When local business owners discuss online reputation management, fear is often the overwhelming emotion communicated.
Fear about what our customers might say online about our business, fear masses of people will see a negative review and immediately launch a county-wide boycott of our services, or maybe just fear that we’re going to be found out – maybe we’ve been faking it with hopes of making it all this time.
Whatever our fear is about eliciting, collecting, and broadcasting digital word of mouth about our local businesses, one thing is certain; that fear can be paralyzing.
Our hopes with this post is to examine the fear we experience as local business owners, with regards to protecting and benefitting from our online reputation.
In this age of digital social connectivity it is of the utmost importance for us as local business owners to actively engage our customers. We need to welcome feedback, ask for assistance, and reward loyalty.
We need to be part of the conversation or we are missing a grand opportunity to capture the hearts and minds of our local communities.
Fear (noun) – a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.
When it comes to our local online reputation, a lot of Carlsbad businesses are totally clueless on what the ‘Internet’ says about them. A lot of business owners dismiss the ‘Internet’ as a waste of money, or think they deal in the real world with people actually walking through their doors.
What these woefully unprepared business owners don’t realize is this; although people are definitely walking through the door, they’re also talking to each other online about your business. And the more business owners ignore the online aspect of their business – even if they sell nothing online per se – the fewer customers they’ll see.
Customers today really have the upper hand, they wield the power – and that’s the way it should be in free enterprise system!
What do we want, the corporations telling us what’s cool, what’s hot, what’s not…? (Don’t worry they’ll continue to do so)
We need not fear a customer broadcasting their innermost consumer experience to the masses. We need to welcome the digital social chatter, but that’s not all.
Fear should not be the underlying reason for us as business owners to not openly and effectively communicate with our customers. If bad word of mouth is what we fear, and that fear is preventing us from participating in the conversation, we’re not only doing ourselves a disservice, we’re also being unfair to our local community.
We’re also probably losing money and customers due to the factors responsible for triggering such frightening thoughts.
The people have a right to know what their consumer experience will be like when they choose your business, and whether you fear it or not they will go talk about it online.
To fear the online review is like fearing our own mortality…we can’t get away from it, and it will happen.
Now do we want to be able to put our socks on each day or would we rather remain a shut-in and stew on the inevitable.
You see, if we did that we’d miss out on life!
And if we continue to fear the online review, our local Carlsbad businesses will wither away and die.
Our customers will chat away on Facebook, yip on Yelp, or proselytize on Angieslist. We no longer have a choice, the paradigm has shifted.
How is your local Carlsbad business dealing with this shift toward digital word of mouth?
Disclaimer: This post was originally published on July 18, we are re-posting now due to recent website issues.
With the internet landscape changing to a more socialized personal experience, Carlsbad small businesses can harness the power of social media, mobile geo-location services, and local search visibility by building a loyal army of friends and followers.
The best part is that army is already marching to the beat of our business, changing the hearts and minds of local consumers. We need to harness the power of social local mobile digital communications and participate in the conversation.
How can we make that work for our Carlsbad small business?
Search has gone social and local, and soon mostly mobile. Our local Carlsbad businesses can gain local search online visibility and garner social media credibility, but first we need to ask for help.
We need to enlist the help of our existing customers, and enable them to easily spread positive digital word of mouth about our business. In most cases it’s not even necessary to incentivize or reward our customers for doing so, but more on that later.
Let’s keep it K.I.S.S. as we always try to do. Asking customers to submit online reviews can be tastefully done to accomplish the goal of increased digital word of mouth for our Carlsbad small businesses.
Generally speaking, once properly presented with the opportunity to lend a hand, people are happy to participate in the success of local small businesses.
Just show them how they can do it, but we also must be sure to ask them to participate. Isn’t that the number one rule in all of marketing – asking?
The Fear Factor
Simply asking our customers to leave a review on one of the local search review sites is often the biggest challenge. Sometimes we feel reluctant to ask because we’re embarrassed, maybe we’re afraid of the answer, or just don’t want to bother people and take up their time.
Engaging our customers is not a waste of time, for the business owner or the customers. When we ask people how their day is going, how can we improve their shopping experience, what can be done to facilitate delivery, or what we can do to help them better use the products or services they are purchasing from us, we are actively seeking a way to improve the customer/business relationship.
And it resonates with our customers, they feel it. And as a result they become eager participants in our success.
Customers generally want friendly service, lower prices, and better products. Local small business owners generally want more customers and higher profits. Effective communication, not lip-service, between the two parties ensures a win-win situation for all.
We need not let fear hold our businesses back any longer; we’re proud of what we sell and service. Sometime we just forget to act like it.
After we get over the sweaty palms more associated with pre-Prom anxiety than effective business communications, the next step is enabling a quick and easy way for our customers to submit (and share) their digital word of mouth.
Syndicate the dWOM
Methods to collect, capture, and circulate digital customer word of mouth can be as simple and low-tech as sticking a reminder note on their receipt.
Maybe distributing customer review cards at checkout, or down the line with a mailer/email.
Collection and distribution methods can also be tech savvy, like a tablet computer by the reception area or cash register to draw customer interest…inviting the long-time customers to leave a review on one of the local search sites, website, local search engine profiles, or any other online environment that happens to arise specific to our local Carlsbad small businesses.
No matter what method we employ to broadcast our local digital word of mouth, we need to remember to make it quick and easy for the customer. And remember whether it’s low-tech or geek-speak, the time to ask for the review is often just as crucial as how customers can transmit the message.
Timing is Everything
Maybe immediately following the transaction isn’t the best bet with capturing a customer review for your bagel shop; hot coffee and a fresh smelling baker’s dozen in hand spilling sesame seeds and hot joe all over your brand new PlayBook® or iPad2®.
And perhaps posting a sticky note on a brake job can prove challenging.
Trial and error will certainly yield results, but so will asking the customer when the most convenient time for them would be. Even a survey, or maybe just allowing customers to submit online reviews in their own time is the best bet.
Methods and times vary according to specific variables relative to our local business – what we sell, how we communicate with our customers already, and who those customers are.
Be sure to ask…but choose the time to ask wisely.
An email newsletter could be another enduring opportunity to elicit customer word of mouth. Or maybe one day per month could be dedicated to developing your business’ digital disposition.
Your website can certainly be a great place to ask for and capture existing customer digital word of mouth. Using the array of social media tools available can also make the process more user-friendly.
Rumor has it having those reviews or testimonials on your website might be a good thing too – according to Google.
Whatever method we choose to collect customer reviews and whenever we choose to ask for them, one thing remains constant and is a common link among every single Carlsbad small business; our customers are already talking about us…and most are talking online in a hundred different ways!
Wouldn’t it be better to join in the conversation while monitoring (and maximizing) your digital business identity at the same time ?
If it’s a donut shop on Roosevelt, a plumber off El Camino, or a nail salon on Carlsbad Village Drive; online visibility combined with a digital word of mouth strategy can begin to shape your local small business virtual footprint.
Local consumers are the lifeblood of any small business; do you know what your customers are saying about your business through the many review and local search sites out there?
A happy customer is your greatest advertisement!
This isn’t a time to shy away from the difficult questions, local online visibility is often the primary concern for Carlsbad small business owners in today’s evolving social marketplace. Right after making sure the lights are on and the cash register is operating correctly, local online visibility needs to be addressed or your business will not survive.
In a very short time we’ll all be accessing the Internet more from our mobile phones than any other source, and we’ll be instantly sharing our shopping – and let’s hope buying – experience with not only our ever-growing list of virtual friends, but also our local communities, and the general world at large.
If your local business isn’t part of the conversation you’re not only missing out on new customers, you could be losing once loyal existing customers to the competition.
Establish a Plan
This doesn’t have to be intricate, overly expensive, or very difficult. But it will cost you time to effectively develop, execute, and integrate digital word of mouth strategies into your local Carlsbad small business marketing plan. The best place to start is at the beginning, with a plan.
Plan what it is you want to get out of your digital marketing efforts; is it more new customers, is it improved customer feedback, is it amplified digital word of mouth???
First you will need to establish an online identity for your local Carlsbad small business if you don’t already have one. This could mean a website, or it could mean a Facebook Business page. The bottom line is your need some place to send people who either searched for and found your business information online, or are already existing customers.
Consider this your online command and control center, you want to direct local customers to leave reviews in your chosen environment AND their chosen environment.
Some people rule die-hard Foursquare® fiefdoms, others align more with Angieslist®. You want to encourage and facilitate your customer to communicate their dWOM in as many places as possible, but be sure to use your online command and control center as the primary repository. That way you control it.
You need to provide this place to the local consumer AND you also need to transmit that business information to the most popular local search and review sites used in your area.
This will be your online business identity – a website, a blog, a Facebook Business page…a virtual representation of not only your business contact info but also your products, services, and digital word of mouth.
Once you have an established online identity for your local Carlsbad business you can then begin to execute your plan to elicit, capture, and locally broadcast your digital word of mouth.
For every single customer than enters your doors or secures your business for a job, you want to ask them for a digital review of your small business. Direct customers to your website or Facebook Page, or direct them to the growing list of local search review sites out there – or both.
- Add a ‘tell a friend’ option to your website.
- Start a weekly or monthly (or quarterly) newsletter.
- Ask “Would you mind leaving us a review and help us build our business?”
Encourage feedback, and be ready for it. Remember, this isn’t a time for shying away from difficult questions. You should have already performed a serious look in the mirror as it relates to your business, as discussed in this past 1Local blog post.
Be ready for change, it will come. An adaptive fluid strategy to collecting and syndicating local digital word of mouth will allow you to adjust to those changes and continually nurture your dWOM.
What happens to be the most popular local search site today in our immediate Carlsbad area may not be tomorrow. The best way to determine success with your digital word of mouth is to track your efforts and continually monitor the environment on a regular basis.
When you notice a trend, embrace it. If you determine one method of review collection is wasteful, adjust your methods. Just be sure to continue your digital word of mouth marketing efforts at all costs. If you’re not noticing results, analyze the situation and identify the possible reasons, then take action to overcome the challenges.
As mentioned earlier, mobile access is growing and is predicted to shortly become our chosen method of choice when connecting to the Internet. You should already have a mobile app for your business or a mobile version of your website, you should be looking into how QR codes can help recruit new customers…and even up your Carlsbad business’ digital word of mouth!