How Google Is Forcing Local Business Brands Into The Front Lines Of Social Media

Google is on a mission. They are replacing the usefulness and popularity of a relic known as the “Yellow Pages.”

The name and concept of “Yellow Pages” came about in 1883, when a printer in Cheyenne, Wyoming, working on a regular telephone directory, ran out of white paper and used yellow paper instead. In 1886 Reuben H. Donnelley created the first official yellow pages directory, inventing an industry.

With Google’s replacement, your fingers are still doing the walking (or your voice can do the talking), but the amount of data you will find for each business listed will be mind-blowing, even for us “internet geeks.”

There are a number of updates coming to the functionality, and indexing of data for each Google business listing, known as Google Places pages.

The most recent is the ability for business owners or representatives to publicly respond to the reviews created on a Google business listing (Place page).

Here is an example:

google review response 2 How Google Is Forcing Local Business Brands Into The Front Lines Of Social Media

Why Manage Local Business Reviews?

Following the publication of my industry article “How to protect your brand from bad business reviews” on iMedia, Google has officially put the rubber stamp on one of our best practices–responding to your local business reviewers!

Google joins other interactive directories with functionality to officially respond to local business reviews. While Yelp is the most advanced, offering a “business owner interface” to publicly and privately respond to reviews, business representatives can respond to reviews on Kudzu by logging into the Business Center and selecting “Manage Your Reviews.” Citysearch allows business representatives to officially respond to reviews only if they are paying advertisers.

For corporate chains and franchise brands with a local business model, local business reviews are important for a number of reasons–here are a few:

  • Local business reviews affect brand reputation and the actions of prospective customers. As a result, negative reviews provide companies the opportunity to publicly engage dissatisfied customers and seek resolution to correct adverse customer experiences. As a brand, demonstrating that you care about what customers have to say is a best practice.
  • Google business listings that feature nothing but negative reviews do not convert business, and cause the location to LOSE market share.
  • Local business reviews inform brands about customer experiences and can provide actionable business intelligence regarding products, services, and policies.
  • Search engine visibility. Simply having local business reviews and getting them consistently increases your business listing rankings in the local business results of Google, Yahoo, and Bing.

Google’s Ground Rules

Let’s take a look at Google’s “Ground Rules” for what to post:

1. Be polite and professional. You’re responding to one person, but the response is public. Keep your responses useful, readable, and courteous.

2. Keep it short and sweet. Users are looking for genuine responses, but not necessarily novels. Don’t say in twenty words what you can say in ten.

3. Be appropriate. Responses should comply with our local content policy.

4. Be thankful. A customer who has written a review has taken the time to invest in the success of your business. Respond to happy reviewers when you have new or relevant information to share.You don’t need to thank every reviewer publicly. One response reaches to lots of customers, not just one. Feedback is a chance to improve. If you’ve made a business improvement based on a review, thank the user and share the change. You don’t need to address every single complaint.

5. Be a friend, not a salesperson. Your reviewers are already customers, so there’s no need to offer incentives or advertisements. Tell reviewers something new about your business. Share a tip or something they might not know from their first visit.

Spot on bullets for small business owners, but now let’s drill down a bit and take a look at different types of reviews and our recommended responses for brands.

Responding To Reviews

As an organization, define best practice responses and actions per your brand culture. Transparency is paramount.

Remember, your successful response to a negative review can lead to the reviewer deleting the review, or editing it to the positive. Your successful response to a negative review will also renew customer loyalty and improve word-of-mouth.

As a guideline, here are some review scenarios and recommended responses to win the hearts and minds of your target audience:

The poor customer service review. If a customer has been forced to wait for an extended period of time or was treated to a display of attitude, it is important to acknowledge the issue and ask for permission to discuss the problem offline, seeking a resolution. If the review is fake, there will likely be no response, but prospective customers will observe your sincere attempt to resolve the issue.

The unsatisfactory product or service review.
If a product or service does not meet expectations, acknowledge the disappointment, share your determination to provide some redemptive options, and ask for permission to discuss the problem offline, seeking a resolution.

The flawed/destructive product or service review. Let’s say you’re a well-known dry cleaning brand with a few thousand locations. One of your locations gets nailed with a horrifying review describing how a priceless wedding dress was destroyed by a solvent in the cleaning process. This can be an extremely distressing experience for a new bride. Acknowledge the sensitive issue and ensuing anxiety and suffering with a sincere, empathetic apology. Ask the customer for permission to discuss the problem offline, seeking a resolution. Make every effort to exceed expectations offline.

The vile name calling and threats review. Do not engage these types of reviewers, the reviews speak for themselves in a self-defeating light. Take action to have these types of reviews deleted by the business directory hosting the review. If the review is submitted through a Google Maps business listing, click the “Flag as inappropriate” link found under the review, and submit a report. Google will likely remove the review upon review.

The brand champion review. If the review is a genuine five-star, five-alarm rave, why not publicly thank them for their kind words and engage them on their observations? This is a judgment call, but if the review provides valuable insight, it is logical to build upon the comments. Imagine turning a forum for customer reviews into a glowing, ongoing conversation that increases conversions.

Here’s another thought — reward prospective customers for researching your reviews. One example is to publish an exclusive coupon code or offer within your review section, driving prospects to a specific web page, microsite, or offline transaction. This is also a great way to get a feel for how many customers are sizing up your reviews. The perspective here is that reviews are part of your virtual brand real estate, so why not strategically use this social forum to better serve customers and increase revenue?

Local Business Brands And Social Media: What Are Your Priorities?

Local business reviews on search engines, IYP’s, and interactive directories are THE most important form of social media for brands with a local business model.

From the October TMPDM/comScore Local Search Study: “…the importance of ratings and reviews is growing with 57 percent of responders, who indicated such information is important in the decision-making process; however, only 27 percent of these consumers have actually written reviews. This is the new word-of-mouth marketing, and companies need to learn to manage the process.”

Take Sears for example. While brand management is investing millions on social media initiatives with MySears.com, Facebook, and Twitter, many Sears Auto Center locations are getting slaughtered at the front lines of social media–local business reviews:

sears auto center reviews How Google Is Forcing Local Business Brands Into The Front Lines Of Social Media

This screenshot shows nothing but negative, 1-star reviews, all written in the last five months, and guaranteed to repel prospective customers.

It is not my intention to single out Sears Auto Centers–nearly every automotive service brand is experiencing the same thing. The winners will ultimately be the brands that embrace local business review management; Monitoring, Taking Action/Responding To, and proactively Generating local business reviews.

The announcement by Google Places Product Manager, John Maguire, is here, accompanied with a screenshot of an example. Also covered by Matt McGee, Mike Blumenthal, David Mihm, and Scott Clark.

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