Online reviews: Building a framework for the reputation economy (Part 1)

The reputation economy is alive and well in 2019. Brands big and small, from retailers and service providers to manufacturers are impacted by online reviews.

As a result, companies must be proactive and disciplined about managing online reviews to maximize the positive impact on brand perception and ultimately, sales.

Unfortunately, managing online reviews is time-consuming, nuanced and the stakes are high. In this two-part series, we 1) outline an effective foundational framework to manage and monitor online reviews, and 2) discuss how and when to respond to negative reviews. (Come back tomorrow for Part 2.)

Why Online Reviews Matter

According to an Invesp study, consumers are likely to spend 31% more on a business with “excellent” reviews, while a single negative review can cost a business roughly 30 customers. Additional study highlights include:

  • 92% of consumers say they will use a local business if it has at least a five-star rating
  • 90% of consumers read online reviews before visiting a business
  • 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • 72% say that positive reviews make them trust a business more
  • 72% of consumers will take an action, only after reading a positive review

While the motivation to monitor and manage online reviews is clear, many brands still struggle to develop an effective online review management program. First though, before starting a program, make sure your company values its customers and employees, and owns any problems as they may arise. There is no better hedge against negative reviews than being the best business you can be. Secondarily, it’s important to ensure your company has a solid marketing foundation on which to build an online review management program.

Building a foundation

The primary objective of online review management programs is to create a positive brand perception, as many review sites rank highly for brand-name searches. It is important to understand, however, that many (unfavorable) review on sites can be pushed down in the search results by a robust digital marketing program. Below are just a few of the strategies, tactics and channels to consider when building a strong foundation for your online review management efforts:

  • Search engine optimization (SEO): Optimize your website, blog and social media profiles to rank for branded search terms including company and product or service names. Beyond on-site optimization of content and code, build credibility by seeking links and directory listings from high-ranking local business and industry vertical sites.
  • Paid-per-click advertising (PPC): Augment your organic listings with branded ad campaigns, especially for terms related to any sensitive issues like lawsuits, disputes or stories in the media. The ads should direct to a relevant landing page, allowing you to control the narrative.
  • Social media: Create and optimize compelling social media profiles and organic content on popular platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn to maximize rankings for your brand. These highly-trusted websites rank well for branded searches with minimal effort and, while you don’t own the profile, you have control over the content and thus visibility.
  • Public Relations: Seek out media coverage opportunities, including expert interviews (via Cision’s HARO, for example), speaking engagements, syndicated articles and awards. Third-party validation is a powerful perception-shaping tool and known media websites also have high credibility with Google, not just customers.
  • Influencer Marketing: When implemented authentically, connecting with and engaging industry influencers can create high-ranking content with viral potential that can mitigate negative results and help change perceptions. It can also backfire if done poorly, so be warned this is the most controversial method of generating awareness and reviews.

With a robust marketing program in place, the next step is to build an online review management program. A robust online review management strategic plan should include the following elements.

  • Team training. The customer journey always starts and ends with your employees. It is essential to train employees to provide a compelling experience which increases the likelihood customers will write positive reviews. Also provide a framework and incentive for employees to identify happy customers and provide the tools that will help them solicit reviews from those customers. Training must also include addressing negative reviews, even if only a select few employees have permission to respond.
  • Rules for engagement. For employees trained and certified to respond to reviews, ensure they have a roadmap or methodology to respond to any reviews in a timely manner, especially negative reviews. Employees best qualified (in order of preference) to respond to negative reviews include: customer service, public relations/marketing, product development, HR, sales and legal. The larger the company, the more likely legal and HR departments are to be involved, at least in the planning process.
  • Review monitoring. To maximize the positive impact of existing content and discussions, invest time in monitoring social media, review sites and branded search results to identify unhappy customers and respond in a timely manner. A good place to start is free or low-cost brand monitoring tools like Google Alerts, SocialMention and Mention.com. More robust review monitoring platforms include Chatmeter, NiceJob, Trustpilot, ReviewPush and Yext.

Leveraging the above framework will ensure you have a solid foundation on which to manage and influence your brand perception via online reviews. In the next installment tomorrow, I will outline when and how to respond to online reviews, especially negative reviews.

Kent Lewis, president and founder of Anvil Media, started his digital marketing agency career in 1996. He frequently writes and speaks about marketing and entrepreneurship.