As the explosion of mobile use and rapid-fire growth of local Web apps change the way that users consume content and interact online, the death of the web debate rages on. This evolution–if you choose to sit on the death knell side of the debate–means different things to different people; for us localites, does this also spell death of the review?
Well, death may be too apocalyptic but the review has reincarnated (may as well go all the way with the death analogy) into a completely new organism, from long-form discourses to likes/dislikes, check-ins, tips and tweets . This new form of interaction has changed the local landscape, along with the publishers, advertisers, platform providers and app-makers that have come to conquer it. For small business owners, the lifeblood of local, the incarnation means that you can no longer just rely on customer reviews as the core of your word of mouth strategy, and you need to get savvy around the new local shorthand–and quick.
Start by checking out check ins. Check-ins are happening across the Web, and not just on FourSquare, which is averaging one check-in per second. Gowalla, BrightKite, Facebook Places and other local services enable people to hook up with friends and share info about new spots, all while on the go. And while this community of users grows, local merchants have not followed at the same rate. Most check-in platforms allow you to claim your venue today. Go do it. Take advantage of the aggregate information and identify your most loyal customers and learn about them – when do they visit, how often and from where? As these platforms get better at analyzing and serving up their own data, you’ll be better able to see how your customers move throughout your city, why they come through your door and, most interestingly, which businesses are funneling them to your doorstep. You’ll also be able to tell which of these services has users that most closely align with your demographic, offering you the most bang for your buck.
Once your customers have checked in, get ‘em to like you. As Sally Fields famously gushed during her 1984 Oscar win for “Places in the Heart,” “you like me…right now, you like me!” After all, who doesn’t want to be liked? With the popularity of the Facebook Like button, businesses don’t need the Oscar stage to broadcast their popularity to the world. The more Likes you amass on Facebook for each of your business profiles, the better your search strength on the network; and, as one of the top referrers of traffic to online local guides, it also drives people straight to your door.
But it’s not just about the ‘tell,’ it’s about showing and telling. As Web use continues to wither away, online video is exploding just as fast. Tips, photos, videos, online menus are all part of the rich content that paints an overall picture for your customers, and people like getting a visual image before visiting a new spot. Create a storyline about your business, capture it on tape, and upload it to social networks, your Website, local guides like Citysearch and video sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo. Oh, and encourage people to Like the video and Check it in.
To acknowledge these new currencies is one step in the right direction. Motivating consumers is another. And some of the biggest motivators nowadays are rewards. Coupon and discount strategies are nothing new to small business owners, but many of the new interfaces that allow digital deployment of deals are. Sometimes it’s about moving low-demand inventory, and sometimes it’s rewarding your most faithful followers and Facebook, Foursquare and other services offer solutions to help you do both. Remember though that rewards don’t need to be monetary to make your patrons feel loved. Knowing
The movement from long to short content can’t be ignored, and it’s imperative that local businesses evolve their communication to stay on top of their game. But, marketer beware, it’s just as important to avoid some of the common pitfalls that brands are making using these social services. First, while “Liking” may be the new review, be cognizant of how you are amassing this popularity: a thousand Likes bought on Facebook aren’t nearly as valuable as 200 customers who had a great experience in your restaurant and are likely to return with friends in tow. Second, be aware that you can become too Twitteriffic and turn your audience off. As we’ve seen from celebs like John Mayer and Miley Cyrus, overexposure can actually breed disdain; it’s important to be smart, measured and authentic with your audience engagement. Brands like JetBlue, Whole Foods and Zappos have been heralded for striking the right balance in reaching out to customers without crossing over to twitterspam. Last, bringing the house down is not always a good thing. San Francisco’s Mission Minis reportedly got caught in a Groupon frenzy and then struggled (to the tune of thrice-daily supply runs and 48 hour order delays) to keep up with the demand. If you are planning on jumping on the group discount bandwagon, make sure you have the infrastructure to keep up with the masses.
A thumbs-up from a friend has always had more value than a dissertation from a stranger – both in real life and now online. While reviews aren’t truly dead, they’ve certainly changed shape, and it’s important to keep pace with consumer behavior and avoid hinging your customer communication strategy on the review. Experiment with the new tools at your disposal, figure out what’s working and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Plenty of other companies are navigating the same territory and can help guide you along the way.
Author: Kara Nortman of CityGrid Media