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If you are like most people, you thoroughly check out a business or a product online before you lay down your hard-earned money. Before the advent of online reviews, we would typically talk with friends, coworkers, and family to gather opinions, and then add these to our cache of knowledge about the product or business. We would then weigh these various opinions among whatever other facts we had discovered to inform a purchase decision.

Social media and online reviews serve as an extension of word-of-mouth. You may still talk with people directly, but the instant access to dozens or hundreds of opinions in the form of online reviews - some favorable, some not-so-favorable - greatly expands your base of insider knowledge. In an instant.

If you own a business, social media can be intimidating.

The trepidation many merchants and other business owners feel toward social, and specifically, online reviews published on social media, is natural. After all, social media gives any customer the opportunity to be a critic on a platform that has virtually global reach. We’ve all seen the kinds of reviews that make us wince when we read them. If it’s any reassurance, there will always be critics, but if you are good at what you do, your business will also have its share of loyal customers and positive reviews.

As an owner or manager of a restaurant, retail store, or other business, what can you do (if anything) to influence customers and potential customers through social media? What can you do (if anything) to shape opinion?

I hope you’ll follow a series of posts on these topics that my colleagues and I plan to release in the coming weeks. In this post, let’s simply explore why you should have a social presence and why you should participate in shaping your online reputation.

Social is everywhere, and it’s influential.

Social media, because it connects so many people so readily, has the power (especially through online reviews) to influence opinions and therefore purchase decisions.

Consider these benefits of engaging over social:

●It can be one-to-many or one-to-one: A business owner or marketer can use social media to speak to a wide public audience or to just one individual

●It is a convenient way to encourage word-of-mouth marketing by your supporters with a simple click or tap on ‘like’ or ‘share’

●Social can be a great way to build relationships with your customers, while you collect valuable feedback and subtly allow your followers to promote your business. For example, a deli owner could post something like, “What’s your favorite snack to grab at Marco’s? Let us know in the comments below and be entered to win a $10 gift card!”

●You can participate for free, and on some platforms, you can pay to advertise. On that note, here’s an interesting statistic: There are roughly 40 million active small business pages on Facebook, but only 4 million of those businesses pay for social media advertising on Facebook (Source: Forbes)

Social is powerful.
According to a Harvard Business Review Research Report[1] by Michael Luca, for restaurants, a one-star increase in Yelp rating leads to a 5-9 percent increase in revenue. So it’s clear that a restaurant’s online presence and reputation does in fact have an effect on its success.
The University of California, Berkeley, published results[2] of its own study that showed that a Yelp rating just one-half star higher (from 3.5 to 4 stars) increased a restaurant’s chance of selling out during prime dining periods by 19 percent.

Reviews are powerful because people believe them.

When it comes to reviews, a study performed by ReportLinker showed that 78% of people believe online reviews about your business are reliable. In addition, 59% of online shoppers see these reviews as being as trustworthy as a review given by a friend.

In terms of where customers look for reviews, 33% went to search engines first. Why is this noteworthy? Search engines pull in reviews and other information about your business from a range of directories and review sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Facebook.

Have a presence.

So what can you do? Set up a company page on Yelp, Facebook, TripAdvisor, and similar sites that make sense for your business. B-to-B companies should not overlook LinkedIn for its appeal to the business-minded. Also take advantage of your company listing available on Google (Google my Business) (https://www.google.com/business/).

When you take the time to set up your company profile on these sites, your company information will show up in results when customers use a search engine to find your business, or reviews about you. Think of it as a valuable marketing investment that takes little time and zero capital.

Monitor your reviews.

Granted, it’s difficult to find the time to keep regular tabs on multiple social media sites. But neglect this, and you could miss valuable opportunities to thank a happy customer or win back a dissatisfied one. In future posts, we’ll cover this topic in depth, along with some very practical suggestions for responding to reviews. Fortunately, there are tools that consolidate ratings and reviews from multiple sites into a single dashboard. Some of these tools even alert you when you have a new review, or one that is particularly negative and therefore time-sensitive.

Final Thoughts
Having a social presence is important. Monitoring reviews of your business on social is crucial.  Responding (faithfully, tactfully and with grace and poise) is golden.

[1] http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/12-016_a7e4a5a2-03f9-490d-b093-8f951238dba2.pdf
[2] http://news.berkeley.edu/2012/09/04/yelp-reviews-boost-restaurant-business/


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