The more things change, the more they stay the same. Instead of just spreading the word in a specific community, as was the case hundreds of years ago, consumers in communities all over the world can become informed about favorable and unfavorable buying criteria in seconds through online reviews. In many ways, this continuing trend is nothing more than perennially trusted word-of-mouth advertising on digital steroids.
Here are a few tips for staying proactive:
Cultivate and pay attention to online reviews about you.
Periodically check yourself out on Google and other applicable sites to see how you’re being perceived, if at all. If there are no reviews, start encouraging customers to provide them. Also see what’s being said on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere.
Whether you receive a positive or negative review, attempt to reach out to the reviewer. Express your gratitude when it’s positive, and ask what you can do to further improve their experience in the future. When it’s negative, try to understand why and what you can do to turn a frown upside down.
Tie together traditional, online and family/friends.
For example, use excerpts of positive reviews, comments, testimonials and endorsements — with approval, of course — in your print or TV advertising. This will help extend reach and influence of positive statements, and make the traditional ads more believable at the same time.
This holds true for online ads and websites as well. When you stop to think about it, your website — and associated blog — are basically electronic billboards. Including credible third-party kudos is an excellent way to reinforce the believability of the rest of the content. For example, complement claims of excellent customer service with relevant feedback from happy customers.
Obviously, there’s substantial room for improvement in the website and email areas, given current high rankings of both word-of-mouth and online reviews. By including elements of one or both, it stands to reason that the trust ranking of websites and promotional emails will only improve.
Align marketing messages to documentable performance.
One of the chief reasons people distrust paid advertising is that it spins a message to cast the advertiser in the best possible light, even if claims are untrue. Think about ads that tout customer service excellence that are in stark contrast to consumer experiences.
When message doesn’t match performance, credibility goes out the window. And, with disgruntled customers able to publish their discontent via online reviews, tweets and the like, the ensuing impact can be devastating. Say what you are. Be what you say.
Small businesses that want to gain the benefits of online reviews and the like should make sure their mobile platforms are up to speed. If a consumer sees a review, then goes to the company website, it needs to be user-friendly, complete, and easily navigable on a mobile device.
Expand your editorial reach.
Consumer reviews, word-of-mouth and the like are essentially individual editorials. The source’s credibility ties closely to perceived level of trustworthiness. That’s why recommendations from trusted advisers such as family and friends rate so highly, even more so than online reviews, where the motivation of the reviewer is generally unknown (e.g., the review could come from someone tied to the company itself, or a competitor).
In this same spirit, seek out editorial opportunities from trusted media. For example, increasingly, magazines and newspapers accept submitted how-to articles on topics of interest to their audience. While the author typically gets only a byline and a tag paragraph about their company, it’s an excellent credibility-builder — another form of extended word-of-mouth, if you will. To continue that credibility, just make sure that article content aligns with your company performance and credentials.
As social media increasingly becomes more influential in consumer buying decisions, it behooves small-business owners to be continuously proactive. Those who haven’t yet tapped into this realm should check on their competitors to see how it’s being done.
Mark Lusky, President, Mark Lusky Communications (aka The Happy Curmudgeon) is a veteran writer, storyteller and author, with 40+ years of public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism experience. READ BIO
Adapted from previous work. Original article link: Online reviews, word-of-mouth and recommendations generate the most marketing trust – Published in the Denver Business Journal, 11-2012