Reputation Management is NOT About Getting Good Reviews

Change Things

There’s a misconception that has been permeating across many industries over the past couple of years. It’s the thought that “reputation management” is about getting positive reviews on sites like Yelp, Google+, and Merchant Circle. While that’s a portion of it in theory, the practice of it has turned into a huge monster that is ready to burst… possibly before the end of 2013.

It’s not the fault of the businesses nor is it really the fault of the reputation management firms. It comes down to the review sites themselves that have found themselves in the predicament of needing more reviews to gain relevance while also wanting those reviews to be legitimate. Some, such as Yelp and Google, are taking steps to eliminate the fake reviews, but even then there’s a challenge. It isn’t always easy to tell what’s real and what’s fake.

The bubble that’s going to burst surrounds two components of many reputation management services: automation and filtering. With automation, the same responses are made on dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of reviews. These are the businesses responding to people, but they’re canned and the review sites don’t like that. Google recently removed thousands of these automated replies spread across hundreds of Google+ pages.

The other aspect is much more nefarious. It is called filtering. In it, a company uses a 2-step process for soliciting reviews. In the first email, they ask the customer to take a quick survey about their experience. If the survey comes back positive, they then receive an email asking them to let the world know about their experience on the review sites, often with links to the appropriate ones.

If the first response comes back negative, the second email is much different. It is consoling. It is apologetic. It declares a need for something to be done about it and normally promises that the response is going straight to the top to be handled by the manager or the owner.

At no point in this second situation are the customers told to post a review. This friendly/unfriendly test before soliciting reviews is filtering. It’s frowned upon by most review sites and is a breach of terms of service in some. What’s worse is that if a major publication knew about it, they would certainly come down hard on the parent companies or the individual companies themselves for trying to manipulate their public reputation.

The right way to solicit reviews is through a transparent, single step process. Businesses that take pride in their service and boldly ask for reviews regardless of the perspective of the customer is the only way to get reviews the whitehat way.

That’s not where it ends, though. Getting more reviews is important, but handling the reviews – good and bad – in an appropriate manner is the real juice in reputation management. This isn’t just about getting a higher star-ranking. It’s about being gracious and humble to those that leave a good review and being helpful to those who leave a bad review.

The responses to bad reviews can be more powerful than a positive review. Nobody expects a business to be perfect. They make mistakes. When these mistakes are made, the willingness to listen to the challenges, try to offer solutions, and be sincerely sorry for the bad experience can go a long way towards helping a business improve their chances of getting more business.

In other words, negative reviews can be more helpful than positive ones in many circumstances.

The other component of reputation management that few companies explore is the search engine reputation component. Review sites are almost invisible if they’re not found on search. To see what people will be viewing, do four searches:

  • [Business Name]
  • [Business Name] [City]
  • [Business Name] Reviews
  • [Business Name] Complaints

The results on the first page of the search engine results pages will be what people are seeing. The things that appear on page two are threats or opportunities. The things that appear on page three or beyond are invisible.

The absolute most important part of reputation management is service itself. If you’re getting bad reviews, it’s not a random occurrence. It’s not “those damn internet folks” trying to ruin your business. It’s probably not your competitors or former employees being vindictive.

If you’re getting a lot of bad reviews, you might just want to improve the way you do business with your customers. As strange as it may sound, your reputation management issues may be justified. Fix those first. Everything else is just strategy and technique.

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The Biggest Problem with @Yelp – They Don’t Reply Even After Four Months

Fake Yelp Reviews

A few months ago I ate at a restaurant and wrote a review. It wasn’t a bad review – I believe I either gave the restaurant three or four stars out of five – but it wasn’t a triumphant, best-gyro-ever review, either.

A few days later I received an email from Yelp saying that the review had been removed “because it lacks a firsthand customer experience.” Now, considering I ate there, wrote about my first hand experience, and even posted a picture on yelp of the Indian statue at the front door, I’m not sure how first hand one needs to get.

That’s not a big deal, actually. When a company is that big, it’s understandable that mistakes will happen. In fact, I was pleased that they’re being diligent about making sure that the reviews are as authentic as possible. The problem was that there is nobody to talk to, no way to communicate, and no chance of correcting the mistake.

I emailed several times. I Tweeted at them several times. I searched the site for a way to correct such errors. Nothing.

One might think, “what’s the big deal?”

It’s just an online review, right? Well, yes and no. It’s important from the perspective that a voice of the public trying to express an opinion about a local business for their peers to see and use for guidance was removed and given zero chance of making things right. My review was not important. The fact that this can happen is scary.

The worst case scenario is that reviews become untrustworthy and they no longer bring the value that they promise to the users. Yelp is striving to fix that. The other end of the spectrum – the ability to correct improper filters – is a huge mess. I’ve seen clients find this to be challenging. I’ve had friends who have found this to be challenging.

It’s their site and they can do whatever they want with it. However, when legitimate reviews are tossed out and given no chance of being recovered, it’s no longer simply a mistake. It’s blatant censorship. Some might say that the word is too harsh for such a situation, but there’s no other way to put it. If there was a way to challenge the filter and prove that the review was real, then it would be nothing to worry about at all. It’s a countermeasure to falsified reviews and that’s definitely necessary. Unfortunately, the fact that they have no method to correct improper deletions IS censorship.

Until they figure out how to correct this by allowing users to contest their filtering, the service cannot be trusted. It is simply incapable of painting an accurate picture as long as this is a problem.

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