As the mobile web and social networks grow in importance, more power is being handed over to users; your customers. Rather than relying on what you tell us about yourself, we are headed to the social web to do our research. What was once the domain of publications like Consumer Reports, is now in the hands of the masses.
As we do our research online, we are seeking out the opinions of others in a variety of places, but mostly from our peers. On Amazon we might read the reviews of a book before we decide to make our purchase. We are less interested in the “official” reviews of professional critics. There was a time when we might check in with Siskel and Ebert before we went to a movie. We might subscribe to a paid service like Zagat to get professional opinions on restaurants.
But now, we’re more interested in the opinions of people just like us. Actually given the choice, we probably would have always valued the opinions of our friends and peers over that of professionals, but those weren’t also quite so handy. But the combination of the Internet, social media, and mobile technology means that the reviews and opinions of “people like us” are just a click away. Sites like Yelp, Urban Spoon and Trip Advisor can be incredibly handy.
This changes the game for those of us who run businesses. On the one hand, it’s wonderful if we get good reviews. Nothing beats positive word of mouth as it travels across the web. On the other hand, though, just one bad review can set us back quite a bit. As a result, businesses begin to panic and look for ways of getting those good online reviews, either to increase their ratings, or to fight back against negative reviews.
As I’ve researched this and worked with local small businesses, and watched what other businesses are doing, I’ve discovered five methods for getting those good online reviews. Unfortunately, only one of them is the correct way.
First, the four methods that I believe are unethical or at least border on being disingenuous.
1. Do it yourself – We’ve all seen this. You read a review on Yelp or some other site and it’s written in such a way that you just KNOW it was done by the owner of the business, or an employee, or the owner’s mom. I’ve even seen marketing and social media consultants review their client businesses without revealing the relationship. This is wrong. Neither you nor employees, or anyone related to your business should write a review. As a consultant, I don’t review my own clients, and if I did, I would point out up front that we have a working relationship. Full disclosure is necessary. Of course, the opposite of this is also true: never write a negative review of your competitors. Either way, you will eventually be found out. Cleaning up that mess will more than undo any good created by your fake good review.
2. Pay someone to write the review – I’ve discovered a few cases where people offer their services to businesses to help them get good reviews. What generally happens is they hire people who have never interacted with the business to write the reviews. This is the long-lost cousin of paying for Facebook likes or Twitter followers. It’s sleazy. Just don’t do it! Seriously, how would you feel about your competitors if you found out that this is what they were doing?
3. Bribe your customers – We have a local business here that offers discounts to those who write reviews of them online. They even promote this on their Facebook page. It’s not illegal, but boy it just doesn’t seem right. Offering discounts is fine to draw people in, but to write a good review? This really toes the line on disclosure and online reviews. Bloggers are required by the FTC to practice full disclosure when writing a review of something they’ve been given for free, such as a book or a trip. But now we are ALL content creators. Even a simple Facebook status update is creating content. There is no way to police this, but every one of us should practice disclosure. Customers who receive discounts or free items should disclose that if they are going to write a review. Little things like that have a direct relation on the credibility of those reviews. If we want to make informed decisions about businesses based on online reviews we need them to be believable, and not colored by special favors.
4. Mislead people – I don’t mind businesses asking for reviews or directing customers to sites where they can write reviews. But if you do, be honest in how you do it. Check out this photo that my friend Adam took awhile back of a sign he found in his hotel room in Indiana.
Besides the fact that it is incredibly unprofessional looking, there are so many things wrong with this sign I’m not even sure where to begin. First off, this screams to me that they’ve been on the receiving end of some bad reviews, and that perhaps the parent company is checking up on them. Second, the whole notion that only 9s or 10s count is false. Every rating you give them counts, but only the 9s and 10s count favorably. Those 3s and 4s count, it’s just that you’d rather not have them. They count against you, not for you.
I never want to hear that you have to use any of these above practices in order to compete. Saying that “everyone else is doing it” is not an excuse. Rise above the fray and resolve to do things the right way; the ethical way.
Speaking of the right way, here’s what I believe is the only proper way to get good online reviews.
5. Do your job well, and encourage reviews – If you want me to give you 9s and 10s, you’d better earn them. The quickest way to a good review is to do your job well, and then encourage me to write a review. Don’t bribe me, don’t mislead me. Just provide quality products and services, combined with great customer service, in a way that makes me want to tell others about you. Then if you suggest to me that I write a review in a way that makes it easy for me, there’s a good chance I will. Treat me well and the folks on Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, and so on will hear about it. Do your job poorly, and I’ll probably let you know as well.
There are no shortcuts. Just do your job, and do it well.
Are you doing your part to get good reviews? How are you encouraging your customers to post positive online reviews?
- 5 Quick Tips: Getting More Reviews From Your Customers (swipelyworks.com)
- Yelp And Your Small Business (ychange.com)
- Yelp reviews; keeping a healthy perspective is best (coverboom.com)
- Five Things Facebook Must Do Now that They’re Public (spinsucks.com)