How to Monitor and Respond to Online Reviews
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 you monitor online reviews and keep 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 to monitor online reviews, 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.
Monitor Online Reviews
So, we’ve established that it’s essential to monitor reviews.
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 to Monitor Online Reviews
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, 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.
Manually Monitor Online Reviews
When it comes to monitoring online reviews, you have two options; use a review monitoring tool or do it manually. It goes without saying that manual 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.