Every day, there are 75 billion items of content posted or shared on Facebook, 400 million tweets sent on Twitter, 2 billion photos stamped with a heart on Instagram, and 4 billion videos watched on YouTube.
With these numbers, it makes sense for a business owner or marketer to want to be in the same places where people are spending time online. Research firm BIA/Kelsey forecasts social media advertising revenues to reach an astounding $15 billion by 2018. It's a testament to the ability of social platforms to capture optimal wallet share.
Not as many businesses, however, have yet embraced online review management - an emergent area of focus that, ideally, should work in perfect tandem with your social media marketing efforts.
Social media: a game-changing force?
It's not unusual for a business to have a full-time employee on a 9-to-5 surveillance of Facebook and Twitter, or to be using an array of tools designed to build, maintain, and fine-tune their social media presence. But social is not always the game-changing force that some think it is.
A report by Gallup entitled "The Myth of Social Media" asserts that social's exact potential is still up for debate, and that companies need to continue experimenting to figure out what works best with their customers - or what works at all.
According to the research firm's findings, which are based on a survey of 18,000 respondents, majority of consumers do not engage with and are not influenced by brands on Facebook, Twitter, and other social channels. Also, 94 percent say that they are on social media sites only to connect with family and friends (and have subsequently become rather adept at tuning out brand-related content), while 62 percent say that social media has no influence at all on their purchase decisions.
"(Consumers) are far less interested in learning about companies and/or their products," the Gallup report reads, "which implies that many companies have social media strategies in place that may be largely misdirected."
Customer engagement before social engagement
The report suggests that, in order to attract new customers on social media, you must first engage with existing customers through other channels. "Customer engagement drives social engagement - the degree to which consumers will work for or against an organization within their social networks," concludes Gallup, "(and) not the other way around."
Reviews shape reputation
This is where review management comes in, and can bolster any social media strategy your organization may already have.
Online reviews - posted by customers on sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google, and even Facebook (which introduced a Reviews tab in Facebook Pages of local business early last year) - have become one of today's most potent forms of word of mouth.
These reviews can shape your business reputation: to those who are ready to make a purchase, five-star reviews and raves make a product or service look extra attractive, while low ratings and negative customer feedback are major turn-offs for consumers (and, for local businesses, a kind of "condemnation to death" - as described by Cornell University researchers).
And while consumers are wont to avoid brand-related communications on social channels, they are not at all reluctant to "Yelp" businesses and share their customer experiences and opinions on online review sites.
When consumers "like" vs. when they "Yelp"
Don't take this to mean that you should stop posting updates on your Facebook Page or put a hold on your customer service efforts on Twitter. But if you're hoping to join your potential and existing customers' conversations, focus on online reviews, too.
Stay on top of what customers are saying on review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor and local search platforms like Google, Foursquare, and Yahoo. Say "thank you" to positive review-writers and respond proactively to critics. Exert as much effort - if not more - in generating positive feedback and five-stars reviews as you do in increasing likes, hearts, and followers.
A number of studies have shed light on how reviews can make the kind of business impact that even the strongest social signals aren't necessarily able to make.
Strong positive reviews can persuade a consumer to pay approximately 9 percent more for a product or service, according to a study by ShareThis and Paley Center for Media, while 4 out 5 will reverse a purchase decision after reading negative reviews. Contrast this with Gallup's report, which found that only 5 percent of consumers think that social channels exert a great deal of influence on their purchase decisions. Simply put: quantity and quality of reviews - and not number of hearts and likes - influence purchase decisions and pricing flexibility.
Forrester Research, meanwhile, found that, in terms of trustworthiness, content found in consumer reviews (46 percent) ranks ahead of posts by companies or brands on social channels like Facebook and Twitter (15 percent). This comes to no surprise, especially among those who have learned to tune out marketing messages on social media.
In a study called "The Trust Factor", About.com supported the notion that, for consumers, review content is less likely to be tuned out and easier to trust. 50 percent of the respondents in the study's survey agreed that reviews (both positive and negative) were the best peer-to-peer contribution to trust, and in fact inspired twice as much trust as general social networking "likes."
Search marketers continue to wonder exactly what kind of impact social signals have on local SEO. The impact that review signals have are less mysterious. According to Moz's newly released "2015 Local Search Ranking Factors" report, review signals are one of the top 5 ranking factors in local search results, ranking ahead of social signals in terms of determining where and how a local business might appear in local search results.
These numbers are not in any way meant to undermine the value of a solid social media strategy; instead, they serve as a call for companies of all kinds and sizes to balance their efforts by adding online review management to their marketing mix.
Using reputation as a social media benchmark
The impact of social media continues to grow in all aspects of digital marketing, branding, and business. Online reviews represent a new paradigm in word-of-mouth marketing, and should be welcomed with open arms from marketers of all tactical viewpoints.
Reviews can be used to keep a keen ear on an audience's point of view, provide feedback on specific marketing campaigns, or used as a simple benchmark, so you can measure true success. Without online review management, your social media strategy is simply lacking the data required to grow and adapt with this ever-changing landscape.