You might have built a snazzy website for your business—but in many cases, that’s not where your potential customers are getting their information.
These days, it’s common for shoppers and would-be diners to check out user-review sites like Yelp or UrbanSpoon for reviews of local businesses, or to ask their friends for opinions via social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter.
Because most shoppers are looking at sources outside of your official marketing materials for assistance in making purchasing decisions, it can be difficult to ensure that they’re finding accurate information about your store or restaurant.
Anonymous online reviews can be subject to fraud: The research firm Gartner estimates that, by 2014, 10 to 15 percent of all online reviews are likely to be fraudulent or paid for. And personal recommendations can be clouded by faulty memories or personal preferences.
In order to combat false information, it’s important to take a proactive approach to managing your brand’s online reputation.
There are a number of free and premium tools that can help you monitor your brand name across social media. Some options include:
· SocialMention – This free tool offers basic searches across webpages and public updates on social networks like Twitter and Facebook for the keywords you select.
· IceRocket – Another free service, IceRocket allows you to search Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere for mentions of your business.
· Mention – This free service is available as both a desktop and mobile app. It allows you to set up search alerts for brand and keyword mentions across a range of media, including blogs, social media services, and videos. You can also add your business partners’ or employees’ email addresses to the service, so that they will receive the alerts at the same time as you.
· Hootsuite – This service is available in both free and premium versions, and provides a wealth of tools for both tracking interaction with your brand on social media and managing your own social media profiles. The free version allows you to manage up to five social media profiles, download basic analytics reports for the keywords and profiles you’ve set up, and schedule your social media posts in advance. The Pro version, starting at $8.99 a month, allows you to monitor up to 100 social profiles, download advanced analytics reports, add up to nine team members to the service, and take advantage of numerous other advanced features.
· Viralheat – This tool allows you to track social mentions on a product-by-product basis, or compare mentions of your brand to those of your competitors. The free version of the service allows you to monitor and manage up to five social media services and schedule posts in advance; the Pro version, for $9.99 a month, provides access to up to 15 social accounts including Google+, and a number of other advanced services.
· Sprout Social – Sprout Social allows you to simultaneously manage up to 10 social media accounts, with limited monitoring of brand-related mentions from Twitter, Facebook, and the web. The tool costs from $39 to $99 per month.
Simply paying attention to what’s being said about your business online isn’t enough: Once you’ve found a service that you’re happy with for tracking brand mentions, it’s important to come up with a strategy for responding to what’s being said about you, whether negative or positive.
By signing up for daily alerts, your company can immediately spot blog posts or Twitter or Facebook comments that contain misleading information or complaints about your brand, and elect a community manager to address these comments individually.
In some cases, you may want to offer a customer a refund or a store or restaurant credit to make up for a negative past experience. In others, you may be able to correct facts that they got wrong: For instance, customers often mistake restaurants with similar names on sites like Yelp, and write reviews of the wrong business. Although Yelp may not take down the customer’s review, you can at least explain that you don’t have a restaurant in a particular town or don’t serve the menu item in question, and hopefully, the customer will decide to retract the review. (Find some additional tips for dealing with negative restaurant reviews here.)
If someone has posted a positive review about your establishment on a blog, social media platform, or online review site, you can also take the initiative to thank your customer for the kind words. This will help to inspire brand loyalty, and encourage them to return to your business again.
Additionally, by developing an active social media presence on Facebook and Twitter, you can encourage customers and fans to interact with your brand on your own page, where you or your community manager can immediately respond to complaints or issues, and positively engage with your fans. While it’s worth knowing the potential pitfalls of social media, making a strategic decision to engage with the online community—and carefully monitoring what’s being said about your business there—is likely to pay off with more loyal fans and customers.