Brooke Ballard: What Small Businesses Should Know About Online Reviews
What’s in an online review? For small businesses, the answer is a whole lot. In an informative workshop at the Flatiron Business Assistance Forum, Brooke Ballard, Chief Digital Strategist for B Squared Media advised small businesses on how to make the most of user-generated content, such as online reviews and social media. She bolstered her presentation with a slideshow titled “8 Internet Statistics Every Small Business Should Know,” provided by SEO guru and influential blogger Matthew Capala (we highly recommend his blog, Search Decoder).
Advertising is no longer a one-way conversation, with well-funded campaigns selectively feeding consumers information. Social media and a flood of user-generated content, such as Yelp and Amazon, have granted consumers the power to make or break a brand (Search Engine Land: 79% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations). Unsurprisingly, the all-important Millennial demographic is particularly reliant on the internet, with 62% making purchasing decisions based on online research according to Bazaarvoice. However, faced with an overwhelming number of options, consumers of all ages and demographics increasingly turn to online reviews.
On the surface, this is an unsettling prospect for business owners. Ostensibly, it means a brand is at the mercy of anyone who owns a computer and feels like complaining. Between one and three bad reviews, however groundless, can deter customers from purchasing a product according to Econsultancy.com. Furthermore, consumers are more likely to share negative experiences than positive ones. However, this doesn’t mean that a bad review is a cause for panic.
“You want to get involved in a conversation,” says Ballard, whose upbeat, energetic and gently authoritative tone helped new information go down easy. ” You can’t make people delete their bad review if they didn’t have a good experience but what you can do is get involved in the conversation and try to steer it in a certain direction.” Go out of your way to address the concerns of an unhappy customer in a friendly, positive way, Ballard suggested, and they may even be willing to take down bad reviews and post good ones.
Of course, sometimes you’ll be dealing with trolls who are determined to be negative just for the sake of being negative. No amount of pleading will persuade them to take down a bad review, but you can counter their criticism with the testimony of satisfied customers. “One of the important parts of having a great, loyal community of consumers who you talk with on a regular basis is they will come in and before you have to say anything, they will combat the trolls for you.”
Engaging in online conversation with consumers isn’t just about damage control. It can also open up new business opportunities. 91% of people have gone into a store because of an online experience. Businesses that learn to leverage their online influence and create positive associations with their brand through content creation and the deft use of social media can drive customers to their store or website. Businesses should go out of their way to display positive feedback on websites and social media.
“Actively tell people: if you had a great experience, if you love our product, and you love our service and you like us, would you mind going to our Facebook page and leaving us a review about your experience?” Ballard suggested. “Not every person is going to go read a review but if you get just a few of them to leave you something positive, you’re starting to work on that user-generated content that consumers – especially the savvy Millennials – are looking for when they’re considering what to buy.”
Ultimately, succeeding in a marketplace increasingly dominated by the internet is about adopting a new mindset. It’s about supplementing conventional advertising methods with a new, dynamic online utility belt with the underlying goal of driving positive conversation about your brand. “The campaign matters, but the conversation is the way things are going. It’s about the brand being able to have that two-way conversation with consumers, being transparent, being authentic, being out there in the forefront, is going to set you apart and differentiate your brand more than ‘buy my stuff! buy my stuff!'”
More Helpful Hints
- It’s not a problem to have a couple of bad reviews in a crowd of positive ones. In fact, too many perfect reviews can look suspicious.
- Make sure to include a steady stream of rich, relevant and varied content on your website to provide a resource for consumers and encourage conversation. “No matter what your business does, you should get into the content creation game.”
- Social ranking matters. It can help your content show up at the top of a Google search page.
- Gauge your success less by how much traffic you get and more by the quality of that traffic. Ask the right questions: What is your conversion rate? How long do visitors stay on your site? What do they sign up for? Do they come back? Use Google Analytics (free!) to set goals and assess you progress. “If those eyeballs aren’t buying, those eyeballs mean nothing.”
- Use your social proof (social media widget or icon embedded on your page) to make social media engagement seamless. Consider including a Twitterstream on your website. Consumers tend to trust the content with the most social media activity, regardless of quality.
- Consider using a custom hashtag.