Think that being proactive with your online reputation isn’t important because you’re in a small market? Think again. My friend and colleague Malinda Davis with WSI puts it in perspective and offers a few words of wisdom that you can actually do yourself.
You are a small business owner in Mill Creek, WA – most of your customers live or work within a small radius of your business in Snohomish County. Why would it matter what people see on the Internet about your business? And it doesn’t impact sales, right? Not quite…
Digital Word of Mouth
No longer is your business reputation based solely on what customers tell their friends and family about the high-quality products you sell, the friendly atmosphere of your office and your excellent customer service. With the digitization of the marketplace, consumers can easily praise or punish businesses they visit – the impact is immediate, widespread and often long-lasting. We call this Digital Word of Mouth!
Online review sites and social media have essentially provided a megaphone for consumers to broadcast their feedback about their experience at a business. It is one-to-many sharing, reaching well beyond just friends and family. According to Facebook, the average Facebook user has 130 friends. Unfortunately, many consumers often fail to remember the positive experiences and choose to share their negative experiences with the world. Imagine the potential impact (on your reputation and bottom line) of a negative online comment from a customer on Facebook? What if they also posted a negative review at Yelp?
Online Reputation Management
Online reputation management is important for businesses of all sizes and industries to consider. Businesses need to be aware of their web footprint (or lack thereof). A dentist with a confusing or outdated website may cause potential clients to think twice about scheduling a consultation. A restaurant with the best food will be impacted financially if their online reputation is poor.
What can you do?
- Be Present – Make your business discoverable on the Internet. At a minimum, this includes having a simple and clean website, claiming your social media profiles and verifying your local business listings (Google Places, online directories, etc.). Once you have a web presence and in order to stay ahead of your competition, sharing video content and optimizing your website and social accounts is essential to being present and visible online.
- Play Offense – Be proactive. Provide avenues for customers to provide feedback and to share it online. Be proud of your success and ask for referrals! The alternative to playing offense is playing defense – and in this game, it is worth the effort and investment to be proactive. If you don’t, someone else will (i.e. your competition and/or an upset customer).
- Listen – Monitor what is being said about you and your company online. This is an opportunity to learn how to better serve your customers and improve your business. When you listen and make changes based on the feedback, your relationships and trust with clients only increases.
- Engage – Add fresh content to your website and social media accounts – this demonstrates your expertise and adds a personal touch to your business. Ask questions. Blog to educate your customers, share success stories and praise your employees for their hard work. If something negative is said about your business online, respond appropriately (acknowledge, apologize and take action to regain their trust). Choosing silence only magnifies the customer megaphone.
What About Negative Comments?
If you have created a solid web presence and still receive a handful of negative comments, don’t worry. Unfortunately, human nature is to share negative experiences. If you have addressed these comments, not only will the positive comments and your solid web presence overshadow the negative, it shows your commitment and pride to serve your customers.
And remember…. Your customers (present and future) are online, either on a computer at home or at work, or on their mobile smart phone. When consumers are unsure, or deciding which business to buy from, they use the information they find online to help them decide. Do you present a professional image? Are you credible? Should they trust you? What do other people say about their experience with your business?
Your customers are using social media. They are reading online reviews and will form an opinion about your business and your products. The perception they form is then strongly tied to whether or not they decide to purchase from you. With the Internet, consumers have access to an immense amount of information and purchasers have a digital megaphone to influence what their friends or families buy, as well as what strangers buy.
It isn’t a surprise or a secret - people use the Internet to find information about local businesses. What will they find when they search for you? Remember, be present, play offense, listen and engage. It is up to you to make sure they find the right kind of information.
Melinda Davies is a Digital Marketing Consultant with WSI based in the Seattle, WA area, and works with local businesses to develop their digital marketing strategy, including local search, online lead generation, email marketing, brand credibility, mobile marketing, social media, reputation management and web analytics. WSI has been providing innovative Internet marketing solutions for clients around the world since the mid-1990s. WSI has a global reach, with a network of digital marketing consultants dedicated to region-specific solutions in over 80 countries.