What 600 Million Online Reviews Taught Me About Social Media Engagement

What 600 Million Online Reviews Taught Me About Social Media Engagement

I used to disregard online customer reviews. I thought glowing reviews were either paid for or fake, and negative ones came from spammers or glass-half-empty consumers. It wasn’t until I started experimenting with social media myself that I realized how much of an impact online reviews could have on my business. When the reviews were good, sales seemed to spike, and if a complaint popped up that I didn’t address immediately, it meant a missed sale or fewer calls that week. I did run into some negative fake reviews (which is a whole other animal), but I learned to encourage enough positive reviews to make the negative ones negligible.

Life Lessons In Social Engagement

After nursing a bruised ego a time or two, I learned that I couldn’t continue to watch from the sidelines — I had to get in the ring and interact with customers who left reviews, both good and bad. It felt a little odd in the beginning since I was used to face-to-face and phone interactions, but as I expressed gratitude toward the positive posters and offered alternatives and assistance to critics, I felt more positive about the experience. While I haven’t caught the online review bug myself (I’ve probably left a total of five reviews over the past five years), statistics tell a very different story about the rest of America. My restaurant point-of-sale company recently partnered with the research firm Merchant Centric to study the relationship between businesses and social media engagement. The report found that online reviews of U.S. businesses rose 66% between March 2017 and March 2018 alone, and in all, U.S. businesses have received more than 600 million online reviews.

Another study, this one by the Harvard Business Review, showed the impact of online reviews in the broader hospitality industry. For example, it found that about one-third of reviews on TripAdvisor result in a response. The rate for hotels is even higher — about half respond. And once a hotel starts responding to online reviews, its managers can expect to receive 12% more reviews overall and see their ratings increase by an average of 0.12 stars. In some ways, this isn’t surprising. A review from a customer is akin to one part of what could be a two-way conversation. If the response from the merchant is silence, the conversation is one-way. If the owner or manager responds, however, they show the reviewer — and the rest of the world — that they are willing to engage in two-way conversation.

A recent study from ReportLinker found that 78% of people feel that online reviews are “somewhat reliable,” and the SEO firm BrightLocal found that 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as they trust personal recommendations. Rather than talking with friends, consumers now do Google searches and scroll through laundry lists of star ratings and customer feedback. It doesn’t matter if you agree or disagree with their comments — you should join the conversation. Ignoring customers online equates to ignoring them in person. Do that, and there’s a good chance they’ll stop bringing you their business.

Regularly responding to online reviews, on the other hand, can do the following:

• Extend the brand experience beyond your physical locations.

• Encourage more reviews (good, bad or ugly).

• Spread awareness of your business organically.

• Produce higher ratings across all social media channels.

• Please your guests and customers.

• Drive additional sales to your business.

Masters of Engagement

Having spent my entire career in the hospitality and restaurant industry, I’ve witnessed the rise of social media and online reviews. I’ve also encountered some restaurant patrons who want to avoid face-to-face confrontations during their meals, but they feel safe airing their complaints online. Because of the popularity of online review sites and their far-reaching influence, the restaurant industry in particular is facing online reviews head on. According to our research, restaurant operators respond to guests’ online reviews 41% of the time, compared to 28% for all businesses with reviews. Perhaps this is because restaurant operators have witnessed the media coverage that can happen when a bad restaurant review goes viral.

Whether you’re running a Fortune 500 company, a 15-employee restaurant or a one-person plumbing service, online reviews can make or break your business. Take the time to check all social media channels, even those you don’t manage, and respond to all reviews in a timely and professional manner — your livelihood could depend on it.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2018/10/24/what-600-million-online-reviews-taught-me-about-social-media-engagement/