Sunday 20 July 2014

Review Management defined

Over the past handful of years Review Management has emerged as a professional branch of marketing. Here we define this new (but essential) tool, by describing just what it is and, just as importantly, is not.

Reviews - some history

There's nothing new about reviews. They have been around since the dawn of journalism - whether the subject under review was the latest play, the local restaurant, then everything from holidays to washing-machines. In your daily paper, on TV.

Occasionally consumers might even be consulted (by polling or phone-ins). But then came the web.

The web and reviews

Reviews on the web were initially simply web versions of other media reviews, but then new technology emerged (it was called Web 2.0) that allowed consumers to answer back, and to voice their own opinions.

Initially using the 'forum' format that continues today, soon specific review sites began to emerge. These allowed anyone (often anyone at all) to post a comment (a review) about a business. Any comment about any business. Or any comment about a specific kind of business.

Initial impact

Consumers loved the concept, they wrote reviews and, more importantly, they read other people's reviews. Sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, written off in their infancy by professional marketeers as 'the rantings of the rabble' grew exponentially. 

Engaging with business

Some of the very early sites (like Angie's list) reckoned that they added so much value for the consumer that the consumer would pay to read their reviews.

Others realised that businesses would pay for two things:
  • Site traffic - if X,000 people visited the site, then businesses would pay to advertise on that site
  • Leads - if the reviews attracted potential customers, businesses would pay for those leads
As these businesses grew and matured the correlation between the number of reviews they were able to host and the business's worth (share price) became defined. The drive for reviews was well and truly ignited.

It was put smack bang on top of my competitor's listing!

The double-edged sword

This was clear from day one; businesses love reading positive consumer comments but dread negatives. But does the review site really care? The answer, in the overwhelming majority of cases is a resounding 'No'. 

If it were otherwise then the review sites could very easily build in a mechanism to allow consumers to interact with the business offline when they have an issue that needs addressing or an outright complaint, but no, the review gets published, however unfair or damaging to the business.

Why? For many important reasons: first, the 'volume' issue explained above; every published review is another cent on the share price. Second, people love reading negative reviews, so the sites recognise that negative reviews drive traffic - and the review sites can sell that traffic to advertisers; third, and most contentiously, many review sites' sales pitches are thinly veiled blackmail: 'pay for our services and we'll see if we can do something about the negatives'.

So where are we today?

Review sites are here to stay. Most important of all, since Google realised the extraordinary consumer demand for reviews back in 2008-9, they have been refining and boosting their own review offerings, first in natural search and second (and probably most fundamentally important of all for the medium to long term) through their own review mechanism.

Business reaction

So far businesses have reacted right across the spectrum from outright denial (ignoring reviews completely) to engagement (responding where they can) to adopting proactive review management strategies.

We should examine all three of these strategies in more detail:
  • Denial: is not a viable long-term strategy. Not engaging with reviewers is tantamount to not listening to your customers; but, worse than that, it is effectively saying, out-loud and as publicly as can be "We don't listen to our customers. We don't care what they are saying." Reviews must (where the mechanism exists) be responded to, at a minimum
  • Engagement: is a great first step. Simply responding to reviews, politely and professionally, will show your business in a much better light than standing aloof and allowing comments to go unanswered
  • Proactive strategies: the next logical step; seeing a customer writing a review in exactly the same light as a customer sending your business an email or contacting someone in your customer service department has to be the first step in establishing and effective review management strategy

At this stage we expect most readers are nodding in agreement; so the question is "Why have less than 1% of UK businesses adopted that course of action so far?

The answer is a combination of two things: fear of the unknown and resources.

To (probably mis-) quote Milton Friedman: "The business of business is business." To adapt this to our own ends we see this as meaning that if you run a hotel your business is looking after your guests, if you run an estate agency your business is selling houses and if you are a doctor your business is treating your patients.

So is it any wonder professional services exist; very few of any of the above file their own accounts, litigate on their own behalves or self-insure; so why would they want to do their own review management?

The answer, in the main, has been because until now there just haven't been the review management professionals to do the job for them. This eliminates the 'fear of the unknown' and makes concrete the issue of 'resources'.

What will a Review Management professional do?

The simple answer is: 'everything to do with reviews', let us break this down:
  1. Get your business the reviews it needs
  2. Enable you to promote those reviews - credibly - to prospective customers
  3. Enable you to manage any negative reviews in private
  4. Advise on strategies to maximise the effective distribution of those review across the web
  5. Advise on individual strategies to address specific damaging or unfair reviews
Numbers 4 and 5 could (and often do) include drafting individual responses.

Professional review management is one of the most effective new business drivers available to businesses today. All recent research indicates that it will pay for itself many times over in lead and new business generation as well as existing customer retention.

What is not Review Management?

Sometimes it looks, at first glance, like review management (you may even have googled 'review management' and been served it in results), but it is not...
  • Testimonials: they're not reviews - they haven't been independently verified and they've probably been filtered (whoever saw a negative testimonial?) so they will lack credibility in the eyes of your prospective customer
  • Reputation management: can get you loads of reviews, at a price, but does not address the core issue - effective (credible) feedback from all your customers
  • DIY: however effective in-house systems may be (and some are great) they will always lack credibility without independent verification

The next steps

We don't meet a prospective client without conducting a Review Management Audit these days. This will include:
  1. Identifying current review coverage (or lack thereof)
  2. Recommending an initial strategy to address lack of (or gaps in) coverage 
  3. Recommending a medium to long-term strategy to enable the business's management and staff to rest easy in the knowledge that they have a robust solution in place
We look forward to a long and mutually rewarding relationship - after all, we wouldn't want you posting anything less than a 5* review about us!

  1. The impact of reviews on consumer decisions
  2. Google's own take on reviews
  3. Wiki: Review Sites
  4. Wiki: Web 2.0
  5. Wiki: Reputation Management 
  6. Wall Street Journal: beware of reputation management
  7. Survey: Reviews v. Personal Recommendation
  8. Fake reviews: the Guardian
  9. Harvard Business Review: "User reviews are front and center"
  10. Bad reviews are costing businesses millions 

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