Reputation Nation

Quick-hit online reviews have become the new norm. Can we trust this crowdsourced information?

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If you’re a fan of The Onion, you may have seen the headline “Brave Woman Enters Restaurant Without First Looking It Up Online.” It was published two years ago, but its message—that our Internet-savvy, smartphone-wielding selves rarely patronize a business without first researching what others have said about it online—remains salient. The notion is even truer today, thanks to the rise of social media and review sites like Yelp, Yahoo and Google+. And it’s not just for restaurants. Let’s say your watch needs a new battery. Unless you’ve got a go-to watch guy, you’re probably entering “watch repair Madison” into your search bar. Then you get a list of various businesses in the area, many of which are accompanied by star reviews and customer comments. Same thing happens when you’re searching for high-stakes goods and services—a car, a surgeon, an insurance provider. As a consumer, how much do you trust the reviews and let them influence your purchasing behavior? As a business, how much do you try and control what shows up? The field of reputation management is nothing new, but this era of blogging and tweeting and Yelping has moved the conversation to the 24/7 space of the Web, where a disgruntled customer’s (or, you hope, a delighted one’s) keyboard becomes a microphone.  

 

 

WHO ARE YOU, REALLY?

When it comes to online business listings—we're talking basic facts like the company name, address, phone number and hours—both business and consumer want the information to be complete and accurate. Not suprising. But when it's not, which occurs with forty percent of online listings, according to geomarketing firm Yext, who's to blame? Placeable, a location marketing company, recently released a survey that found sixty-nine percent of Internet users will blame the directory service—Yelp, Yellow Pages, Yahoo, et cetera—for the misinformation and thirty-one percent fault the company. 

Regardless of whom consumers blame for the error, seventy-three percent of those surveyed said they lose trust in a business’s brand when its online listing contains inaccurate data. Ouch. That’s lost trust that can turn into lost business, both from potential new customers as well as existing ones. This can become a big deal for companies large and small, so experts recommend having a strategy for maintaining your online presence, even if that just means having someone from your team looking up your company every month or so. Most listing services make it easy to claim your listing and correct your information.

 

SOUND OFF

Co-manager of OSS Madison Josh Boll explains how the new sausage shop utilizes social media and online reviews

Josh Boll

Has social media played a role in establishing and maintaining OSS Madison’s reputation?
Absolutely! With our location in the heart of student housing on Regent Street, we utilized social media to capture the attention of our younger customers who are increasingly more mobile-based for news and information.

Do you have a strategy behind your online reputation management?
Yes. I try to keep our presence delicious, fun, quirky, genuine and informative with a Wisco twist.

Online reviews: Good for business? A necessary evil? Just pure evil?
They are another, natural progression in modern restaurants’ online presence. I find them quite good for business, as many reviews offer entrée suggestions, ordering tips and other pertinent information that new and returning customers crave. They also tell us what we need to adjust or change in our service, food, et cetera.

Do you monitor online reviews?
My morning routine: Yelp, Urbanspoon, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—in that order. And I’m always on the lookout for new reviews.

Do you ever respond to reviews?
Yes, especially to thank the customer for his or her visit and taking the time to review. We plan to respond more in the future.

How, if at all, have online reviews affected your business?
We received a slew of reviews after we first opened and many complained about our buns. We found a new, locally based bakery to remedy that issue.

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