It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.

– Warren Buffett

Let me tell you a little story. Actually TWO.

So korean people have this thing called “gae”.

rosca-diagram

Gae is basically rotating savins plan. (Also known as tanda among hispanic community).

Here’s how it works.

Say you need $10,000 to start a business or make a big financial investment.

You only have $9,000, but you have 9 other friends who really want to do the same… and they ALSO happen to have $1,000 each.

Ten of you chip in $1k each into a large, one pot of $10k.

You collet the $10k and do your business thing with the implicit agreement that the 10 of you will do this for 9 other times (with each event spanning X months/years), so that all 10 people will eventually get their money back.

This basic form of peer-to-peer crowdfunding has existed HUNDREDS of years even before companies like KickStarter and Prosper has ever existed, because it removes the need for people to rely on banks or have to pay interest just to get help starting a business.

And if done right, it can spur lots of great business because the sum of the few can result in lots of GREAT investments.

HOWEVER… there is a huge problem of trust.

If I can’t trust that everyone ELSE will live up to their financial commitment each and every month, everyone else will back out. Of course, your risk is reduced if you get to collect first.

broken-trust

Let me tell you a 2nd story.

My cousin belonged to one of these “gae” in NYC with a fairly large group of influential korean american NYC business owners.

The organizer, as her/his reward for organizing a tight knit of the group, usually gets to call the 1st shot on when he/she can collect. And of course, people often vote for someone who’s been in business for long time, has good reputation, and is trustworthy because he/she usually chooses to go first.

But this gae was sorta adhoc and they happen to choose a lady that wasn’t very well known, but had best organizational leadership.

And surprisingly enough, this organizer did NOT take first dibs, but not last either. So that made them trust her more.

In a group of 30 contributing $1,000 per turn, the organizer chose to go 4th.

First one, great.

Second one, great.

Third one, great.

Fourth one (when it was the organizer’s turn), great.

Fifth: No one showed up. In fact, all hell broke loose. The circle of blue trust now became the circle of bloody wrath. All that money (in CASH by the way).. GONE.

funny-armageddon

Surprise surprise.. the organizer took the money and ran. Nowhere to be found.. and yes, people wanted blood. People were bitching and complaining.. and most people just accepted the loss of $4k.

The ring of trust was now burned up. So who they go after?

Mr. Lee, owner of many dry cleaning locations who needed money to expand his next operation, was also part of this gae… and was the one who insisted this lady become the organizer.

Even though his dry cleaning business had NOTHING to do with this breach of trust, people started talking.. a LOT.

By default business owners are people of influence. Imagine if 30 influencers in your 3 mile radius talk smack about your business.

Did Mr. Lee’s business survive?

Of course, no one knows scientifically if his bad mouthing really was the source, but Mr.Lee’s dry cleaning (once doing 6 figure revenue each) was eventually sold for pennies to his competitor. I never heard from him again, but last time I heard, he’s at a government senior housing in Queens somewhere.

So what’s the MORAL of the story?

Sometimes SHIT happens to your business and your reputation gets tarnished. And it ain’t your fault.

But with social media, reviews sites, and search engines, that effect can be amplified exponentially.

Just go on Yelp and look at these people’s reviews

1) complaints about things that owners can’t possibly control (like lack of parking.. or prices even when the price sheet listed blatantly against the wall)
2) filtered positive reviews because these online sites at their discretion deemed that they were “untrustworthy” (i.e. paid or biased reviews)
3) completely anonymous, negative reviews that obviously is fabricated (usually from users complaining but afraid of retribution, or their direct competitors)

The list goes on and on. I even interviewed one pissed off dentist Mal Braverman who’s suing Yelp and Tiffany Benitez, bounce house rentals owner who has the worst / stupidest customer complaint story ever.

When someone google’s your business and your business has nothing but 1 star reviews ALL over the search engine results page, the odds of that person becoming a customer, or let alone a lead, is crazy talk.

Sad reality? Indeed.

speechless-jesus

So how do you fight this?

I know this is going to sound hypocritical because I said

1) digital sharecropping sucks and why you should NEVER build up other people’s sites (but only use them as way to generate inbound traffic to your site), but… reviews don’t work if they live on your site

2) some businesses should NOT spend too much time on social media… but see you have a problem to solve, and this is probably a good time to use all possible options

People will assume you made them up if you don’t have nice pretty pictures to validate who they really are. Plus they’re more credible on online review sites because well, that’s what they specialize in.

There are exceptions to every rule, and here are FEW ideas where I am suggesting that you invest into other people’s property.

But remember there are NO guarantees that this will work. You can try and only influence the information gate keepers and in fact, it does work a lot of times… but as with any marketing, no one can guarantee results unless you OWN yelp.com or Google.com

1) Leverage social media profiles

Suppose your business name is “Acme Widgets”.

If you Google “Acme Widgets”, you’ll notice that your website is probably up there somewhere.. along with other sites that have high public visibility.

Usually they are sites owned by Google (don’t be evil *cough cough*) or social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Make sure you have a “review” section there and ask your past and current customers to leave you on those sites.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google Profile
  • Quora
  • LinkedIn

They all have a channel for you to voice YOUR opinion, not just some pissed off customer who’s complaining because their lives are so worthless and meaninglyess that they need to feel good about their pathetic lives by hurting hard working small businesses who actually create value in society (i digress).

2) Leverage Youtube

I separated out Youtube from the list in #1 because YouTube is a monster on it’s own.

Did you know YouTube is now the second largest search engine on the web?

It ranks really high on search engines like Google (*do no evil again, cough cough*) and people actually do watch them when they are relevant.

Here are some topics you should film about:

  • discuss some of the reviews that were negative and what REALLY happened
  • how Yelp and other online review companies are skewing results
  • what other online review sites they should read

On the description, don’t just put random description.

Link out to a page on your website where you talk more about this.

Remember, you can’t “beat” negative reviews, but you can at least shed the light on your side of the story.

Bonus: if you can’t get a celebrity (national, local, or online) to speak on your behalf, the more credibility as well.

(Mr.T and Oprah won’t probably do it, but you can ask anyway.)

3) Encourage your customers to write reviews but don’t blatantly bribe

Yelp says that you should not encourage people to write reviews because it somehow “skews” the reality.

On their blog, they wrote

“Paid Reviews Don’t Have a Place on Yelp”

Or that no one should pay for reviews, because that’s somehow unethical. But how did Yelp grow in the first place?

Though Yelp strives to maintain the purity of its reviews, the company has in the past paid people to write them. CEO Jeremy Stoppelman told The New York Times in 2007 that “there was a time in our earlier days where we experimented with paying for reviews directly in cities outside of San Francisco to help get the ball rolling in our otherwise empty site.”

So… i say this with the utmost disdain & zero respect for these hypocritical “do-good-while-you’re-small-because-that’s-good-PR-but-once-we-get-big-F-U-ALL” and “do-whatever-it-takes-but-you-can’t-do-what-we-do-because-we’re-big” companies…

SCREW their guidelines.

Remember, TOS is made by corporations for the benefit of their shareholders, not us or anyone else.

These aren’t rules. God didn’t come out of the sky and said “obey these laws”.

You’re not hurting anyone by getting legit reviews, so why shouldn’t you? Besides, their supposed “helpful” TOS is killing businesses. If they won’t live up to their code of honor, why should anyone else?

But be careful about “bribing” or “gifting” people to write you reviews because some people (like those losers mentioned above) will STILL complain that you tried to incentivize people to take action.

What works best?

Reward people that you know personally and they LIKE your product or service.

4) Actually ANSWER your messages, tweets, emails & phone calls

Nothing says “i don’t give a shit” more than automated messages.. or worse, NON-replied messages.

If a customer was complaining in front of you, you listen right?

What makes you think you can ignore customer’s messages just because you are separated by computer screens?

5) Meditate

There will come a time when you will WANT to smack someone across the face.

Instead of using that energy to do something stupid, meditate & channel that energy to do something constructive…. like the 4 things I mentioned above.

>>> What NOT to do <<<

1) Start “microsites”

Do NOT start sites like “AcmeWidgetsReview.com”.

First of all, unless you know what you’re doing in terms of SEO, those sites will RARELY rank.

Just because there’s the words “acme”, “widget”, and “review” are there does NOT mean search engines will favor them.

Leverage existing social media sites

2)  Never link to bad reviews

Hopefully if you never ever mention them, they will go away, right?

Wrong.

Instead, have a section on your website (if you have  wordpress installed, use a page, not a post) that use  the keywords ”acme widget review”.

Why?

Because the odds of this page ranking is FAIRLY high since it is relevant to the search query, and it gives you a chance to explain what really happened.

3) Create fake reviews

Come on.. seriously?

4) “Grease” social media influencers to get positive reviews

Actually this tactic works really well, except most social media influencers don’t understand the art of writing and the odds of them sounding normal is fairly low.

How do I know this?

I tried this tactic.

One business I was attempting to “rectify” bad reviews told me that they would try giving away freebies to influencers.

So we gave freebies to few of their customer’s friends who happened to have awesome social media profiles.

Not only did they start out by saying … “let me start this review with the fact that this was a family & friends event” (i.e. they were trying to cover their ass in case Yelp/review sites decide to ban their accounts => as if losing social media accounts is losing something actually meaningful in their life)… their reviews sounded like used car salesmen pitching horse manure.

Conclusion

I don’t have a witty conclusion for this post, because I’m a bit riled up.

But you can tell i’m quite passionate about this… so I’ll end with two notes

1) I’m working on a software service solution to automate a lot of this customer review feedback stuff real time via SMS and email. If you are a business owner / operator / marketer interested in this, PLEASE CONTACT me. I’d love to show you how it works.

2) Most “bad” business owners don’t suffer from bad reviews.. but rather bad integrity. And likewise, good business owners are good because they have good integrity, and this negative review thing is more of a reputation nuisance. As John Wooden said:

Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.

– John Wooden