A Publication of WTVP

Monitoring your reviews, interacting with customers and promoting your favorite vendors can help boost your business’ image.

Although I spend a good deal of my time giving advice to business owners, managers and executives on getting the most from Internet marketing—usually through seminars, consulting packages or articles like this one—I never really like to give out hard and fast rules.

The reason is simple: things change on the Web so quickly that each situation could be different. It is impossible to say that a certain piece of advice is going to be applicable for everyone in every situation. I am going to break my rule today and offer one rule that every small business should keep in mind: You must absolutely make online reviews part of your Internet marketing plan.

What makes this particular piece of advice so compelling? There are a few reasons that Internet reviews matter, but we’ll focus on two in particular. First, reviews on the major sites tend to show up very high in the search engine rankings. They are incredibly easy for your current and potential customers to find. Second, they represent the very best of word-of-mouth advertising—probably the oldest and best-known way to grow your company, online or off.

With that in mind, here are a few tips for making the most of my rule and making online reviews a big part of your marketing plan:

Know the major review sites in your industry. There are many review sites out there, but not all of them are important to you. A dentist might need to pay the most attention to Yelp, for example, while restaurants and hotels should focus their attention on TripAdvisor. Figure out what your customers are reading, and then add a profile for your business if you need to.

Monitor what others are saying about you, your products and your service. It does not take much time to check for new reviews, but it’s a step many business owners and managers skip. A single poor review can heavily impact your business. So, take a few minutes each week—mark it on your calendar if you have to—and go to these sites to see what’s been posted about your business. You should also check and see what others are saying about your competitors.

Respond to questions quickly and clearly. Customers will go to these sites to openly ask a question about your business. When they do, feel free to respond publicly, with all the detail that is needed (provided that you aren’t sharing sensitive information). Other potential buyers might have had the same question, so it is a great way to address many people at once.

Handle complaints delicately. Your first instinct when reading a poor review might be to get angry, or to reply with a rant. Resist the urge! Instead, find out what happened, see if you can pacify the disappointed buyer, and post a well-reasoned public reply if it seems appropriate.

I recently read an article about a bakery that posted a picture of a crying baby in response to a complaint on a review site. We can all agree that the customer isn’t always right, but making things right with your customers goes a long way. Looking back, I bet the bakery wished it had handled the customer’s response differently, especially after the story was picked up by several national news outlets. Handling the complaint this way seems to verify that she was rude and childish to the customer when she complained in person.

Managing complaints with dignity and professionalism is key to good business practices; making it right with your customers should be the priority. Of course, some people can’t be pleased… so know when to simply call it a day and move on to the next customer.

Do everything you can to encourage positive reviews. The more positive reviews you have, the more new customers can trust you, and the faster your business can grow. You never want to do anything unethical (like trading services for positive reviews), but don’t be afraid to let good customers know that reviews are important, and ask them to share a few kind words online. Why not have a list of review sites available at your store or on your website?

With the right reviews in the right places, you could see the profitability of your company double or even triple in a short amount of time. For that to happen, though, you need to follow these steps and be sure that the great work you do is being noted on review sites in your area.

Be a good customer. On the flip side of this topic is you or your business being a good customer. Each time you write a nice review about a business or one of your vendors, your name is attached to it for years. The business or vendor may share your comments with its audience, getting your name out in front of even more people. If you were to Google my name, your search results would not only include my website and social media pages, but many of my reviews of books and equipment that I’ve purchased, as well as hotel and restaurant recommendations. Writing reviews are almost as effective as getting them. Keep that in mind, and try to get in the habit of being a good customer and sharing good experiences with the masses.

How is your doctor’s service? I bet he would appreciate your kind words on Google’s local review site. Did the waiter stand out at your favorite restaurant? Tell people about it! An attendee at one of my social media workshops said his business took off after someone wrote a nice review on Angie’s List. One review, and his business is going full force. He was a true believer of social media and online word-of-mouth marketing. iBi