There’s a growing trend that you’re not going to like — but you need to know about it.
It is that small businesses have to worry about their businesses getting trashed online.
What do I mean? I mean that customers and, yes, even competitors, may write negative things about your business. And those negative comments, in the form of product or service reviews, can be found by the public and prospective customers doing their pre-sales research. Those negative comments could hurt your business.
To understand why this trend is growing, you have only to look at online activity in general. According to the Pew Internet and American Life project, 75% of American adults are online. That means 170 million people (75% of the 226 million adults in the United States) go online.
Of those, 81% or 137 million look for information online about a service or product before buying. And 30% or 51 million people, have posted a comment or review online about a product or a service. This just counts people in the United States — not even other countries.
My latest column at the OPEN Forum examines this disturbing turn of events:
The most alarming part to business owners is that reviews can be made anonymously on most sites. So customers are free to embellish, or simply use stronger language than they’d use if they had to give their real names. You may not even know who is doing the complaining, so you may have no way of determining how to make matters right.
And the dirty little secret is, a competitor may be out spreading vitriol to damage your business. It’s no accident that when you see product reviews online, sometimes they’re accompanied by anonymous comments denouncing the product and at the same time praising a competing product. Occasionally you’ll see multiple anonymous comments each extolling the virtues of a different competitor! Interested bystanders? I doubt it.
Don’t just gnash your teeth. The solution is to be proactive. Manage your business’s online reputation. Reputation management is becoming a standard part of running a business today. I offer up tips and a reading list for how to manage your company’s online reputation.
Read: When Your Business Gets Trashed Online.
Yeah it doesn’t take much to get trashed online. That is why if you sell a product and someone asks for a refund it is much easier to just provide it so they don’t get upset and post online. Do what it takes to keep your customers happy.
Hi Clint, That’s an excellent tip to add to the list.
Go out of your way to keep customers happy with refunds or even upgrade their accounts at no charge if they’re unhappy. It’s not worth it to fight over something small, because you end up spending more money trying to fix it after the fact.
I try to really stay on top of my brand and track it via Technorati and a host of other places online. That way if anyone has any problems, I’m right there.
What goes around, comes around… I am for spreading the good word. I have seen a few negative comments about our company, online. I informed my partners and we discussed the issue with the involved parties. The negative claims had been made without a real name, so it was no use to respond to them. We received lots of positive feedback during our first two years in business. Mainly because we openly invited constructive criticism and 360 degrees evaluation of our business transactions. We stated explicit that we wanted a two way street communication, working accordingly to the trader principle (trading value for value).
I will check out Naymz. Have you heard about openID? I have a page on http://www.claimid.com
I second Clint’s advice. I used to do a lot of selling on Ebay and tried very hard to keep my 100% positive feedback. If anyone was upset over anything, even the smallest detail, I would either give them a partial or full refund. If it was some problem out of my hands such as the post office losing their package, I would offer them a discount on their next order. Luckily I don’t run into issues with my website store and I keep track with Google alerts. I try to stay clear of ruffling any feathers and keep my customers as happy as possible.
How to manage your reputation online:
1) Build your OWN community. A blog for example where people can comment and you can (proactively) react.
2) Speak up but be nice. A conversation works 2-ways!
3) Refunding and Guarantees are a great way to keep the trashing at a minimum. This is what earlier comments have said.
The problem is that once a nut feels that they have power over you or your business, they aren’t always happy with a nasty post or two. Police and lawyers often tell you to “ignore” the comments suggesting that if the poster doesn’t get any reaction, they will go away.
We found out the hard way that that is not always so. Between feed services that reprint posts over and over again and more and more tabloids are using the internet and posted comments as sources for articles; a disgruntled person, former customer, ex husband or wife, or just some nut, can destroy your business and your own reputation and leave you with very little ammunition to fight it. One nut can look like dozens and can debilitate you.
There is often a knock on effect. One nut posts that they were overcharged for a haircut, root canal, or legal service and give a figure that they think would be reasonable.i.e. “I paid $75.00 and my hair was butchered, a hair cut should only cost me $25.00” and pretty soon people reading the posts think, “hey wait a minute, I went to that salon and I paid $75.00 tooif a haircut should cost $25.00 I was over charged too!” This can quickly turn happy customers into unhappy customers.
Perhaps even more upsetting, is while a poster can pretty much say thing that they want about your company, you can’t effectively defend yourself because you can’t reveal personal information about the poster (if you know who it is) with violating privacy laws. So the nut posts: “Landlord A refused to give me back my deposit and never gives back deposits to anyone.” You can’t retort effectively. You can’t say, “Actually we give back deposits within 30 days, but Dave left a disastrous state and it had to be repainted and fumigated, hadn’t paid his last two months rent, and was evicted.” Why? Because that violates his rights of privacy.
I agree that online reputation is essential; managing it can be a nightmare and a loosing battle. While people may look at a post and think “gee I wonder if that is true?” it is far easier for them to just go to the next doctor, decorator, or department store. And unfortunately, responding, even in an even tone is not always effective. Many people simply believe what they read and responding can make the situation much worse because people believe the old adage, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”