A whopping seventy percent of consumers globally report trusting online reviews from strangers when making purchase decisions according to Nielsen's most recent Global Trust in Advertising study. In fact, four out of five consumers say they reverse their purchase decisions based on negative online reviews according to a Cone study of online trends.
To compound the issue, consider that many of your other marketing efforts -- such as social media, direct mail, email, advertising -- are ultimately designed to drive consumers to your website. If your online reputation is poor or nonexistent, you're likely to lose these customers to competitors with more savvy online skills. It's clear why online reputation management is an imperative for 2013.
Imagine this horrifying scenario: you've been delivering for your customers consistently for years, exceeding their every expectation. Unbeknownst to you, a former customer posts unfair reviews of your business online -- creating a twisted sense of reality. Because you're not encouraging your current customers to post positive reviews, all prospective customers see are these negative comments, resulting in significant loss of business.
Bottom line -- if you're not monitoring your brand's online reputation, a few negative reviews could kill your business.
The first step in online reputation management is monitoring. Set up a Google Alert notifying you of all mentions of your brand online. Also, put a weekly reminder on your calendar to search for your company on the most relevant review sites for your business category. If you run a residential service company, Angie's List is important. For restaurants, Yelp and Urbanspoon are key. Alternatively, consider a site like ReviewTrackers.com, which allows you to track your reviews from the major review sites in one convenient location for a fee.
Next, set up a system for encouraging your customers to submit online reviews to a variety of sites. Never put all of your eggs in a single review site's basket, as you wouldn't want your company's future dictated by a single vendor with no vested interest.
You are targeting a sizeable quantity of recent positive reviews from actual customers. Both consumers and search engines place greater value on more recent reviews, which means you'll want to regularly ask your customers to review your company online. If you have two positive online reviews over the past year compared to a competitor with over 100, which do you think consumers will naturally gravitate toward?
If you receive a negative review, don't panic. Respond immediately to the customer publicly to demonstrate your willingness to make it right with full transparency. If you're running a sound company and proactively encouraging customers to review your brand online, the good will inevitably outweigh the occasional bad review.
Lori Turner-Wilson is an award-winning columnist and CEO/Founder of RedRover Sales & Marketing in Memphis, TN, www.redrovercompany.com. You can follow RedRover on Twitter (@redrovercompany and @loriturner) and Facebook (facebook.com/redrovercompany).