As business owners you have a good deal of control over how you advertise, what stock to order, and your store layout and design. However, you can’t control your customers – especially what they say about your business. If a dissatisfied customer complains in your store or on the phone you can try to appease them and prove that you will do your best to correct the situation. But, what if they don’t complain directly to you, or what if they post their complaint on their Facebook page, to Twitter, or on online review sites? You may never know what customers, former employees, or others are saying about your or your business unless you take an active role.
Even if you don’t actively participate in social networking or don’t have a website, there is no excuse not to check what is being post about your business. Recently, Jeff Hyde, Dana Ollendyke, and I released a series of podcasts with the goal of informing food businesses about social networking tools consumers use, what types of information (exclusive sales, recipes, etc.) they expect food businesses of post online, and how online reviews influence them and their purchasing decisions (the 19 Social Media and Food Retailer podcasts are available for viewing at: http://www.youtube.com/user/PSUFoodandFarmBiz).
Based on our research, and explained in more detail in podcast 18 and 19, 82% of our survey respondents read consumer reviews on the Internet. Aside from the website where a product is purchased, at least a third of consumers rely on reviews posted on sites such as Yelp.com, Yahoo! Reviews, and Facebook. Additional data, such as likelihood to post negative reviews based on age (see graph below), is also discussed in podcast 19.
So, the question is, are you aware of what is being said about your business online? There are a number of strategies you could use to learn about potential chatter, good or bad:
1) Read what might be posted about your business on www.Yelp.com, www.local.yahoo.com, and similar review sites. Be aware that consumers can add a business to the listings on some of these sites without the business owner’s permission, and then post at will.
2) Sign up for an alert service such as Google Alerts (www.google.com/alerts) or Yahoo! Alerts and create an alert for when your business name is mentioned online. An email with links to articles, websites, blog postings, etc. that match the alert term (your business name) is then sent to your email “as-it-happens,” daily, or weekly.
3) Run frequent searchers for your business’ name on sites like www.whostalkin.com, www.samepoint.com, www.spy.appspot.com, or similar. These sites search for mentions on a variety of social networking sites such as Twitter, Flickr, and blogs.
Certainly, once you begin monitoring your online presence you’ll get a feel for what tools work best for you and what additional tools help you keep tabs on what is posted online. The key is to incorporate frequent online monitoring into your scheduled operation tasks. In a future blog posting I’ll describe some strategies that you can use to correctly respond to unfavorable and, yes, favorable reviews (you’ll want to do this!).