Max Crowe

With Yelp’s recent IPO, we thought it would be helpful to remind brands how to best manage their reputations on online review sites.  Your search engine marketing efforts are becoming increasingly dependent on what your participants say about your brand online.  Participant reviews—on Yelp, Google Places, and Citysearch—now occupy prominent positions on the search engine results pages (SERPs), especially for searches with local intent.  Whether a new-to-file customer walks through your door often depends on a review they read through a search engine.  The problem is that many of these reviews are fake.  For instance, a recent Cornell University study found that about half of all online hotel reviews are fake.  These fake reviews could be positive.  But they could also be negative—perhaps posted by a competitor looking to disparage your reputation.  And, according to B2B Magazine, one negative online review could cost you thirty new customers.

Savvy marketing strategies are often best suited to manage false and malicious reviews.  Managing reviews starts with engaging in a two-way conversation with your reviewers—both critics and fans.  This requires (1) monitoring, (2) reporting malicious reviews and (3) participating in the online conversation about your brand.

(1) Monitor

You can’t manage online reviews unless you’re monitoring them.  Every brand should designate resources—either in marketing, customer relations or public relations—to monitoring online brand reputation.  For larger brands, this may require social listening tools or conversation analysis capabilities. 

  • Claim your business listings on Yelp, Google Places and other review sites so that you’re able to monitor more easily
  • Monitor the conversation around your brand in real-time.  Time matters; every minute that a false and malicious review sits on your review page could cost you business.

(2) Report

It’s always worth it to report false and malicious reviews to the search engine or review site.  If the review looks like spam, the site may remove it.  To report a review in Google Places:

  • Go to the “Report a Problem Link” at the bottom of your Place Page
  • Place Page owners can then submit a form to Google indicating that the review contains incorrect information or spam 

(3) Participate

To manage online reviews, you must participate—go beyond merely listening to your participants.  No brand will receive 100% positive reviews; the key is to “own” both the negative and positive reviews.  In “owning the negativity” around false and malicious reviews, you should:

  • Quickly and firmly respond to false and malicious reviews
  • No matter how malicious the review is, always be polite!

To help outweigh negativity, you should also encourage positivity.  To get the most value out of your review site pages, you must encourage your participants to advocate for your brand.  In encouraging positivity, you should:

  • Thank positive reviewers
  • Answer participant questions
  • Use reviews to guide business decisions
  • Give special attention to influencers and advocates who are likely to continue spreading positivity; identify these influencers though social listening processes

Below is a good example around participation by a dentist in response to a negative review.  The review ranked #1 on the dentist’s Google Place page in August 2011.  The reviewer stated that the dentist “makes up” cavities to extort fees out of its patients.  The dentist was monitoring its reviews and responded with, “[W]e’re a busy office with plenty of patients and we have no need to make up treatment to pay the bills.  If our doctor said you have cavities then you have cavities, period.”

Online reviews
This is an appropriate response by the dentist in this situation.  The high prominence of the review—coupled with the very real potential that the review could drive away customers—elicits a polite, but hard-line, response.  The dentist’s response helps offset the negative review and informs readers that they should take the review with a grain of salt. 

As the SERP becomes more social, online participant reviews are increasingly gaining prominence.  Unfortunately, some of these reviews are false, malicious and damaging to your bottom line.  You must therefore employ marketing tactics—monitoring, reporting and participating—to optimize review pages.

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