Businesses that don’t think reviews on social media matter are making a huge mistake. Users on social media platforms can have an immediate and deleterious impact on the bottom line.

Just ask the Starbucks CEO after staff at a Philadelphia store called police on two African American men waiting to meet a friend. The interaction was caught on a smartphone and went viral. What followed was the shutdown of all locations nationwide as a training was conducted for all employees.

Or recall the Pizza Hut viral video of rats scampering inside a New York location. In that case, not only did the company endure the negative publicity on social media, but was forced to shut down 13 locations.

Reviews influence purchasing decisions

Social media reviews have become part of the decision-making process for countless consumers. Studies peg the percentage of consumers that check out online reviews at more than 80%. That means a majority of online shoppers rely on feedback from other consumers when making purchases. These reviews are powerful too: around the same percentage of consumers will not purchase a product if it gets a substantial number of bad online reviews.

Before the advent of the internet, Americans got their read on new restaurants, movies and products from professionals who were paid to review a product or service. Nowadays, they get opinions from real people who have actual real-life experiences with the things they're reviewing. As a result, people really trust online reviews.

Star ratings have also become prevalent because they’re a quick way for consumers to size up the sentiment about a business or service. It’s an easy system to understand, and they seem to matter to consumers just as much – if not more – as online reviews.

Positive social media reviews can also help a business get noticed outside of the social networks themselves. The more positive reviews a business has, the higher up they will move in the website’s directory. That, in turn, increases the odds the consumer sees the business and patronizes it rather than a lower-ranked competitor. It can also drive more local business. Consumers will check out reviews about a local business before visiting it. If they find nothing or, worse, bad reviews, they may be just skip it and go somewhere else.

We can all agree that social media reviews need to be handled, so how do you best go about it? Here are some best practices that can help guide the way.

Avoid bad reviews in the first place

The challenge is how to manage social reviews. The first step is making sure that your patrons have a good customer experience in the first place. This is especially difficult for multi-location businesses with hundreds or thousands of locations. Ensuring an excellent customer experience requires ongoing intelligence into how each location is performing – and it’s virtually impossible to have eyes and ears in every store to report back. This leads most restaurant, retail, grocery and other major chains to implement widespread mystery shopping programs. These program give businesses the insights they need to deliver an impeccable customer experience in each location, which, in most cases, will lead to an uptick in positive reviews.  

Another good step is deploying an employee survey to assess if you’re employees are happy, satisfied and engaged – all factors that can be reflected in the customer experience and, thus, in customer reviews. Companies like In-N-Out Burger are known for paying well, adequately training staff and having strong management. And it shows. The front lines have enabled In-N-Out to attain a loyal customer base that consistently rank the chain as their favorite burger restaurant. Making sure you’re taking care of employees adequately who are in your front lines pays off in more ways than one.

Managing the bad

Nevertheless, no matter how well a location is managing the customer experience, a mistake will be made or a customer will be irate for an unforeseen reason. In this case, it is extremely important that the guest be heard. Employees should be trained to handle these cases on the front lines, but guests tend to complain more online rather than approaching the staff with their issues.

One negative comment can undo the goodwill from dozens of positive ones. For this reason, businesses should have a contact center staffed with live agents who monitor and respond to mentions of your brand. Live agents can engage one on one to recover unhappy customers and to move the negative conversations offline. At the same time, they can also thank customers for calling out a service they loved at a location, and sincere appreciation can go a long way in consumers’ minds.

Amplifying the good

Businesses can also have success by amplifying good reviews. For example, a hotel chain asked guests who filled out an online survey whether they would like to post the review on TripAdvisor with one click. It turned out that almost half of the TripAdvisor reviews were from that mechanism. It’s a simple process to put in place with sizeable results. 

Final thoughts

Social media now plays a big role in how consumers make choices of where to eat, shop, what hotel to stay at and what movie to see. An effective social media strategy includes making sure you’re delivering a good customer experience in the first place, as well as a instituting a program to scour the social media universe and respond quickly and professionally to make things right.

What the community of millions, if not billions, of people are saying on these social networks can make the difference between a company succeeding and failing. It transcends size and scope of the business. Any size company that ignores the power and potential of social media reviews does so at their own peril.

Barbara Cummings is a digital marketing strategist who’s helped businesses from Fortune 500 to small nonprofits with their online presence and building a smart brand identity through their promotion and marketing campaigns.

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