Recommendations from people we know ranks #1, not surprisingly, as the most trusted form of advertising, according to the 'Under the Influence: Consumer Trust in Advertising' report by Nielsen. In other words, word-of-mouth advertising!
Word-of-mouth advertising has taken on a whole new meaning in our online world. It's no longer me telling you and a handful of others I know about a good or bad experience I've had with a business.
Today, word-of-mouth advertising might begin as an online comment on Facebook, Twitter or Yelp, but that comment has the potential to go much farther than my family, friends and others that I know. It has the potential to spread to hundreds and even thousands of others. It might not, but it can.
Removing The Power Of Bad Reviews
Many businesses worry about customers posting negative reviews online and the impact those negative reviews may have on their business. While this is a legitimate concern, a bad review is far more powerful when there are no good reviews online to out weigh the bad.
Positive customer testimonials and reviews posted online can significantly outweigh a few bad reviews and show that the majority of our customers are happy customers, hopefully very happy customers.
Most of us are not surprised with a business having an occasional negative review - sometimes it can even make the more positive reviews seem more credible. But this only holds up if negative reviews are far outweighed by reviews from happy customers.
Managing Your Online Reputation
Where negative reviews are a serious problem is when the bad reviews are running anywhere near to neck-and-neck with the positive reviews. This tells people "this company is bad news, don't even think about doing business with them." Or when the only reviews available are bad reviews.
Unfortunately, the latter is often caused (bad reviews only) by one of two things:
- The business really isn't one you want to deal with.
- The business is not being proactive in managing their online reputation.
In the #2 scenario, rather than inviting happy customers to provide them with testimonials and share their positive thoughts online, they leave their online reputation in the hands of the Internet. Not good!
Today, business owners who want to have a say in how their business is reported online MUST be proactive in managing what is being said about them online. In a world where most of us, at least in North America and Europe, go online regularly to find out about products, services, brands, etc., we need to be actively harvesting feedback from happy customers and sharing this 'proof' of who we are online.
4 Simple Ways To Harvest Reviews From Happy Customers, to Manage and Influence Your Online Brand
Here are four (4) simple ways to manage and influence what is being said about you online, to help you begin to actively harvest testimonials and reviews from happy customers:
#1: Invite customers to share their experience with your business in writing (or video) and share it on your website.
- Add a 'Testimonials' or 'What Customers Say' page to your website where you can add positive feedback from your customers.
- Include each customer testimonial along with the customer name, company, title and city, as relevant/appropriate. (Reviews that do not include at least a full first name and last name will be less credible in the eyes of consumers.)
- Add a customer photo (optional) to go along with the testimonial. (Only do this if you have high quality photos of your customers. Poor quality images will reflect poorly on your website.)
- Make sure you have permission from clients to use their review and any personal information before publishing it anywhere.
"Adding testimonials is probably one of the easiest ways to improve your website, and a good one can generate more selling power than some of the best sales copy out there." - Derek Gehl, Entrepreneur.com
#2: Invite LinkedIn connections to provide a recommendation through LinkedIn, and share these on your website too.
- If you're not on LinkedIn, this is an important social network to be on. Especially for micro and small business owners, professionals, sales people, etc.
- Find out which of your customers are on LinkedIn and invite them to connect with you there there. (Check out this article: 6 areas of your LinkedIn profile you shouldn't ignore. Before inviting customers to connect with you on LinkedIn, you need to make sure your profile represents you and your business well.)
- Once connected, invite happy customers, or other business associates whose recommendation would work for you and your business, to provide a recommendation (click here for how) through LinkedIn for including on your personal LinkedIn profile:
- Personalize each invitation and send each out individually, not to a wide group of people at one time. How you approach inviting the recommendation says something about you and your business.
- Ask for permission to share the recommendation on your website too.
- At this time LinkedIn doesn't have a 'recommendations' feature on their business page.
#3: Offer a way for customers to provide a review online through your website.
- Have your webmaster build your own review system (pricey!) or, if your site is a Content Management System (WordPress is), check to see if there is a feature/plugin already built that will work with your theme/platform.
- For WordPress sites WP Customer Reviews works quite nicely, on most sites. As each theme is different you'll want to check it out on yours to make sure it will play nicely. The link provided in the last sentence takes you to the WordPress codex where you can learn a bit about the plugin. It's worth checking out if only to see how a few negative reviews are pretty much overridden by all of the 5-star reviews (at least at the time of this writing).
- With this type of system you can (usually) also decide not to publish the negative reviews submitted. In other words, you need to approve the reviews that show up live on your site.
#4: Have an easy-to-complete form (name, email/phone number, comment, permission tick box) readily available for in-store customers.
- When one of the team receives praise or a compliment from a customer encourage the staff person to ask the client to take a moment to complete an in-store comment card. In some cases, the customer may find it is more convenient for the staff member to write out what they said, have the customer confirm it and sign off on it. Ultimately, whatever works best for the customer.the exact statement they've made is written out for them.
- Check out this short article from Your Marketing Liaison on how she encourages her customers, mainly doctors and lawyers, to obtain client testimonials.
Deciding To Manage Your Own Online Reputation
There is much more to managing your online reputation than posting positive reviews to your website. In truth, this will only work if your customers overall are actually happy with the products, services and customer service you provide. If they're not, there are plenty of places online where they can (and will) share BAD reviews that you have absolutely no control over. And, this is as it should be. Customers should be able to get the word out about businesses that aren't delivering on their promises.
That said, to simply abdicate responsibility for your online reputation to fate is (forgive me) insane! Happy customers rarely send you a testimonial ready to use, unless you ask for it. It's usually people who are unhappy with a product or service who are the first to share this information online as a warning to others. And, again, this is a good thing.
But unfortunately, among those who are completely justified in their complaint and are helping the general public by sharing said complaint online, there are also those who are simply:
- Habitual complainers who may be virtually impossible to please;
- Cut off by a business because they didn't pay their bill, and all attempts to resolve the situation failed, and now they're getting even by going online and telling the world how bad the business is;
- . . . and other varied reasons.
If you decide to let fate have its way, and not manage your own online reputation, you're letting down those customers that count on you and do, or could, benefit from the services you offer. Seriously!
If you're good at what you do, you under promise and over deliver and if you really care about your customers then you owe it to them, and to yourself, to ask for their feedback so you can share the positive results with others. This isn't about being perfect. Every business messes up from time to time. We're all human and mistakes happen - but mistakes well handled can, believe it or not, leave to even more loyal customers. Mistakes or problems are usually not the issue, how they're handled is!
Unhappy customers, legitimate or not, have many avenues for telling their story. Business owners have a few. It's up to each of us to make the most of the opportunities given to us, including making sure we harvest the feedback from happy customers that can help us grow our business.
This 2012 article in Inc. titled "How Online Reviews Make (or Break) Your Business" will provide you with some additional reasons to make sure you are taking responsibility for your own online reputation.