How often do you check online reviews before dining out or booking a hotel room? If your answer is never, you’re probably 75 or older and think, “yelp!” is a sound a dog makes in anguish. As for the rest of us, we know that reviews are critical in influencing purchase decisions. So critical that a man even started a business around writing favorable book reviews called GettingBookReviews.com and charged $99 a pop. If you’ve ever thought about paying for inauthentic endorsements like this, you better pump the breaks because third party review sites are now making it as obvious as Snooki’s spray tan that you’ve invested in fake reviews. Yelp recently created consumer alerts for business pages that remain for 90 days when they sniff out phony reviews. The alert reads the following: "We caught someone red-handed trying to buy reviews for this business. We weren't fooled, but wanted you to know because buying reviews not only hurts consumers, but also honest businesses who play by the rules."
Similarly, TripAdvisor says they have “zero tolerance for fake reviews.” If they believe that a hotel review is contrived, they will remove the review, ensure that the property is penalized in the site’s rankings, and possibly even post a message alerting millions of travelers on what they’ve found.
Considering the clout online reviews hold in purchase behavior, it’s no surprise that some business owners feel compelled to invest in sham reviews:
- A one-star increase on Yelp leads to a 5% to 9% increase in revenue (source: Michael Luca, Harvard Business School).
- 70% of global consumers trust online reviews, an increase of 15 percent in four years (source: Nielsen).
- 80% of consumers change their mind after reading a single bad review (source: Cone Communications).
- One negative review can cost you 30 customers (source: Convergys).
- 7 in 10 who read reviews share them with friends, family & colleagues thus amplifying their impact (Deloitte & Touche).
But here’s the bottom line: A few “positive” reviews won’t stop customers from continuing to complain about your crappy service or overcooked food. Instead of taking the easy (and sleazy) way out, listen to the concerns your customers are voicing and improve your business. Social media and third party review sites have put the power in the hands of the consumer. Forever. If companies don’t become customer-focused, customer-centric, customer-obsessed, they risk tarnishing their brand reputation and ultimately, losing their business.
How to Improve Online Ratings The Honest Way
The problem that many business owners face is that reviews on third party review sites might not legitimately reflect the satisfaction of their customers. Many know they have happy diners or guests; but as the saying goes, “Haters gonna hate.” Pissed off customers are sometimes more inclined to write a damaging review while the satisfied customers will recommend the restaurant or hotel at a cocktail party instead of putting their praise online.
Here’s the solution: Find those customers who are enthusiastic about your brand, product, or service (AKA your authentic Brand Advocates), and make it drop dead easy for them to write raving reviews.
- Ask your customers via email, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, website, or elsewhere: “On a scale from 0-10, how likely are you to recommend our brand to your friends?” Those who answer 9 or 10 are your Advocates.
- Give Advocates online tools to rate and review your product or property and direct them to the relevant third party review site where they can publish their glowing review.
- By identifying your Advocates, you’re creating a virtual marketing force that you can leverage for much more than just reviews. They’ll gladly share offers or other announcements like a new location opening, a new chef, or a remodel of your hotel with their social networks. They’ll create and share personal stories about how they rekindled their love at your resort or made a new friend with one of the gregarious employees who waited on them.
Whatever you do, don’t pay for reviews or recommendations of any sort. There is no longer room for businesses that don’t understand the importance of authenticity and transparency in the era of social media. Instead, tap into the enthusiasm of your highly satisfied customers and empower them to spread positive and/or fight negative word of mouth for you.