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You’ll always hear me say, “the minute you’ve lost your perspective as the consumer, you’ll never have any perspective as a marketer.” Whether you’re actually a marketer or a businessperson of any kind in any industry whatsoever, the same rule applies. Online reviews don’t just “appear,” and much like a doctor’s advice after a heart attack, “the signs were there, we just didn’t see them or they were ignored.” There is a process by which online reviews come to be published publicly, and if your business manager or marketing consultant is telling you to “get family and friends to post reviews,” or “hold a contest to see which employee can get the most people to leave reviews,” be prepared to pay $250,000, per incident, to the Federal Trade Commission. Go as far as paying outright for reviews, or even offering so much as a t-shirt as an incentive for a single review, and you may be adding blacklisting to the $1/4 million dollar seat in the penalty box. What’s blacklisting? Imagine never being allowed to appear on Google or Yelp ever again.
If this sounds like harsh purporting, good – check out the sources for yourself. What may seem like scare tactics are unfortunately necessary in a time when many “reputation managers” are little more than collectors of “CSS surveys” and current online reviews scores. Couple that with potentially business-crippling advice and you may find yourself managing little more than damage control on all sides. Think ahead. Again, reviews don’t just appear online… do you have an active strategy to proactively manage customer satisfaction before it has a chance to become a negative review? The FTC has come to have a lot to say about your strategy, and you may be surprised by all the new regulations… but let’s say you even infused only half your reputation management with a strategy to prevent negative reviews – that alone could leave you with a far better score. When Google changed the way reviews were displayed in July of 2011, what many don’t know is that they also changed the rules - turning the old promises to pump you up online into potentially fatal mistakes now.
Google has made it abundantly clear:
“…if a business accepts paper comment cards it might be tempting to collect them and ‘digitize’ them by posting the reviews on Google+ Local… We ask that all reviews come from first-hand experience and do not allow posting reviews on behalf of others.”
Google also advises against providing an “opportunity” for a customer to leave a review by offering a computer or tablet to do so right there on the premises. Is this unfair? Not really… does anyone like to fill out a comment card at a restaurant while the server is watching? Of course not. Rule #1 of marketing is to reduce customer burden, and that means sending your “brand champions” emails reminding them to leave reviews at their convenience and other genuine strategies that avoid black hat practices. Are you using social media in your reputation strategy? If you’re a legitimate business with a quality product & service, this shouldn’t pose as a disadvantage – with the right innovative, proactive tactics, it might be a competitive advantage in disguise, as your competition can’t fake it anymore either.
One last thing to remember… reputation management isn’t a passive sport – that’s why it’s called management. A negative online review is now a public dialogue that’s already gone beyond the walls of your business, it’s best to let the most cool-headed person respond; when in doubt, read a survival guide and don’t ever underestimate just how far negative press can go.