Online reputation management is a full-time job for today’s brands. Customers can do their homework about a brand more quickly, easily, and thoroughly than ever before. And it’s not just consumer advocacy websites like Which? informing potential shoppers – now more than ever, people are looking for the opinions of ‘people like them’ through reviews.
The trouble is that some review platforms are open for abuse. They’re not always the most honest, fair, or open forums for discussion.
That’s why you have two important choices to make:
- the type of reviews you want to collect;
- and where you want to host them.
What is your online reputation?
Your online reputation is the sum of every available review and ranking of your brand.
It’s composed of things like your reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor or Google Reviews, what people are saying about you on social media, plus any online feedback you collect yourself – and it makes a huge difference to customers.
A good reputation is often the difference between a click-through, and click past. According to a Nielsen study, over 68% of customers find customer recommendations to be the most trustworthy source of information about a brand.
It directly impacts sales, customer loyalty, and revenue. Companies with poor online reputations – whether deserved or otherwise – quite simply make less money. How customers perceive you online matters.
Your online reputation directly impacts sales, customer loyalty, and revenue. - Highlight to share -
Reviews: which type to choose?
There are three main types of reviews that brands can choose from. Each has its own impacts, benefits, and drawbacks to helping build your online reputation.
Businesses that display reviews see an average boost to revenue of about 18%. The question is: which type should you use?
This was the first approach to review collection. Retailers and brands were so desperate to populate their pages with any reviews that they let anyone leave them. You didn’t need to prove whether you’d purchased the product or not.
Leaving your opinion is as simple as clicking ‘write a review’. It might be easy, but it increases the chance of fake reviews and the risk of disgruntled individual customers spamming your site. We’ll call these ‘open’ platforms. Research suggests that up to 20% of reviews on open platforms like TripAdvisor and Yelp are fake.
Not only do bad (and fake) reviews hurt your reputation, but a consumer who must wade through dozens of fake reviews to find real ones quickly loses trust in your brand.
Verified reviews only solicit feedback from confirmed buyers. This fixes the authenticity problems of those open systems.
These types of reviews tend to be collected proactively. Usually a customer will get a follow-up email after a purchase, asking them to leave feedback via a custom-made online questionnaire. These reviews are also usually more structured, and guide the customer into leaving more (and more useful) information than before.
This not only helps other prospective customers find the information they need to make a buying decision, but also provides actionable insight for departments other than marketing (like customer service and R&D). For instance, you can split up reviews of product and service, or ask for specific scores on facets of your product like the hotel breakfast or the car roof racks.
Verified reviews will be higher quality and will be more trusted by customers – and, if they’re collected properly, you won’t see a dip in volume – you’ll actually see an uplift.
A hybrid review system tries to keep the best from both of the above approaches.
Hybrid systems proactively solicit reviews from verified buyers, including sending direct emails prompts. However, in reality, reviews are still open to anyone inclined to click. This is designed to enjoy the volume of unverified systems, with the quality and authenticity of verified systems.
In truth, though, all of the original drawbacks, shortcomings, and problems with unverified systems still apply to hybrid systems. Beware of “trustmarks” from review providers that claim to be fake-free but still take unsolicited feedback (they exist).
If quality, authenticity, and trust are your goals, stick with verified reviews.
Which reviews are right for you?
There are six main questions you should ask yourself when deciding which type of reviews are best for your online reputation management.
1. Can the reviews be trusted?
If you want to build customer trust by offering steadfast, authentic reviews they can trust, the only way is to offer fully verified reviews. Unverified and hybrid reviews can make claims about their “authenticity,” but only verified systems can guarantee it, and pass that faith on to the customer.
Customers can tell, too. According to research by Maritz, nearly 25% of customers believe reviews on unverified sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor to be “unfair,” whether falsely positive or falsely negative.
2. Will you get both quantity and quality?
The reason first-generation reviews focused on quantity so much is that quantity matters. It shows you are not some fly-by-night company, but rather a well-established brand.
Indeed, four-star reviews from 87 customers will usually outweigh five-star reviews from three customers. Both verified and unverified reviews can deliver quantity: the former does it by automatically contacting all buyers after purchase; the latter does it by opening the floodgates.
For quality? Well, there’s really no contest as we discussed above. The reviews that provide the most useful information for both other customers and you the seller are verified every time.
3. Can you foster greater customer engagement?
Reviews are a way for customers to feel actively involved with your brand, engaging in a dialogue that builds both trust, and future loyalty.
Unverified reviews make this dialogue difficult, as brands can usually only make comments, and cannot even determine if they are spending valuable customer service resources responding to a real concerned customer, or an internet troll.
Verified reviews, on the other hand, create a structured, healthy forum for customers to engage with your brand and vice versa, where both parties respect the other’s time and concerns. They also integrate well with social media.
4. Will your reviews be consistent?
Nothing undermines customer trust more than seeing wildly different ratings for the same product. As the buyer’s journey is more winding than ever today, this consistency is crucial.
Verified systems alone let you deliver consistent scores for products no matter where they appear. A single rating from a trusted source, moderated to ensure it comes from a real customer, provides your buyers a consistent, user-friendly experience when researching your brand.
5. Will your system reduce the effort required?
Marketing, sales, and customer service teams are busy. A good review system minimises time and effort, and maximises value.
Better still, a review system with a managed service gives you the kind of results you’d get if you dedicated an entire team to it.
Unverified reviews leave you alone in the wilderness to determine which reviews are real, which are fake, and which require attention.
6. Can you use the review info in other areas?
Reviews are great for informing your customers and building their trust. But what about you? Reviews are an excellent chance to get structured, actionable feedback about your brand.
Unverified reviews provide little of value for brands to take away. Would you ever want to base your business decisions on feedback from fake customers, liars, and pranksters? Of course not.
Verified reviews, on the other hand, can be made to be much more structured and in-depth. Once you’ve got a basic review, you can guide your customers into providing feedback in the specific areas you’re interested in.
Ask your customers a little about themselves while reviewing. You’ll get demographic-specific information that you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else.
Reviews sites, or branded sites?
The other major consideration when selecting a review system to benefit your online reputation management is whether to host the reviews on your own site, or on a review aggregating site (like Yelp and TripAdvisor).
Review sites can be powerful traffic drivers, but they have major flaws. The first is that the website brand always comes first, not yours. There will be no protections offered to your brand in the event of abusive or untruthful customers.
Secondly, review websites almost exclusively use the first-generation (unverified) reviews discussed above, which are full of more holes than Swiss cheese.
By hosting reviews on your own website, you can not only enjoy the benefits of a second-generation (verified) review system, but you create a civilised, structured environment in which to engage with your customers. The scope of the discussion is under your control, but the flow of it remains organic.
Hosting reviews on your own website also makes them easier to integrate into social media and other channels, which is helpful because your online reputation is spread all across the internet, and is not a battle that can be won on just one front.
When thinking about online reputation management, it’s important to choose a review system that gives you the most control over your reputation, without stifling the valuable things customers have to say.