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Protecting Your Online Persona

user iconIn recent years a multitude of websites have sprung up offering customers a forum to review and share their experience of a particular business. These sites can make or break even an established company and a lot of businesses are reacting with fear to the power of sites like ‘Yelp’ and the Yellow Pages based ‘Yell’. What most owners don’t realise is that if they embrace the interaction these sites offer they can strengthen their customer base and vastly improve their public image.

Creating an army of amateur food critics Yelp has become one of the best known and most-used of the review sites out there. Users only need to create a free account and they can start uploading reviews and photos of anywhere whether they really are a customer or not. This is the scarily ambiguous part of these sites for most businesses, there are few to no checks in place to make sure the review is from a genuine user and not someone with an axe to grind. The defence to this from the site operators is that these reviews are crowd sourced and one bad review amongst twenty will simply be ignored as an aberration but for a small business if the first review is bad then it’ll make it that much more difficult to grow that business.

This is where, like with most social media, the interaction between company and consumer becomes so vital. Review sites, pretty much without exception, offer the service supplier the opportunity to respond to reviews, address concerns or criticisms or simply thank the reviewer for a high rating. You don’t have someone who deals with social media? Then get one or do it yourself. Only the most inconceivably naïve business owner would deny the power of social media to affect their company. The best place to start is Google yourself and do it often. Find out, on a regular basis, where you appear and what people are saying about you.

So what to do if you get a bad review? Stay impartial. I understand, you’ve built this business and it’s as personal to you as a member of your family but to the consumer it’s just a name, the years of hard work are unimportant to them weighed against a bad experience. This is public market research and it’s best to treat it as such. A general review that criticises staff attitudes, service levels or pricing is an opportunity to address those internally and offer a full explanation. Don’t think of the review as “one crank venting bile” you can ignore because you’re also ignoring everyone who comes later to read that review.

If that customer is addressing a specific incident then investigate it, ask staff for an explanation and respond with your findings and a solution to stop it happening again. Yes, it’s a lot of work, yes it’ll tie people up but the benefits of being a company that engages with it’s customers, versus one that simply disregards them, are vast and numerous. Modern marketing in the connected world is engaging with one person to engage with their ‘network’ by proxy. And if the review is a complete work of fiction you can submit evidence to the site and they’ll assess and remove it as appropriate, you’re not completely defenceless.

If you need to mentally justify this then put it under marketing or public relations or simply customer service. The consumer is empowered and with the tools at their command they can also empower a lot of other people to take their money elsewhere.

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Netitude provide IT Support for companies in the South West including: Bristol, Bath, Somerset, Wiltshire, Swindon