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Online Word of Mouth | Get Customers to Promote You Online

How The Marketing Game has Changed

For the past 100+ years, most business marketing plans were pretty simple: treat your customers right so that they happily tell others about you. In the past 5 years, however, the internet has spun this traditional method on its head by introducing online word of mouth. Online word of mouth has taken on many forms in recent years and business owners should make it a priority to understand how each of these forms can and do affect their businesses.

Don’t Get Left Behind

Here is a story about one of our recent clients and how they nearly missed the recent shift to online word of mouth marketing:

Business over the past 15 years was going great at XYZ Company, a medium-sized and locally oriented corporation. In fact, business was growing every year just from the glowing word of mouth produced by providing an excellent quality of service. Then came the “Great Recession” and the growth slowed and even started to reverse. Nothing had changed about the business and nearly every customer was still extremely satisfied. I know this for a fact because once hired, our company conducted a satisfaction survey from a large customer sample size and found that 99% of XYZ’s customers would recommend this business to a friend. I then discovered an overlooked area of the businesses that had seemed insignificant until now and was greatly lagging behind most of their competitors: their online word of mouth.

I found that the most influential form of online word of mouth marketing for this local company was their Google Places page, which showcased all of 2 reviews, one of which was blaringly negative. Having just surveyed the company, I knew that what the majority of potential customers were finding about this company online was in no way an accurate representation of just how good the company really was. At the same time, many of their competitors had accumulated dozen of positive reviews making XYZ’s profile that much less appealing.

Building Positive Online Word of Mouth

Before you can set off on promoting your business through online word of mouth, you need to narrow down the list of ways your potential customers find out about you online. The most straightforward way to do this, of course, is to simply ask your customers. There are usually certain industry specific review websites (e.g. urbanspoon for restaurants) that you should be aware of. You also might want to check to see what information comes up when you google your business name or related products.

Google Places for Local Businesses

If you are targeting a local audience, you cannot afford to ignore Google Places, which thanks to Google’s recent search engine layout update, has taken a staggering leap to the top of both online and offline local search tools. The graph below, provided by www.clickz.com, illustrates just how important Google Places has become to local businesses:

One takeaway from this chart is that in most cases online reviews displayed on your Google Places page will be seen by more customers than those on any other review site.

The bulk majority of online word of mouth is generated by review and social media websites. Keeping up with every one of these websites can be a hassle so make sure you focus your time and money on first improving your reputation on the websites that count the most. An easy and free method to track any mention of your company is to sign up for Google alerts and enter your company name which will then let you know if your company is mentioned anywhere on the web. It’s no silver bullet, but it should provide a useful resource at least.

The next step is to begin directing positive customer feedback and reviews to the websites of your choice. The best way I have found to do this is to constantly invite your customers to leave you feedback (we provide a short online survey tool for our clients) and then invite the most satisfied ones to help support your company by leaving a positive online review. Our statistics show that on average, 20% of your customers will complete a 5 question survey that is emailed to them without any incentive. Of those, roughly 15% will then also leave a positive online review if prompted without any incentive. If you do provide some sort of incentive, those percentages jump up dramatically.

Combating Negative Online Word of Mouth

If you do happen to find negative reviews or comments out there on the web, many review websites give you the option to flag comments that are spammy or violate the website’s terms of agreement. Sites like Google Places also have a voting system where you can vote down the helpfulness of any comment. While these options can help for fake or derogatory comments, you should pay close attention to negative comments that are from real customers. When available, you should always try to respond to negative criticism online and practice your diplomacy skills to resolve the issues which can help demonstrate your commitment to customer service to other potential customers. One of the major benefits of providing your customers with a short survey is that it is much better to catch and address complaints before waiting until you find out about them online where they can be difficult to remove. Finally, the simplest way to combat negative online word of mouth is to overwhelm the negative with positive feedback from your real customers through the steps previously mentioned.

Professional Online Word of Mouth Services

Whether or not you decide to hire an online reputation manager, you should make improving your online word of mouth every bit as important as maintaining your traditional word of mouth. Although the internet makes keeping track of your online reputation somewhat complex, there are many automated services available that cost little to use and can be of great assistance, such as our survey local tool. If you want more information about automated reputation management tools or other professional online word of mouth services, just give us a call.

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