By Jennifer Gregory
Over the past few years, user-generated review sites — such as Yelp, Angie’s List and Google+ Local — have had a big impact, particularly on small businesses. When someone’s air conditioner breaks on a Saturday morning, they may head to the Internet to find a repairman and will often pick up the phone based on reviews they find online.
By taking a proactive approach to user-generated review sites, your small business marketing solutions can take the form of user generated content, ease your online presence and potentially grow your customer base.
Focus on the Best Sites for Your Business
Each site has a slightly different niche, and you should focus on the one that fits best with your business. If you’re a household service provider, you’ll want to look at Angie’s List, as it’s the first place many people go looking for plumbers, painters, landscapers and house cleaners. Welmoed Sisson, a marketing manager with Inspections by Bob, says that over a third of the home inspection business’s phone calls come from Angie’s List. “What I like most about it is that the people who use Angie’s List aren’t necessarily looking for the cheapest price; they’re much more concerned about high quality service,” says Sisson.
Yelp is a top priority for restaurant owners, but other types of small businesses should keep an eye on the site since it shows up high in searches for business reviews, and many consumers are comfortable using it.
If your focus is corporate business, then you should spend time on LinkedIn; most professionals use their LinkedIn page for networking and are inclined to check recommendations on the site before hiring a vendor or service provider.
Set up and Maintain Your Page
An important step is to set up a business page on the site and maintain the account. Potential customers can’t find you on a reviews site if you don’t have a page there, and they often use Yelp, Angie’s List and Google+ Local to check business hours and phone numbers. Monitor customer reviews and respond to them if necessary. Doing so can smooth over potential issues, shows that you care about customer service, and encourages other users to write reviews, since they know the business owner will read them.
Yelp allows businesses to respond to reviews, send private messages to reviewers, write detailed descriptions of their services and create Yelp deals. On Angie’s List, you can enter information about your business, respond to reviews and even create a storefront for customers to purchase products and services. Google+ Local provides a business center where owners can connect with customers and maintain an updated business page.
Encourage Customers to Review Your Business
Some businesses provide an incentive for customers to post reviews by offering them discounts or even gift cards. Be aware that there is some controversy regarding this practice, especially in light of the recent New York Times article, “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy,” about a man who earned $28,000 a month writing positive book reviews.
“Don’t try to game the system” is the advice Smart Air founder Bryant gave Infusionsoft’s Jay Pinkert for Spinsucks.com. “Unlike other local ratings and reviews sites,” Pinkert writes, “Yelp’s system filters reviews based on factors like previous site participation,” which attempts to ensure that reviewers aren’t one-offing the system. Google Places states that businesses should not offer money or incentives for writing reviews, and says that the review could be removed owing to conflict of interest.
But there are many ways to encourage customers to review your business. Some owners display messaging in their office, on their websites and emails (with links to the relevant sites) or on their invoices asking customers to write a review for great service. “We send follow-up emails during and after training that mention that we would appreciate a review, and we occasionally ask a client specifically for a review,” says Jonathan P. Klein, dog trainer and behaviorist with I Said Sit! School for Dogs. He estimates that five to 10 people out of 100 say that they will write a review, and one of those people will actually do so.
You could also write your own reviews on the sites of your corporate customers, which often results in them returning the favor and reviewing your business. For example, if your cleaning service cleans a restaurant, you could review their restaurant from your experience as a customer on Yelp.
However, the best incentive to getting customers to write good reviews is to provide them such amazing service that they want to share it with their friends. Sometimes all they need is a little nudge to do it.
Use Reviews to Grow Your Business
Once you have increased your presence and positive reviews, use this important marketing tool to increase your customer base. “We mention reviews in most of our marketing, newsletter and website, and there is a sign on the door,” Klein says. When a customer asks you for a reference, send a link to the review websites in addition to several names and numbers. Consider adding “Check us Out on Yelp” or “See What Past Customers Have to Say on Angie’s List” on brochures and business cards. And be sure to share positive reviews on social media to further get the word out.
What kind of untapped resources have you discovered from user-generated content?