Marketing is such a nuanced field that you’ll find specialists for practically everything. There are email marketing specialists, social media specialists, and landing page pros. With all of the marketing collateral being produced by these experts, it’s easy to overlook one absolutely crucial aspect of brand promotion: online review management. Here’s your comprehensive guide to the whats, whys, and hows of review management so that you can keep your brand image squeaky clean.

What is online review management?

Online review management refers to an ongoing process in which a brand monitors and manages the reviews its customers leave on websites like Google, Yelp, ZocDoc, Zomato, and TripAdvisor, just to name a few. This begs the question: How exactly does a company “manage” its online reviews?

There are a few different processes that fall under the review management umbrella. First, companies can collect and analyze their online reviews. What do customers love about their products/services? What are they not quite so happy about? This feedback can be invaluable for improving a company’s customer service, tweaking its products, and adjusting its services. Any type of data that a brand can collect about its target audience can inform its business decisions and marketing approaches moving forward.

Second, companies can manage reviews by responding to them. If a customer takes the time to leave a glowing review about your business, why not take a few seconds to thank them for saying such nice things about the brand? Responding to positive reviews sends a good message about the company—that it cares about its customers.

It’s even more important to manage reviews by responding to the negative ones. Just one bad review amidst a sea of positive reviews can result in reduced foot traffic and diminished sales, especially if that bad review was submitted more recently than the positive ones.

(Customers generally feel that the most recent reviews are the ones that are worth paying attention to.) Responding to negative reviews is a way of showing every reader—not just the complainer—that you care and that you’re taking steps to address the problem.

Third, online review management can involve addressing fake reviews—and virtually every business is bound to encounter plenty of fake reviews. Fake reviews may be positive or negative, but both types are problematic for businesses. Positive fake reviews can be identified by savvy consumers (and, increasingly, AI-powered browser extensions), and as a result, those consumers won’t think kindly of the business. Negative fake reviews can cause a business’ reputation to tank.

A small, recently opened restaurant in Utah, Ramen Nation, had been enjoying some positive reviews from customers when suddenly they noticed their Facebook star rating had dropped dramatically. The problem turned out to be a bombardment of fake reviews.

Fake negative reviews may be posted by business rivals who are trying to gain an edge over their competition. They may sometimes be posted by people who are trying to get something for free from the company (e.g. John Smith complains about the service at a restaurant, hoping to get a coupon for a free meal). This is clearly problematic for businesses.

In a nutshell, online review management is the process of monitoring, collecting, analyzing, and responding to digital reviews, as well as addressing fake reviews.

Is review management the same as reputation management?

Not quite, although the terms may sometimes be used interchangeably. Review management falls under the reputation management umbrella. In other words, online review management is a type of reputation management. However, whereas review management is limited only to the management of digital reviews left by customers, fake customers, or bots, reputation management involves the entirety of the brand’s image—both online and off. It’s essential to have a sound review management strategy as part of your overall reputation management approach.

Why is online review management important?

Every business wants their customers and potential customers to believe that their brand is the best at whatever it is they do. This restaurant has the freshest sushi. That clothing store has top brands for a fraction of the price. That auto shop offers the most transparent pricing and the most honest mechanics. And so on.

But today’s consumers are pretty smart about marketing tactics. If they read the sentence, “Stop by Wheeler’s Used Cars for the best prices on the most reliable vehicles in Washington County!” they’ll take it with a grain of salt. Consumers are left wondering, “Who says their vehicles are the most reliable? Who thinks those prices are the best?” Consumers demand proof before they’ll spend their hard-earned dollars. For that, they turn to online reviews.

Just a quick glance at the statistics for online review management should be sufficient to explain why it’s absolutely essential for every business to have a review strategy. Consider these statistics from ReviewLead:

  • 95% of consumers look for local businesses online
  • 91% of consumers pay attention to online reviews when looking for a local business
  • 84% of people surveyed state that they place as much trust in an online review as they would in a recommendation from a friend or family member
  • 78% of consumers take the time to read two or more reviews before deciding whether to patronize the business
  • 73% of consumers believe that a review must be newer than three months old in order for it to be relevant

When a business has a pile of favorable, authentic online reviews, their reputation and credibility improves. The business also looks well-established in the eyes of consumers, rather than a fly-by-night scam. In addition, responding to reviews is a way to humanize the brand. Consumers like to see that there are real people behind the curtain, and that those people are working hard to please their customers.

It isn’t just consumers you need to please with positive online reviews. Google recognizes that consumers like to check out reviews of businesses before choosing which one to patronize. Because of this, its algorithm rewards Google Business Profiles with more favorable rankings if they have high star ratings and a slew of online reviews. So, a business with a 4.5 star rating but only two reviews is likely to show up underneath a business with a 4.4 star rating with dozens upon dozens of reviews.

What are the steps involved with digital review management?

Online review management is a continuous process. For as long as you operate your business, you’ll need to pay attention to your digital reviews. One reason is that the timeliness of the reviews matter. Customers (and Google) prefer businesses that have recent reviews, as this demonstrates that the business is robust and gets a lot of traffic.

(If the business receives a lot of traffic, customers reason that the brand must be doing something right.) So, you or your outsourced review management service, such as ReviewLead, must continuously implement your review management strategies. The first step is to figure out where your business stands in the review landscape.

1. Conduct an online review audit.

In order to deploy a smart review management system, you first need to assess the online reputation of your business. Don’t wait to stumble across bad reviews; take a proactive approach by conducting an online review audit. Do a search for your company on the major review sites, like Google and Yelp. Depending on your industry, you can expand your audit to niche-specific sites like Healthgrades (medical), Avvo (law), Zomato (restaurants), and TripAdvisor (restaurants and hotels).

Gather any and all reviews of your company that you can find. Organize them into four categories: good, bad, neutral, and potentially fake (see Step 6). Take a look at the most common complaints found in your bad reviews. Are people predominantly upset with your customer service or your products?

Evaluate what people like most about your brand from your favorable reviews. Consider what the entirety of your reviews say about your brand image. Does it fit with how you want people to perceive your brand?

2. Claim your business listings and optimize them.

The next step is to claim your business listings. The most important business directory for local SMBs is Google Business Profile (GBP). If you don’t yet have a GBP, you’ll need to claim or create your listing. Verify that all of your business’ information is correct and optimize your profile with pictures and posts. Your GBP will be instrumental in collecting reviews and allowing you to respond promptly to them.

Your business can also collect reviews on:

  • Facebook – Even if your business has a website (and it should) you should still plan on having a Facebook profile, as well. You can collect reviews there, interact directly with customers, post about upcoming sales and special events, and add important details like your hours of operation.
  • Yelp – Next to Google, Yelp is a very popular review site. More than 80 million people visit Yelp every month to look for all sorts of local businesses. Your business may already be listed, but you may need to claim and verify your listing. Ensure all of your information is accurate and up to date. From your listing, you’ll be able to collect and read all of your Yelp reviews and respond to them.
  • Your business website – Don’t limit your online review management strategy to just external, third-party websites. You can also collect and display reviews on your own website. Do note that, depending on your industry, you may be subject to certain regulations. Financial advisors and attorneys, for example, must abide by industry-specific regulations that apply to soliciting, displaying, and responding to online reviews.

3. Solicit reviews from your satisfied customers.

Your business might serve hundreds of customers each week and the majority of them might walk away satisfied, but they won’t necessarily share their opinion with other people. Unfortunately, people may be more likely to leave a negative review if they have a frustrating experience with your company than they would be to leave a positive review. So, you’ll need to actively solicit online reviews.

Make it as easy as possible for your customers to review your business. On printed materials, you can place short links or QR codes that direct customers to review submissions. (For example, print stacks of cards that request reviews and add a card to each customer’s shopping bag.) If you have an email list, you can send out an email requesting feedback. Or, if you have a newsletter, you can add a feedback block to each newsletter. Don’t forget to put a submission form for reviews on the testimonial page of your website.

4. Respond to favorable reviews promptly.

People like to be acknowledged; they appreciate knowing that their voice matters, especially when they’ve taken a couple of minutes out of their day to boost a local business. Businesses need to continuously monitor for new reviews and respond to the positive ones as soon as possible. It’s not necessary to write a long response. Just a few words of thanks will do.

It’s ideal to try to personalize your response as much as possible. For instance, let’s say you run a hair salon and on this particular morning, you styled Customer Caitlin’s hair in preparation for her brother’s wedding. She leaves a glowing review not long after leaving your salon. Since you detected the review right away, you remember that Caitlin was headed to her brother’s wedding. In response, you could say something like, “Thanks so much for your kind words, Caitlin! I hope you have a blast at your brother’s wedding. Can’t wait to see you again soon!”

5. Respond to negative reviews promptly.

As an entrepreneur, your business is your baby, and it’s not easy to read negative reviews. It can be tempting to try to ignore them and hope everyone else does too, but unfortunately that will only make the problem worse. First, the upset customer will become even more upset that apparently no one has cared enough about the problem to reach out, apologize, and try to remedy the situation. Second, countless other people will see it. They’ll think worse of your business if no one has responded.

The way in which you should respond will depend on the negative review. Take it on a case by case basis, and use your best judgment. First, it’s a good idea to check your records for a transaction with that customer, if the name is available, and talk to your employees to see if anyone remembers that person. If the reviewer’s name was available, but you don’t have a record of a transaction and no one can remember interacting with that person, it’s a good idea to point that out in your response.

For instance, you might write something like, “Hi, Caitlin. I’m very sorry to hear that you had a poor experience. However, we aren’t finding any records of any transactions with you. Could you please remind us of the date and time of your visit, and what, specifically, you purchased?” Even if Caitlin never responds, other people browsing your reviews will see this and likely assume that the negative review was a fake one.

If a negative review doesn’t get into any specifics about why the customer was upset, you might write something like, “I sincerely apologize that you had a poor experience with my business. I’d like to make things right. Please reply back and let me know exactly what went wrong so that we can do better moving forward.” Similarly, if a negative review does get into specifics, you can apologize, promise to do better, and possibly outline the exact steps that you’ll take to make it right.

One important thing to note about responding to reviews, negative or favorable, is that some industries may be prohibited from doing so. For example, a recent ethics opinion notes that attorneys may risk violating attorney-client confidentiality. It recommends that attorneys err on the side of caution and avoid responding to reviews entirely.

6. Know how to identify and deal with fake reviews.

It isn’t always easy to spot fake reviews. One clear clue, however, is if your business suddenly gets slammed with a bunch of bad reviews in a short period of time and those reviews come from profiles that were recently created and have little history. Other red flags include the following:

  • Lots of exclamation points (particularly if the review is for an object that isn’t terribly exciting, like an extension cord)
  • Short, vague review with no specifics
  • Poor spelling/typos

If a reviewer’s profile shows that they have left a bunch of reviews and those reviews, by and large, are written almost exactly alike, that’s another red flag. You might also consider using an app or browser extension to help you identify fake reviews, such as Fakespot for Firefox.

You can’t directly delete fake reviews, but you can report them to the review site. On Google Business Profile, for example, you can click the three vertical dots next to the review to flag it. Click the “Flag as Inappropriate” option.

How can busy entrepreneurs handle online review management?

Online review management does indeed take time. It requires a great deal of effort to solicit reviews from your happy customers, monitor all of the major online review sites (Google and Yelp, just to name a couple), respond to all of those reviews, figure out which ones are fake, and get the fake ones taken down. It can be exhausting just thinking about it, especially considering that business owners are also trying to focus on growing their companies and handling daily operations.

The good news is that you don’t have to do it all. In fact, it’s best to leave it to the experts. At Pennington Creative, we partner with the incredibly ingenious team at ReviewLead to provide clients with comprehensive online review management services. Between ReviewLead optimizing your digital reputation and Pennington Creative amplifying your digital presence with expertly optimized marketing collateral, you’ll have plenty of time to get down to the business of your business.

Contact Pennington Creative today to request a discovery call. We’ll chat about your business, your marketing needs, and how our services can build your brand. We look forward to meeting you!