Online review services.....What's the skinny?



Using Online Review Services

Nowadays, particularly in this economy, you have very little time to waste when it comes to your business. You don’t want to waste time with products, services and businesses that don’t really provide you with what you need.
Our economy today is very different than our economy of the past. There are several profound differences, which have paved the way for online search and review services that can really help business owners to get what they need quickly and effectively. They are:
  • High levels of unemployment
  • Less discretionary income
  • Falling home prices and foreclosures
  • Many scammers and snake oil salesmen
  • Faltering traditional media, especially newspapers
  • People putting their trust in their friends, rather than in advertisements, promotional materials, and sales techniques
All of those factors have provided a perfect platform for the birth of online search and review services. Those types of services, such as Yelp among others, feature unsolicited reviews from "real" people, not paid journalists, on a variety of local businesses from restaurants and dentists to clothing stores and electricians.
Many of the online search and review services began in the 1990s and now serve as a directory for businesses in many cities in North America, the UK, and Europe. People have written millions of local reviews in many languages.
The databases of these types of services contain directory information including store hours, phone numbers, address and driving directions. Business listings can be accessed via mobile browsers as well as computers and tablets. In addition to the reviews, site visitors can find events, special offers, and discussion forums.
Is your small business on an online search and review service yet?
Any business can set up a profile for free, but your organization can appear on one of the sites even if you don't put it there. They license basic business information from third-party data providers who gather that type of information from public records and other sources. They also get business information from the communities of which they are a part.
Since your customers will be talking about you in the cities where you have an online presence, it makes sense for you to take control of your profiles on those websites — set up your profile and answer  automated questions; it all takes very little time. The administration pages for business owners offer many choices for sharing information to make it easy for users to know exactly what to expect. If you provide the information that prospective customers are looking for, they’re more likely to become reliable, paying customers. So fill out as much information as you can and keep it up to date.
To help business owners get the most out of their online presence, online search and review services offer free tools for business owners to accomplish the following activities:
  • Communicate with your customers– privately and publicly
  • Track how many people view your business page
  • Add photos, a detailed business description, up-to-date information, history, and specialties
  • Announce special offers and upcoming events
  • Recommend other businesses
To reap the benefits from these types of sites, you should recognize the "community" aspect of this social media platform, ie, you must participate — but not simply for self-promotion. Here are five beginner mistakes to avoid:
  1. Don’t use online search and review services to leave bad reviews of your competition
  2. Don’t use them to promote your friend's business
  3. Don’t use them to “talk up any business in which you have a financial interest (they will find out and you will get blacklisted)
  4. Don’t create an account, list yourself, then never log in again
  5. Don’t protest and try to say that you didn’t read the Terms of Service
Reviews are the backbone of these types of sites, and people wonder if they are primarily used for people to complain about their bad experiences. However, statistical analysis shows that the vast majority of reviews range from neutral to five stars (the highest rating).
Business owners are advised to use negative or neutral reviews as an opportunity to engage with consumers and to offer solutions to problems:
Negative reviews are an unfortunate — but entirely normal — part of doing business. Don't be surprised to read the occasional negative review. While it's important to look for patterns in your reviews (the bread is stale, the same employee is repeatedly described as rude), you should take any individual perspective with a grain of salt. Some of the best advice we've heard has come from within the business community.
Contacting reviewers should be approached with care; Internet messaging is a blunt tool and sometimes good intentions come across badly. We've put together some examples to help you get this balance right.
Keep these things in mind as you're crafting a message to your customer:
  • Your reviewers are your paying customers
  • Your reviewers are human beings with (sometimes unpredictable) feelings and sensitivities
  • Your reviewers are vocal and opinionated (otherwise they would not be writing reviews!)
You can feel confident that the people who work at online search and review services will help you to gather useful information for your business for several reasons, including that:
  • The salespeople don't have back-end administrative privileges that would allow them to alter the  review databases
  • Sales people sign agreement that s/he will not write reviews of any business while working for the online search and review service
With the possibility of opening your business up to negative reviews, should you avoid setting up a account with one of these services? Given today's marketplace where customers have many avenues available for finding information as well as voicing opinions; the wise choice is to be proactive and manage your online business presence where your current and prospective customers will congregate. The common wisdom is to "Fish where the Fish are." Geomarketing, ie, local targeting, is becoming more important — and more prevalent. The best advice is to do some homework: check out the online and review services, sign up as a consumer, write and read some reviews, participate in the forum discussions and then carefully fill out your profiles. Make sure that your profiles are complete and that you are actively engaging with the other members of the online search and review services of which you are a member.

About the Author.  Shari Weiss is a writer, teacher, editor, and marketing consultant who is working full-time on All Things Social Media. With a journalism degree from Northwestern University and a master’s in PR from Kent State, Shari has taught college courses in journalism, marketing and English for 20 years. In addition, she has edited an array of publications from Harcourt Brace Jovanovich trade magazines to a city-wide student newspaper. Currently, she is the Chief Blogger for SHARISAX IS OUT THERE, in which she writes articles on a variety of social media categories, including How-To Lessons for social media beginners; Interviews with industry professionals; reports on meeting presentations; and strategies for social media marketing. She is also the Community Manager for Performance Social Media and leads workshops for entrepreneurs, small businesses, and university students. Her website is

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