Reviews for local businesses are everywhere. As consumers, we search for opinions and ask our friends for recommendations. From the business’ perspective, a review management strategy, or watching these reviews and knowing how to respond to them, is an important piece of your overall marketing strategy. They’re necessary to maintain a brand’s image, which directly affects sales.
Reviews can also offer you an opportunity to identify flaws in your business or operations. In turn, they can inform your brand messaging and marketing strategies.
You might also be familiar with reputation management – this is a larger umbrella terminology for maintaining the consumer’s perception of a brand. It includes listings management, social media and search visibility and review marketing and generation strategies as well, but review management is a key element. If you’re looking to start taking a more active role in your brand’s reputation management, having a review management strategy in place is an essential first step.
This guide will walk you through all the fundamentals of implementing a review strategy for your brand.
Why review management is important
Online reviews are not new, but they are more important than ever to brands online. As a consumer, you know how many places you can find them: formalized on TripAdvisor, posted about on Twitter or talked about in a blog post. Reviews have only become more accessible with the proliferation of mobile apps and the addition of readily visible ratings in search results. It’s easier than ever for customers to search your brand on the go and make a quick decision about where they want to take their business.
The prevalence of reviews isn’t just positive for consumers, it also provides a valuable source of feedback for your business. This can help you understand where to improve, or what customers are loving that you could highlight even more in your marketing.
You might be familiar with looking out for brand mentions and feedback on social media, but there’s a difference between a review posted on Facebook versus chatter about a restaurant on Twitter. Sites with formal star ratings like Facebook and Google get tallied up and averaged for all your future customers to see. This factors into your overall online presence since these ratings can increase your SEO visibility and show up in search results for your brand terms.
According to BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey in 2018, 86% of consumers read reviews for local businesses. When further subdivided into age groups, you can see that 25% of those aged 55+ years old have never read an online review while only 5% of those aged 18–34 years old have never read a review. This contrast is helpful to note if your company mostly serves a different age range than those who normally read reviews.
But what do people think about these reviews? They react with their wallets.
The same survey explored if reviews affected the consumer’s use of a local business. A majority of 68% surveyed said a positive review would influence a decision to use a local business while 40% said negative ones would make them not patronize a business.
The good news is that these sites also offer a way for businesses to publicly reply to the review.
Why you should reply to online reviews
Just as you keep on top of your social media messages and engage back, replying to reviews helps build trust and repeat business for your brand. No matter what the tone or content of a review is, it’s a best practice to always respond. 89% of consumers read businesses’ responses to reviews, so they’re an essential avenue for cementing your brand identity and forging connections to your customers.
Plan for common review situations in advance so that you know your team is ready to stay on-message. You’ll want to draw up a document of items frequently mentioned in reviews and appropriate responses. During your audit, you probably saw some of these common scenarios. Use your audit as the base but not the limiting factor.
For a retailer, common topics might include staff demeanor and customer service, product selection and stock, ambiance and checkout wait times. Within each category type, you’ll then identify where reviews might focus on, even if they didn’t come up in the audit. For example, even if you don’t have many negative mentions about customer service, you should be ready to react to a situation where a customer couldn’t find a staff member to answer their question or didn’t get a discount applied at checkout.
If you’re stuck with coming up with new scenarios, ask your customer support team or whoever currently runs frontline with customers. Ask not just for the common scenarios but also for the unique ones. The extreme ones may be rare, but they might also run the risk of becoming viral.
After each category and scenario has been identified, start in on the responses. What will you tell someone if they claim that a shoe’s sole fell off within the first month of use? What will you say if someone says a staff member was making discriminatory or controversial comments?
Preparation for these scenarios is key so you don’t feel lash out defensively if and when a crisis comes up.
Tips for responding to online reviews
When reading a critique of your business, you may feel attacked and frustrated that the customer doesn’t understand you. While this is a valid reaction, it’s important to move beyond this and see the opportunity to rebuild trust with your audience. Setting aside the frustration can open the door to connection – 33% of customers who received a response to a negative review subsequently changed it to be more positive, while 34% deleted their negative review.
Keep your tone friendly and understanding. When writing a response, personalize it with a name if available, acknowledge what was written and add remarks if steps will be taken internally. Sign off with your name and position if that’s not readily apparent.
In this example, The Stinking Rose restaurant responded to both positive and negative reviews. Notice that in the negative review response, the restaurant mentioned the actions that would be taken.
Regardless of how positive or negative a review is, each customer deserves to be responded to. Harvard Business Review reviewed tens of thousands of TripAdvisor hotel reviews and if available, the hotels’ responses. When hotels started responding to reviews, they received 12% more ratings and increased them by an average of 0.12 stars. TripAdvisor rounds to the nearest half star. For a third of the hotels that were studied, ratings increased by half a star or more within the first six months of responding to reviews.
This study followed similar results to The Sprout Social Index, Edition XII: Call-out Culture where we studied how responses mattered to consumers on social media. The consequences are high for brands who don’t respond to a social complaint: 35% of consumers would never buy from them again.
But if you respond poorly, the percentage of consumers who would never buy from you again increases to 50%. This is why you need to have a review response plan in place as part of your overall strategy.
But fear not, you can win back customers even after a negative social post or review. 44% of consumers say that a great response would win them back.
In crafting a response, keep in mind that while a response may be directed to a customer, your future customers will be reading it also. They’ll take note of the efforts you make to respond and the changes you implement in your business practices.
As you can see, managing reviews has a lot in common with what you may already have in place as a social customer care strategy. Being receptive to your audiences’ feedback and willing to respond in an authentic, personalized and constructive way can help you connect with your customers, whether you’re dealing with online reviews or comments on social platforms.
Identify review networks to focus on
To start implementing a review management strategy, you need to identify the networks that you want to focus on. The fastest way to do this is to perform an audit of each review network you can think of and explore how many reviews are left there. You could either look at how many your business currently gets on a given site, or how well your niche is represented there.
Review sites vary between industries. For example, TripAdvisor is geared more towards hospitality, travel, and the international audience, while Google My Business is important across industries, but is particularly important for smaller local businesses. If you’re a restaurant, then you likely have reviews on TripAdvisor, Google, Yelp, Facebook and maybe even your preferred delivery app.
It doesn’t matter if you’re actively managing your presence on these review networks or not. People will leave reviews regardless of your brand presence. The trick is to identify which ones matter to you the most. If you are just starting out in review management, some of the top networks in terms of volume and reach include Google, Facebook and TripAdvisor.
In 2019 alone, NetMarketShare.com showed that Google dominated the search engine market at 81.38%. China-based Baidu came in second with 9.94% of the market share. Where you and your customers are will determine which search engines you want to focus on.
Google My Business encompasses your business’ presence on Google. This includes a short summary that displays in the Knowledge Panel on the right-hand side of search results. It also includes the same details that pop up if you’re searching for it on Google Maps.
TripAdvisor reviews are popular with audiences planning for their next travel destination. To get started with this platform, be sure to claim the listing for your business.
On Facebook, reviews and recommendations need to be turned on from the Page’s settings. In 2018, Facebook turned reviews into recommendations only. However, previous star ratings still exist on the Page and are still shown out of five stars.
In Sprout’s reviews tab, you can see your Facebook reviews, Google My Business reviews and TripAdvisor reviews all in one stream, allowing you to easily manage replies as well as filter these incoming reviews and assign tasks just like the rest of your social media workflow through Sprout.
To find the most opportune networks for your reviews, it may be best to set up a social media listening strategy that will bring up online chatter about your business. If you start seeing more reviews from one network, maybe it’ll be time to join it. Plus, with listening you’ll be able to find other sources of valuable feedback about your business across social networks.
In the above scenario, the account name was mentioned by the user. But if they had only mentioned the name of the game or other branded key terms, a listening strategy would’ve brought it up in a search for brand name mentions.
When it comes to writing online reviews, customers have a lot of power. But with the right tools, preparation and knowledge, businesses also have the power to change brand perception in a positive way.
Acknowledging and responding to online reviews, good and bad, not only strengthen your brand’s online image but also gets folded into social media engagement. Social customer care and online review management go hand in hand. Master these two and you’ll have an excellent customer care strategy.