Potential customers are increasingly turning to dozens of review websites to view others' opinions before trying a new product or service. According to two recent Nielsen studies, 85 percent of consumers polled go online for information and reviews about local businesses, and 70 percent of consumers said they trusted online reviews.
We spoke with Michael Fertik, founder and CEO of Silicon Valley-based online reputation management company Reputation.com, to find out how business owners can take control of their online reputation today.
1. Ask customers for an honest review.
If a business has been around for several years, it's doing something right, as evidenced by repeat customers, Fertik says. "Collect real tips from real customers," Fertik suggests. Don't pay for reviews (that's unethical), but make it as easy as possible for customers to review your business. Have a laptop available near the register and ask customers if they'd mind writing a quick review about their experience.
2. Don't obsess over social media – unless, of course, you want to.
Most businesses don't need to spend a lot of time on Facebook and Twitter, Fertik says. If you run a cupcake shop, Facebook makes sense because you can list flavors of the day and the product is something people want to talk about. If you own a tree cutting business, Facebook doesn’t do as much for you, Fertik notes.
At minimum, Fertik suggests business owners set up Twitter and Facebook pages with their business' logo and contact information, and treat them as digital business cards. If you do want to engage in social media, don't worry about constantly promoting your business on your Facebook page or Twitter feed. "Include information about the industry or articles of interest to customers; you want to keep the conversation going, [but you] don't have to promote, promote, promote," Fertik says.
3. Think before you respond to hostile criticism.
"Be very careful before you respond to a hostile critic [on a review site]," Fertik warns. You may not want to respond at all. "If you respond, respond only if they're getting a specific set of facts wrong." It can be hard to resist responding to negative feedback, so before deciding what to do, take a breather. Fertik says the best course of action is to ask customers for honest feedback and get them to review your business over a period of time.
4. Set up Google Alerts.
Small businesses can benefit from setting up Google Alerts, Fertik says. Google Alerts are free e-mail updates sent to your inbox any time your search terms are mentioned on Google. Fertik suggests setting alerts for your name, your business’ name, and any way people know your business. For example, if your name contains common search terms like "Bob's Best Towing," add the location to narrow your results so only the most relevant ones appear.
Related: How Should I Handle Negative Online Reviews