brand, how do you go about it?
Choosing Sites for Online Review Monitoring
The first step is making a shortlist of sites that you need to monitor. Ideally, you want a mix of sites included here so that you get a broad cross-section of data to assess and a range of review types to act upon. When compiling your shortlist of review sites, select review platforms that are key for your business and its target customers. That will often be a mix of local, general, and industry-specific platforms.
If you aren’t sure what that mix looks like, speak to your customers. Ask them which review sites they frequent and which they use to leave reviews themselves. You can also add competitors into the mix here and piggyback off their own activities. Find out which review platforms they are most active on – do they have certain badges on their site, such as TripAdvisor or TrustPilot? When you search for the company name, which review sites appear top?
As you build your list of sites to monitor for online reviews, keep a record of any important sites that you don’t already appear on. You’ll need to start the process of review generation on those platforms.
Manual Review Monitoring
When it comes to online review monitoring review, you have two options; use a review monitoring tool or do it manually. It goes without saying that manual review monitoring is more time-consuming, but it can be done.
Most review sites have a notification system that will send an alert when a new review has been published. The notification will be sent to the registered email address, so if you aren’t the point of contact, you’ll need to ensure that the emails are being forwarded to you as soon as they come in.
Speed is important here, not least because how quickly you respond to reviews matters, but also because you’ll want to nip any problematic reviews in the bud quickly rather than leave them to linger.
Keep a log of the frequency of reviews, volume of negative versus positive reviews, and any action taken as a result of each review. If review counts appear to slow down or speed up on any given platform, you’ll need to record that, too. In the case of volumes dropping, additional action or investigation may be needed – such as making it easier for customers to review you on that particular platform.
Keep a Record of Reviews
Get into the habit of gathering your reviews together in one central location, such as a shared OneDrive file or similar, as you’ll need to pull the text of reviews from all platforms you’re manually monitoring.
Once you’ve done this, you can use a word cloud generator to help you make sense of the data. The word cloud will show you commonly used words and phrases, which will give you context as to products, services and themes being used most often.
Look out for phrases such as ‘fast delivery’, ‘helpful’, ‘good customer service’ and individual product names to clue you in to what people are liking, buying, and wanting more of.
You may also notice that there is a correlation between these attributes and the reviews in a prominent position on your Google My Business page. Google takes note when people regularly mention a particular element of service, e.g. ‘fast delivery’ and will add this as a highlight to your Google My Business profile on mobile devices.
Responding to Reviews
When you monitor online reviews, you’re perfectly placed to respond to them, too. This is important for a number of reasons;
- Beat your competitors: many businesses are so focused on generating reviews, they forget to reply to the reviewer. This is an easy way to add an additional layer of satisfaction to your customer service. As well as getting an edge on your rivals, we’ve already seen that almost 90% of consumers read responses, so the simple act of acknowledging a piece of feedback can also help you move closer to a new conversion.
- Inject personality into your brand: it’s hard to get your brand personality or the personable face of your customer service team across on a review site, but a response provides a vehicle to do just that. You can use this space to bring some of your own tone of voice to the site, helping to create a more authentic engagement with that customer.
- It’s a ranking factor: Google My Business support says businesses should strive to respond to all reviews, advising, “Interact with customers by responding to reviews that they leave about your business. Responding to reviews shows that you value your customers and the feedback that they leave about your business.” The importance of responding to Google reviews goes further than this though, with studies such as the 2018 Chatmeter Local Ranking Factors Survey citing review responses as a ranking signal along with review quality, content, and diversity.
How to Respond to Reviews
Responding to reviews, both good and bad, should be done in a timely manner to be effective.
Use a tool
If you have a reputation management tool, you may be able to respond to the review directly from its dashboard. Use this if you have one available to you – it streamlines the process and makes it easier to keep track of what has and hasn’t received a response.
If you don’t have a reputation management tool, build manual response management into your daily schedule. Set time aside each day after you monitor online reviews to respond to new comments. It’s advisable to respond to negative reviews first (even ones you suspect to be fake) in order to limit their potential impact and get the wheels in motion for dispute resolution.
Shape an appropriate response
Reviews generally fall into a couple of categories. Identifying which type of reviewer you’re dealing with will help you formulate a plan of action for your response. You can use our ‘Types of Reviewer’ resource to help you do this.
While you may not have time to respond to each and every review (such as ones that leave a star rating but no comment), you should respond to all negative reviews and all positive reviews that leave a decent amount of detail.
Take negative reviews offsite
Negative reviews are simply a part of the job when you monitor online reviews. The key to dealing with them is having a honed response process. As a first step, encourage the reviewer to converse with you off the review site. Invite them to send you a DM, an email, or to give you a call.
Once the issue is resolved, ask them to amend or update their review to reflect the steps taken to remedy the situation.
Develop a range of canned responses
If you don’t have time to craft a unique response for every review, develop a stock of canned responses which you can mix and match. Be sure vary elements to suit the original review.
This isn’t the ideal solution, but if responding to reviews is important to you but not enough to warrant investment, then it’s literally the least you can do!
Reputation is important and if you want to keep your brand in good standing online it’s vital to monitor online reviews and respond to them, too. However, the busier you become and the more sales you generate, the more reviews will accumulate. Dealing with them all manually can quickly become an insurmountable challenge.
As your business grows, it’s well worth investing in a tool to help you monitor, manage and respond to reviews quickly and easily, as well as generate a constant supply of new ones.