How to Tackle Online Reviews

There’s a lot of really scary stuff being said out there. Some solicit it. Take Jon Stewart, for instance. As his farewell to the “The Daily Show” nears, he’s calling on detractors to send him off. And there’s no arguing that Kim and Kanye have sure had their fair share of haters (whether justified or not). These celebrities make calculated (or sometimes laughably aloof) decisions with their reputations on the line. But that’s for them to worry about or manage. They’re not the ones I want to talk to you about today. The reputation I’m concerned about is your own. Well, kind of—your brand’s.


It doesn’t matter which way you look—your company is being talked about. And, no, even if you close your eyes, you can’t skirt it. You name the place, your brand could be target practice for some happy and less-than-enthused people. From social networks to forums, message boards, news sites, blogs, apps and video streaming, your brand’s name has most likely been uttered. Thank goodness there are social media monitoring tools out there that are conceptualized, engineered and improved with the mission to intercept, quantify and analyze all of that relevant brand data. If you’re in the marketplace for that type of software, re:group uses Sysomos Heartbeat for geo-location and cost-effectiveness reasons, but there are countless other options out there for you: the juggernaut Radian6, for instance, Adobe Social, Meltwater Buzz and Brandwatch to name a few. Just make sure you take the time to research which tool is best for your organization before you make a commitment.

But that’s not why we’re here today. We’re here because I attended an excellent breakout session at the Franchise Consumer Marketing Conference (FCMC) last week called Manage Online & Social Reviews and it got my wheels turning because, though all within the room seemed to come to a consensus on the fact that review monitoring was important, not everyone seemed prepared to: a) facilitate review site management on the scale that a franchise requires, and b) report on the value of doing so.

So, where to start? The following list contains things to consider before launching your online review reputation management program:


Dollar sign image by Flickr's jordan_lloydWhen I talk to any client or prospect, the topic of available resources is always square one. What resources do you have access to within your organization or through an agency to fulfill the need at hand? This could apply to anything from building a social media program to developing a creative campaign. What can feasibly be done with the people, money and time available to coordinate your effort? And the kicker: what can feasibly be done well? Every decision you make as a marketing professional is a reflection of your brand and its presentation to customers and prospects. You always want to make sure the impression they’re left with is one of positivity and confidence in your brand. If you, for instance, lack the manpower to regularly monitor and respond to online reviews for a system of 500 franchisees, then it might be time to reevaluate how you would like to launch the program. In this case, maybe you start with a test of ten locations and, after a period of time, present the resulting value to the remainder of the franchisees in order to fund the expansion of the program.

Prioritize Review Sites

Each brand is different. Customers use a multitude of review sites to make buying decisions. For most all industries, Google+ and Yelp are relevant, but what if you’re a restaurant? Do sites like Urbanspoon or OpenTable have clout? Or what if you’re in automotive sales? Are customers using Dealer Rater or to choose their dealer?

When it comes down to it, your resources are going to determine how many review sites you can dutifully monitor. But if you can make a case for intercepting customers at a critical purchasing decision point, you will probably have a better shot at securing more budget.


Especially when you reach the scale of a franchise system, the cost of manually detecting reviews outweighs the cost of purchasing a software to streamline the task for you. I’ve got two pieces of bad news for you: unfortunately, the tools mentioned above for social media monitoring very rarely, if ever, do a great job of tracking reviews. It’s not always their fault; review sites often keep their APIs very close to home. And the tools that do work, like NewBrand, and Connectivity don’t come cheap. They’re usually on a per location-basis and, in a franchise system, that can add up quickly. But the power they wield is mighty, and will get you set up with not only the tools to converse with customers, but some will also reveal customer satisfaction and valuable operational data.


The first thing you need to decide is when it comes to the logistics of review site management is the types of reviews you are going to respond to. After that, what does that response look like? This can be as simple as saying, we are going to respond to all reviews; we recognize the value in retaining upset customers, but we also see the opportunity in championing our advocates who have taken the time to leave a positive review. Or it could mean anticipating specific topical matters that could arise and would need immediate attention. For instance, is your retail brand in the middle of a partner recall and customers are upset? This might be the time to reassure them that all measures are being taken to remove the product from shelves and provide compensation for prior purchases. Or is a long-time customer upset that her location is being moved to a less convenient location? This might be the time to assure her that the new location will provide the same, outstanding service she’s come to know and love.

Sticky notes with numbersNext, who is intercepting these reviews? Is it a customer service representative? Is it an agency? What is the acceptable timeframe within which to respond to reviews? Does it vary by review site? Will there be a public response? Or will it instead be private? What do those responses look like? Will there be a canned response by review type, or will your agency personalize each response based on the content of the review?

And then, how will the issue move through your organization’s internal workflow to resolution? For David Buckley, chief marketing officer at Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores, each time a new review comes in, the issue is automatically catapulted into their standard support ticketing system. That way, the service conversation is tracked and seen through to resolution within a reasonable timeframe.


After the service team has come to an issue resolution, how is that recorded? Is it within the customer service ticketing system? Is that data synced or integrated into the customer relationship management system? Is there opportunity to, in the future, classify this customer for your system’s marketing automation or personalized follow-up?

If the person empowered to resolve a customer issue differs from the front-line team who may have intercepted it, you’ll also need to have a system in place that alerts this team to the details of its resolution should they again find themselves in a position where the same customer requests a follow-up.


How is the value of review site management reported? For all in the FCMC room, the value of responding to reviews was a no-brainer. But in an environment where direct return on investment (ROI) isn’t always possible, what are the key performance indicators that your leadership team would like to see? Alex Vaccaro, vice present of marketing at Connectivity, had a suggestion: impressions. How many people viewed your locations on review sites within a given time frame? When they reach a review site, they’re already in the bottom portion of the sales funnel. Our job as marketers is to provide them with just the information they need to head to the store or complete the transaction.

Another option would be to recount the average lifetime value of a customer. For those unhappy customers that you have appeased by responding to their reviews, how much business have you saved over the average customer life cycle? Or let’s talk about this in terms of a resource shift to cost savings. By redirecting customers with issues to an online resolution channel, how much are you saving by eliminating the resources required to man traditional customer service channels, like call centers? These all speak to ROI.

And while numbers always can hold their own when presented to leadership, some of the most valuable data that comes out of online review site management are the operational insights you’re able to extract. NewBrand does an exceptional job with review text analytics. They’re able to extract trends in customer feedback that speak to location operations, like cleanliness of the location, ease of parking, satisfaction with customer service, variety in inventory, etc. These insights can be integral to providing your customers with the experience that’ll keep them coming back for more. The good tools out there are even able to do this by location, by region or as an aggregate system.

With all of these things to consider, it’s no wonder there were several apprehensive faces during that FCMC session. But, I want to encourage you, there’s nothing to be worried about. It is my hope that this blog post has given you the thought-starters to confidently approach the why, how, what, where, who and how much when it comes to online review site management for your business. After discussing and answering the questions above with your team, you will be well on your way to more customers…and happier ones at that! You’ll also be armed with feedback that has the potential to improve your organization.

If you have any questions or would like to sound off on everything you’ve just read, please feel free to chime in in the Comments section!

Photo Credit: Flickr’s jordan_lloyd

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