Tag Archive | "Review"

Time to Act: Review Responses Just Evolved from "Extra" to "Expected"

Posted by MiriamEllis

I’ve advocated the use of Google’s owner response review feature since it first rolled out in 2010. This vital vehicle defends brand reputation and revenue, offering companies a means of transforming dissatisfied consumers into satisfied ones, supporting retention so that less has to be spent on new customer acquisition. I consider review responses to be a core customer service responsibility. Yet, eight years into the existence of this feature, marketing forums are still filled with entry-level questions like:

  • Should I respond to reviews?
  • Should I respond to positive reviews?
  • How should I respond to negative reviews?

Over the years, I’ve seen different local SEO consultants reply in differing degrees to these common threads, but as of May 11, 2018, both agencies and brands woke to a new day: the day on which Google announced it would be emailing notifications like this to consumers when a business responds to their reviews, prompting them to view the reply.

Surveys indicate that well over 50% of consumers already expect responses within days of reviewing a business. With Google’s rollout, we can assume that this number is about to rise.

Why is this noteworthy news? I’ll explain exactly that in this post, plus demo how Moz Local can be a significant help to owners and marketers in succeeding in this new environment.

When “extra” becomes “expected”

In the past, owner responses may have felt like something extra a business could do to improve management of its reputation. Perhaps a company you’re marketing has been making the effort to respond to negative reviews, at the very least, but you’ve let replying to positive reviews slide. Or maybe you respond to reviews when you can get around to it, with days or weeks transpiring between consumer feedback and brand reaction.

Google’s announcement is important for two key reasons:

1) It signals that Google is turning reviews into a truly interactive feature, in keeping with so much else they’ve rolled out to the Knowledge Panel in recent times. Like booking buttons and Google Questions & Answers, notifications of owner responses are Google’s latest step towards making Knowledge Panels transactional platforms instead of static data entities. Every new feature brings us that much closer to Google positioning itself between providers and patrons for as many transactional moments as possible.

2) It signals a major turning point in consumer expectations. In the past, reviewers have left responses from motives of “having their say,” whether that’s to praise a business, warn fellow consumers, or simply document their experiences.

Now, imagine a patron who writes a negative review of two different restaurants he dined at for Sunday lunch and dinner. On Monday, he opens his email to find a Google notification that Restaurant A has left an owner response sincerely apologizing and reasonably explaining why service was unusually slow that weekend, but that Restaurant B is meeting his complaint about a rude waiter with dead air.

“So, Restaurant A cares about me, and Restaurant B couldn’t care less,” the consumer is left to conclude, creating an emotional memory that could inform whether he’s ever willing to give either business a second chance in the future.

Just one experience of receiving an owner response notification will set the rules of the game from here on out, making all future businesses that fail to respond seem inaccessible, neglectful, and even uncaring. It’s the difference between reviewers narrating their experiences from random motives, and leaving feedback with the expectation of being heard and answered.

I will go so far as to predict that Google’s announcement ups the game for all review platforms, because it will make owner responses to consumer sentiment an expected, rather than extra, effort.

The burden is on brands

Because no intelligent business would believe it can succeed in modern commerce while appearing unreachable or unconcerned, Google’s announcement calls for a priority shift. For brands large and small, it may not be an easy one, but it should look something like this:

  • Negative reviews are now direct cries for help to our business; we will respond with whatever help we can give within X number of hours or days upon receipt
  • Positive reviews are now thank-you notes directly to our company; we will respond with gratitude within X number of hours or days upon receipt

Defining X is going to have to depend on the resources of your organization, but in an environment in which consumers expect your reply, the task of responding must now be moved from the back burner to a hotter spot on the stovetop. Statistics differ in past assessments of consumer expectations of response times:

  • In 2016, GetFiveStars found that 15.6% of consumers expected a reply with 1–3 hours, and 68.3% expected a reply within 1–3 days of leaving a review.
  • In 2017, RevLocal found that 52% of consumers expected responses within 7 days.
  • Overall, 30% of survey respondents told BrightLocal in 2017 that owner responses were a factor they looked at in judging a business.

My own expectation is that all of these numbers will now rise as a result of Google’s new function, meaning that the safest bet will be the fastest possible response. If resources are limited, I recommend prioritizing negative sentiment, aiming for a reply within hours rather than days as the best hope of winning back a customer. “Thank yous” for positive sentiment can likely wait for a couple of days, if absolutely necessary.

It’s inspiring to know that a recent Location3 study found that brands which do a good job of responding to reviews saw an average conversion rate of 13.9%, versus lackluster responders whose conversion rate was 10.4%. Depending on what you sell, those 3.5 points could be financially significant! But it’s not always easy to be optimally responsive.

If your business is small, accelerating response times can feel like a burden because of lack of people resources. If your business is a large, multi-location enterprise, the burden may lie in organizing awareness of hundreds of incoming reviews in a day, as well as keeping track of which reviews have been responded to and which haven’t.

The good news is…

Moz Local can help

The screenshot, above, is taken from the Moz Local dashboard. If you’re a customer, just log into your Moz Local account and go to your review section. From the “sources” section, choose “Google” — you’ll see the option to filter your reviews by “replied” and “not replied.” You’ll instantly be able to see which reviews you haven’t yet responded to. From there, simply use the in-dashboard feature that enables you to respond to your (or your clients’) reviews, without having to head over to your GMB dashboard or log into a variety of different clients’ GMB dashboards. So easy!

I highly recommend that all our awesome customers do this today and be sure you’ve responded to all of your most recent reviews. And, in the future, if you’re working your way through a stack of new, incoming Google reviews, this function should make it a great deal easier to keep organized about which ones you’ve checked off and which ones are still awaiting your response. I sincerely hope this function makes your work more efficient!

Need some help setting the right review response tone?

Please check out Mastering the Owner Response to the Quintet of Google My Business Reviews, which I published in 2016 to advocate responsiveness. It will walk you through these typical types of reviews you’ll be receiving:

  • “I love you!”
  • “I haven’t made up my mind yet.”
  • “There was hair in my taco…”
  • “I’m actually your competitor!”
  • “I’m citing illegal stuff.”

The one update I’d make to the advice in the above piece, given Google’s rollout of the new notification function, would be to increase the number of positive reviews to which you’re responding. In 2016, I suggested that enterprises managing hundreds of locations should aim to express gratitude for at least 10% of favorable reviews. In 2018, I’d say reply with thanks to as many of these as you possibly can. Why? Because reviews are now becoming more transactional than ever, and if a customer says, “I like you,” it’s only polite to say, “Thanks!”. As more customers begin to expect responsiveness, failure to acknowledge praise could feel uncaring.

I would also suggest that responses to negative reviews more strongly feature a plea to the customer to contact the business so that things can be “made right.” GetFiveStars co-founder, Mike Blumenthal, is hoping that Google might one day create a private channel for brands and consumers to resolve complaints, but until that happens, definitely keep in mind that:

  1. The new email alerts will ensure that more customers realize you’ve responded to their negative sentiment.
  2. If, while “making things right” in the public response, you also urge the unhappy customer to let you make things “more right” in person, you will enhance your chances of retaining him.
  3. If you are able to publicly or privately resolve a complaint, the customer may feel inspired to amend his review and raise your star rating; over time, more customers doing this could significantly improve your conversions and, possibly, your local search rankings.
  4. All potential customers who see your active responses to complaints will understand that your policies are consumer-friendly, which should increase the likelihood of them choosing your business for transactions.

Looking ahead

One of the most interesting aspects I’m considering as of the rollout of response notifications is whether it may ultimately impact the tone of reviews themselves. In the past, some reviewers have given way to excesses in their sentiment, writing about companies in the ugliest possible language… language I’ve always wanted to hope they wouldn’t use face-to-face with other human beings at the place of business. I’m wondering now if knowing there’s a very good chance that companies are responding to feedback could lessen the instances of consumers taking wild, often anonymous potshots at brands and create a more real-world, conversational environment.

In other words, instead of: “You overcharged me $ 3 for a soda and I know it’s because you’re [expletive] scammers, liars, crooks!!! Everyone beware of this company!!!”

We might see: “Hey guys, I just noticed a $ 3 overcharge on my receipt. I’m not too happy about this.”

The former scenario is honestly embarrassing. Trying to make someone feel better when they’ve just called you a thief feels a bit ridiculous and depressing. But the latter scenario is, at least, situation-appropriate instead of blown out of all proportion, creating an opening for you and your company to respond well and foster loyalty.

I can’t guarantee that reviewers will tone it down a bit if they feel more certain of being heard, but I’m hoping it will go that way in more and more cases.

What do you think? How will Google’s new function impact the businesses you market and the reviewers you serve? Please share your take and your tips with our community!

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SearchCap: Google shorter snippets, Google review notifications & paid search tips

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web.
Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.



Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.


Search Engine Land: News & Info About SEO, PPC, SEM, Search Engines & Search Marketing

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The Moz Year in Review 2017

Posted by SarahBird

Yay! We’ve traversed another year around the sun. And I’m back with another Moz year-in-review post that promises to be as boring as its predecessors. Reading it feels like being locked in your tin can space capsule through lightyears of empty space. If you’re a little odd and like this kind of thing, do please continue.

Before we begin our odyssey, I invite you to check out previous reports: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012. Transparency is a Moz core value. Putting detailed financial and customer data on the blog is one of the ways we live our values. We’re a little weird like that.

Image: Tesla's red car in outer space, floating past Earth with Rocketman at the wheel

Okay spacepeople: take your protein pills and put your helmets on.

Launch to your favorite parts:

Part 1: TL;DR
Commencing countdown, engines on

Part 2: SO MANY wins
Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare

Part 3: Customer metrics
You’ve really made the grade

Part 4: Financial performance
And the stars look very different today

Part 5: Inside Moz HQ
The papers want to know whose shirts you wear

Part 6: Into the future
I think my spaceship knows which way to go


Part 1: TL;DR

Commencing countdown, engines on

What a year! 2017 was a time of doing new things differently — new teams, new goals, and new ways of operating. I’m so proud of Mozzers; they can do anything. If I’m sent to a far-off space colony, I want them with me.

In spite of (and because of!) all this change, we grew revenue and became significantly EBITDA and cash flow positive. Nice! We have a nice economic engine primed and ready to make some more big investments in 2018. Stay tuned.

These positive results were not from one single thing. Rather, iterative product and operations improvements helped improve both our top and bottom line. Plus, we made a bunch of longer-term investments that don’t show up yet in the 2017 report but will bear fruit in 2018 and beyond.


Part 2: Ch-ch-ch… Changes!

Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare

Here’s a little more detail on some of the changes I talked about.

We launched Keywords By Site, relaunched our crawler (a major technical undertaking), sunsetted two products (content and Followerwonk), built a bunch of new developer tools and standardized on some dev frameworks, and improved our local data distribution network. Check out Adam Feldstein’s post for a lot more detail on our 2017 major product accomplishments!

We’ve got another exciting launch on the way, too. We’ve invested a ton of blood, sweat, and tears into it during 2017 and can’t wait to share it with everyone.

All of these changes support our 2016 strategy of “more wood behind fewer arrows.” We choose to focus our energy on being the best place to learn and do SEO. Our mission is to simplify SEO for everyone through software, education, and community.

Image: an arrow with the text "More wood behind fewer arrows"

For those of you worried about Followerwonk, it’s going to be okay. Better than okay. Our beloved “Work Dad” Marc Mims is now the proud father of Followerwonk! Marc’s dedication to the success of Followerwonk has never wavered over the many, many years he’s been building and maintaining it. We already miss his compassion, humor, and bike stories around the Mozplex. We wish him and Followerwonk the best! We bought that product because we loved it then; we love it even now. Sadly, though, it never quite fit with our mission as well as we’d hoped.

We created new programs to help people get the SEO help that’s right for them. We completely rebuilt our SEO Learning Center with fresh educational content. There’s a brand-new SEO podcast, MozPod, for you to check out.

We also began experimenting with and are now expanding SEO training workshops delivered by experts we trust and admire. I’m so excited about this because it’s a new way for Moz to have impact; it’s personal, live, interactive, and immediate in a way that most of our SEO education work can’t be. We won’t stop doing free, scalable education. It’s core to our beliefs. But it is fun to deliver custom, live training sessions in the mix too.

1340 Training registrations. Training programs offer live webinars taught by real SEO instructors.

5574 Walthroughs completed. Book your walkthrough to get 1:1 time with a Moz expert and learn how the tools can help you achieve your SEO goals.

Many of our accomplishments are behind the scenes, and will deliver long-term positive impact.

Our investments in retiring tech debt, improving monitoring, investing in our development platforms, and nurturing our engineering culture have resulted in the most stable and performant software in Moz history. Our hard work and ingenuity is paying off in resilient and performant software.

We’ve also rebuilt most of our customer stack: new Salesforce implementation, HubSpot launch, new internal data warehouse, new CMS (Craft), Segment.io, and more! Phew! That’s a lot! In Q1 2018, we started with Terminus for Account-Based Marketing, and partnered with third-party data vendors, like Full Contact, to supplement our data warehouse. These big changes are going to set us up really well for the years ahead. And we’ve got more internal tools launching soon!

Image: an animated gif of rockets boosting

We are on a roll with internal improvements and momentum.


Part 3: Customer metrics

You’ve really made the grade

We could ship and launch until our circuits go dead, but at the end of the day all our work is in service of meeting your needs.

Image: stats about community & customer numbers

Image: graph showing +9% increase in organic traffic to moz.com

We know you can hear us! You’re following us now more than ever before.

Image: stats about social media followers


Part 4: Financial performance

And the stars look very different today

Check out the infographic view of our data barf.

I’m proud of what we accomplished in 2017, especially considering the incredible amount of change in strategy and team structure. More revenue while spending less = magic! Also, the economic strength we’ve built will allow us to place some nice-sized bets this year. Boom!

We made $ 47.4 million in GAAP revenue in 2017, an increase of 11% from 2016.

$  47.4 million. 2017 revenue

We brought our over all expenses way down in 2017. Cost of Revenue increased slightly to $ 11.8 million. We reduced operating expenses aggressively. Curious on what we spend on, and trends? Check out this breakdown of our major expenses (OpEx and Cost of Revenue) as a percentage of annual revenue:

Image: Major expenses graphed for 2013 through 2017

We generated cash, positive EBITDA, and for the first time in recent Moz history, we were positive net income.

$  5.5 million EBITDA gain. EBIDTA is one of our superstar metrics at $  5.5 million, an 11.5% improvement!

$  1.5 million cash added. Did you say "cashflow positive?!" Yes. Yes we did.

That’s quite a turnaround from 2016, in which we closed the year negative EBITDA of $ 5.7 million! We flipped EBITDA! We have adopted a cash-flow-neutral-to-positive operating philosophy right now to be ready for some future investments. We may decide to go cash flow negative again to fund further growth.


Part 5: Inside Moz HQ

The papers want to know whose shirts you wear

So, who is behind the wheel here?

We ended 2017 with roughly the same number of Mozzers as we began. It was a conscious choice to remain approximately headcount neutral in 2017; we only opened up new positions after ensuring rigorous conversations took place around the business need for the role. This discipline is hard to live under, but we like the results. We’re working smarter, and getting more rigorous in our decision-making.

Let me be clear: WE ARE HIRING! These are just 5 of our currently open positions:

See more at our Careers page!

A graph: "Inside Moz HQ" detailing the number of Mozzers from 2007-2017. 2007 has 9 employees, 2017 has 150.

Here’s where we need YOU: Moz is committed to bringing more women into tech. There is a dire lack of diversity in the technology industry. This past year we added 6% more women to the company overall and 9% to engineering specifically. We must and will do better. We need more women in engineering and leadership roles here. Check out those jobs above and join the team!

Stats on women in tech roles at Moz

Moz partners with some fantastic organizations focused on getting more women into the tech pipeline. Ada Academy, Year Up, Ignite Worldwide, and Techbridge all encourage women and girls to pursue STEM careers early in their lives. Our newest partner, Unloop, enables people who have been in prison to develop skills and succeed in careers in tech. It is our responsibility to ensure that all people have opportunity and access to participate in STEM fields.

Generosity comes in many forms. One way in which we support the generosity of Mozzers is to match charitable donations to 501c3 organizations by 150%.

Moz Charitable Donation Match: $  65810 donated to charity. We have a generous 150% charity donation match program.

We also donated our space 35 times to various organizations in the community requesting to use the Mozplex as a venue for their meetups. Check our our event brochure and take a 360 tour of the Mozplex!

Mozzers also donate a ton of time to causes they are passionate about. We also offer a very discounted price for nonprofits that we’re happy many folks take advantage of. We’re passionate about communities and helping folks.

303 Coaching sessions in 2017

Moz partnered with Halo Partners to provide professional coaching to all employees. 54 Mozzers received coaching. 27 Mozzers used this benefit for the first time! I’m a huge believer in coaching and training. Beginner’s mind is how we grow and become the best versions of ourselves.

Through it all, we made sure to have some fun. Moz offers a Paid Paid Vacation benefit, reimbursing employees $ 3k per year in vacation costs. Yes, that’s right. You get your regular pay, plus another $ 3k a year to spend on your trip! It’s bonkers!

Paid, paid vacation: $  456,728.40. Paid vacation isn't enough. We also pay for Mozzers' airfare, hotels, yours, and food while they vacation.

Mozzers visited 6 of the 7 continents last year!

We also had 7 Mozling babies last year. Luv those babies.


Part 6: Into the future

I think my spaceship knows which way to go

2017 was a strengthening year for Moz. We went through a lot of change and made some important investments. Mozzers are dynamic, helpful, smart, and hardworking. They have a service orientation and build for the long term. The investments we made in 2017 will bear fruit in the years ahead. And we’re poised to make some ambitious moves in the coming months.

While I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, I believe we have higher mountains still to climb. We have had triumphs and tribulations, heartbreaks and happy dances. These many years later, the SEO industry is healthy, growing, and dynamic. Many organizations are still struggling with basic web presence, let alone thoughtful SEO strategy. Moz is still teensy-tiny compared to the opportunity. I believe the opportunity for SEO expertise is vast.

I want to close on a note of gratitude.

First, a bunch of folks helped pull together the metrics for our 2017 report, and I am deeply grateful for their help. This post is kind of a bear! Thank you Jess, Felicia, Christian, Kevin, Susan, Michael, Jeremy, and anyone else who pulled data and helped get this post off the ground!

Second, thank you to this community. It’s because of you that we are here. This community would be nothing if it wasn’t for your care, attention, and feedback. We will continue to work hard to make your work lives more enjoyable and successful. We want to be your favorite resource for doing great SEO. If we’re not there yet, trust that we will keep working to be. Thank you for the opportunity to serve.

Gratitude also to David Bowie for inspiring this post and so much more. We miss you. <3

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Year In Review: 6 Platform Changes That Shook Up Social Media Marketing in 2017

With 2018 on the horizon, we’re all in a state of reflection, looking back on all the good, the bad and the ugly 2017 brought us. When it comes to social media, it’s hard not to think about the latter two. With all the political turmoil and uptick in trolling, even Facebook recently admitted that its digging deep to turn the tide and bring well-being principles into the social experience.

But while there’s little doubt that 2017 surfaced new concerns and challenges in the social media space, there were some positive developments for everyday users and marketers alike. In this piece, we highlight some of those interesting and encouraging changes that occurred across platforms.

While this is certainly not a complete list, we think these are some changes that can be celebrated by marketers—as well as leveraged in 2018 and beyond.

#1 – Facebook continues its push to help users and brands tell Stories.

While Snapchat came on the scene in 2013, the platform began gaining major ground in 2016 as a formidable contender within the social media space, drawing younger audiences and causing Facebook to sit up, take notice and form an action plan.

While Snapchat’s main interface is totally unique, the one thing that could be cloned is its Stories feature—something that Facebook got to work on by first rolling out a similar feature on Instagram in the summer of 2016 and then in its own Messenger app shortly thereafter.

Facebook Stories Example

(Credit: Facebook)

But 2017 brought Facebook Stories to a new level. In early October, it was confirmed that Facebook was rolling out an option to syndicate Instagram Stories to Facebook Stories. Not long after, TechCrunch learned that Facebook Stories would soon be opened up to Pages, which would let brands, news publishers, athletes and nonprofits get in on all the fun. That full rollout to Pages appears to still be in the works, but its something marketers should be on the lookout for as they enter the new year.

#2 – LinkedIn implements lead gen forms on ads.

For B2B brands, there’s little doubt that LinkedIn can be an especially effective digital advertising platform with the right message, budget and targeting in place. And LinkedIn sweetened the pot earlier this year by adding a Lead Generation Forms option to its ad platform, allowing users to opt into your offer with just one click.

LinkedIn Lead Gen Forms Example

As TopRank Marketing’s own Steve Slater, Digital Advertising Manager, said in a post on the subject:

“Lead generation form ads encourage the impulse buy. With one click, you can gain access to prospect information in a way that required little time or effort on their end. The beauty of this approach for advertisers is that you can show your ads to the right audience and receive one click conversions.”

Of course, a few months after releasing the offering into the wild, LinkedIn has made some enhancement to the offering, including the ability to add custom questions to the forms, according to AdWeek. In addition, AdWeek said marketers have reported that using the lead gen forms have helped lower their average cost per lead by more than 20%—something that’s certainly worthy of your consideration as we head into 2018.

Read: Master LinkedIn’s New Lead Generation Forms in 10 Easy Steps

#3 – Instagram begins its rollout of the “paid partnership with” tag.

Influencer marketing is exploding right now, with brands of all sizes have forming both paid and unpaid partnerships with influencers—and using social platforms, especially Instagram, to spread their message.

In the spirit of enhanced transparency—and the added benefit of bringing even more credibility to your influencer marketing initiatives—Instagram rolled out a “paid partnership with” tag in June 2017 for posts and stories. Then, after a couple months of testing and data gathering, Instagram announced it would expand the tool.

“We have been closely working with a select group of creators and businesses throughout the Instagram community to test our new ‘Paid partnership with’ tag,” Instagram said in an update on Aug. 29. “And now, after months of gathering feedback from this test release, we’re excited to announce that access to this tool will be expanded to more of our partners across Instagram—with the global rollout being gradually released over the next few months.”

Read: What Brands Need to Know About Instagram’s New ‘Paid Partnership’ Feature

#4 – LinkedIn launches its own video capabilities.

As TopRank Marketing’s own Josh Nite so eloquently said:

“Video content is eating the internet. It started with video-specific platforms like YouTube and Vimeo. Then Twitter and Facebook added support for live and pre-recorded video. Now these insatiable moving pictures are becoming serious business: LinkedIn now supports native video.”

Yes. When LinkedIn rolled out native video capabilities this year, B2B marketers everywhere rejoiced at the prospect of being able to serve up live, raw video to a professional audience. While the new offering is still in its infancy, you can bet that LinkedIn will make investments in evolving the offering to make it even easier to use in the future.

#5 – Twitter doubles its character count.

Perhaps one of the biggest social media news items of 2017 was Twitter’s decision to expand its character limit from 140 to 280. The company had been toying with the idea of super sizing its limit for a while—with rumors circulating that the limit could go as high as 10,000 characters—but it began with removing photos and links from the count in mid-2016.

The official switch to a 280-character limit came in early November, giving users (and brands and marketers) more space to express themselves—while still staying as true as possible to its commitment to brevity.

Twitter Character Count

The good news for marketers? While it’s still early, some preliminary research indicates that tweets longer than 140 characters get more engagement. SocialFlow, a social media analytics company, reported that their latest data showed that people are liking and retweeting longer tweets almost two-times more than shorter ones.

However, remember, value and resonance are what hook your audience—not your character count. So, before your rewrite all of your tweeting best practices, do your due diligence through some testing, and data collection and analysis to determine what your audience really responds to.

Read: Will More Tweet Space Equal More Value for Your Twitter Audience?

#6 – Facebook refreshes poll feature to include GIFs.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the invention and rising use of GIFs has made the internet so much better. And, well, Facebook just took it all to the next level by refreshing its “old” polling feature to support GIFs.

The new feature made its debut in early November and it’s pretty simple. At the top of your News Feed, click on the “What’s on your mind” section and select the ellipsis to reveal all your options, including “Poll.” For pages, select the “Event, Products, Job+” option at the top of your page. Then ask your question in the top and then select your two options via an image upload or GIF search, and hit publish.

Facebook Polls with GIFs Example

From what we can tell, this new feature isn’t widely used yet, but could pack big engagement potential. After all, it allows you to combine multiple social media best practices into one post: visual imagery, a compelling and engaging question, and a spark of humor and personality.

What’s On the Horizon for 2018?

As the old adage goes, the only constant is change—and we can certainly expect that to hold true for the social media landscape in 2018 and beyond. Of course, some of the change we can expect is already in the works—especially for Instagram.

Rumor has it that Instagram is in the midst of testing several new features on its mobile app—including a “regram” button. A couple weeks ago, The Next Web broke the news that Instagram was “secretly” testing the new feature.

As any Instagram user knows, at this point the only way to share posts from other users’ accounts is through third-party tools, or to download and re-upload to their account. If this does come to fruition, this could mean big things for brands that want to foster engagement and connect with influencers.

Other features that are reportedly being tested include: GIF search (via Giphy) to add animated GIFS to Stories, the ability to follow specific hashtags (which would be a real win for marketers), and the ability to “archive” stories.

Of course, you can bet that Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and even YouTube to continuously looks for ways to engage users and support advertisers. In early 2018, TopRank Marketing will release our annual Social Media Marketing Predictions, featuring insights from industry experts and thought leaders—so stay tuned for that!

What change to a social media platform got you excited, annoyed or scared in 2017? Tell us in the comments section below.


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Fighting Review Spam: The Complete Guide for the Local Enterprise

Posted by MiriamEllis

It’s 105 degrees outside my office right now, and the only thing hotter in this summer of 2017 is the local SEO industry’s discussion of review spam. It’s become increasingly clear that major review sites represent an irresistible temptation to spammers, highlighting systemic platform weaknesses and the critical need for review monitoring that scales.

Just as every local brand, large and small, has had to adjust to the reality of reviews’ substantial impact on modern consumer behavior, competitive businesses must now prepare themselves to manage the facts of fraudulent sentiment. Equip your team and clients with this article, which will cover every aspect of review spam and includes a handy list for reporting fake reviews to major platforms.

What is review spam?

A false review is one that misrepresents either the relationship of the reviewer to the business, misrepresents the nature of the interaction the reviewer had with the business, or breaks a guideline. Examples:

  • The reviewer is actually a competitor of the business he is reviewing; he’s writing the review to hurt a competitor and help himself
  • The reviewer is actually the owner, an employee, or a marketer of the business he is reviewing; he’s falsifying a review to manipulate public opinion via fictitious positive sentiment
  • The reviewer never had a transaction with the business he is reviewing; he’s pretending he’s a customer in order to help/hurt the business
  • The reviewer had a transaction, but is lying about the details of it; he’s trying to hurt the company by misrepresenting facts for some gain of his own
  • The reviewer received an incentive to write the review, monetary or otherwise; his sentiment stems from a form of reward and is therefore biased
  • The reviewer violates any of the guidelines on the platform on which he’s writing his review; this could include personal attacks, hate speech or advertising

All of the above practices are forbidden by the major review platforms and should result in the review being reported and removed.

What isn’t review spam?

A review is not spam if:

  • It’s left directly by a genuine customer who experienced a transaction
  • It represents the facts of a transaction with reasonable, though subjective, accuracy
  • It adheres to the policies of the platform on which it’s published

Reviews that contain negative (but accurate) consumer sentiment shouldn’t be viewed as spam. For example, it may be embarrassing to a brand to see a consumer complain that an order was filled incorrectly, that an item was cold, that a tab was miscalculated or that a table was dirty, but if the customer is correctly cataloging his negative experience, then his review isn’t a misrepresentation.

There’s some inherent complexity here, as the brand and the consumer can differ widely in their beliefs about how satisfying a transaction may have been. A restaurant franchise may believe that its meals are priced fairly, but a consumer can label them as too expensive. Negative sentiment can be subjective, so unless the reviewer is deliberately misrepresenting facts and the business can prove it, it’s not useful to report this type of review as spam as it’s unlikely to be removed.

Why do individuals and businesses write spam reviews?

Unfortunately, the motives can be as unpleasant as they are multitudinous:

Blackmail/extortion

There’s the case of the diner who was filmed putting her own hair in her food in hopes of extorting a free meal under threat of negative reviews as a form of blackmail. And then there’s blackmail as a business model, as this unfortunate business reported to the GMB forum after being bulk-spammed with 1-star reviews and then contacted by the spammer with a demand for money to raise the ratings to 5-stars.

Revenge

The classic case is the former employee of a business venting his frustrations by posing as a customer to leave a highly negative review. There are also numerous instances of unhappy personal relationships leading to fake negative reviews of businesses.

Protest or punishment

Consumer sentiment may sometimes appear en masse as a form of protest against an individual or institution, as the US recently witnessed following the election of President Trump and the ensuing avalanche of spam reviews his various businesses received.

It should be noted here that attempting to shame a business with fake negative reviews can have the (likely undesirable) effect of rewarding it with high local rankings, based on the sheer number of reviews it receives. We saw this outcome in the infamous case of the dentist who made national news and received an onslaught of shaming reviews for killing a lion.

Finally, there is the toxic reviewer, a form of Internet troll who may be an actual customer but whose personality leads them to write abusive or libelous reviews as a matter of course. While these reviews should definitely be reported and removed if they fail to meet guidelines, discussion is open and ongoing in the local SEO industry as to how to manage the reality of consumers of this type.

Ranking manipulation

The total review count of a business (regardless of the sentiment the reviews contain) can positively impact Google’s local pack rankings or the internal rankings of certain review platforms. For the sake of boosting rankings, some businesses owners review themselves, tell their employees to review their employer, offer incentives to others in exchange for reviews, or even engage marketers to hook them up to a network of review spammers.

Public perception manipulation

This is a two-sided coin. A business can either positively review itself or negatively review its competitors in an effort to sway consumer perception. The latter is a particularly prevalent form of review spam, with the GMB forum overflowing with at least 10,000 discussions of this topic. Given that respected surveys indicate that 91% of consumers now read online reviews, 84% trust them as much as personal recommendations and 86% will hesitate to patronize a business with negative reviews, the motives for gaming online sentiment, either positively or negatively, are exceedingly strong.

Wages

Expert local SEO, Mike Blumenthal, is currently doing groundbreaking work uncovering a global review spam network that’s responsible for tens or hundreds of thousands of fake reviews. In this scenario, spammers are apparently employed to write reviews of businesses around the world depicting sets of transactions that not even the most jet-setting globetrotter could possibly have experienced. As Mike describes one such reviewer:

“She will, of course, be educated at the mortuary school in Illinois and will have visited a dentist in Austin after having reviewed four other dentists … Oh, and then she will have bought her engagement ring in Israel, and then searched out a private investigator in Kuru, Philippines eight months later to find her missing husband. And all of this has taken place in the period of a year, right?”

The scale of this network makes it clear that review spam has become big business.

Lack of awareness

Not all review spammers are dastardly characters. Some small-timers are only guilty of a lack of awareness of guidelines or a lack of foresight about the potential negative outcomes of fake reviews to their brand. I’ve sometimes heard small local business owners state they had their family review their newly-opened business to “get the ball rolling,” not realizing that they were breaking a guideline and not considering how embarrassing and costly it could prove if consumers or the platform catch on. In this scenario, I try to teach that faking success is not a viable business model — you have to earn it.

Lack of consequences

Unfortunately, some of the most visible and powerful review platforms have become enablers of the review spam industry due to a lack of guideline enforcement. When a platform fails to identify and remove fake reviews, either because of algorithmic weaknesses or insufficient support staffing, spammers are encouraged to run amok in an environment devoid of consequences. For unethical parties, no further justification for manipulating online sentiment is needed than that they can “get away with it.” Ironically, there are consequences to bear for lack of adequate policing, and until they fall on the spammer, they will fall on any platform whose content becomes labeled as untrustworthy in the eyes of consumers.

What is the scope of review spam?

No one knows for sure, but as we’ve seen, the playing field ranges from the single business owner having his family write a couple of reviews on Yelp to the global network employing staff to inundate Google with hundreds of thousands of fake reviews. And, we’ve see two sides to the review spam environment:

  1. People who write reviews to help themselves (in terms of positive rankings, perception, and earnings for themselves either directly from increased visibility or indirectly via extortion, and/or in terms of negative outcomes for competitors).
  2. People who write reviews to hurt others (for the sake of revenge with little or no consequence).

The unifying motive of all forms of review spam is manipulation, creating an unfair and untrustworthy playing field for consumers, enterprises and platforms alike. One Harvard study suggests that 20% of Yelp reviews are fake, but it would be up to the major review platforms to transparently publicize the total number of spam reviews they receive. Just the segment I’ve seen as an individual local SEO has convinced me that review spam has now become an industry, just like “black hat” SEO once did.

How to spot spam reviews

Here are some basic tips:

Strange patterns:

A reviewer’s profile indicates that they’ve been in too many geographic locations at once. Or, they have a habit of giving 1-star reviews to one business and 5-star reviews to its direct competitor. While neither is proof positive of spam, think of these as possible red flags.

Strange language:

Numerous 5-star reviews that fawn on the business owner by name (e.g. “Bill is the greatest man ever to walk the earth”) may be fishy. If adulation seems to be going overboard, pay attention.

Strange timing:

Over the course of a few weeks, a business skyrockets from zero reviews to 30, 50, or 100 of them. Unless an onslaught of sentiment stems from something major happening in the national news, chances are good the company has launched some kind of program. If you suspect spam, you’ll need to research whether the reviews seem natural or could be stemming from some form of compensation.

Strange numbers:

The sheer number of reviews a business has earned seems inconsistent with its geography or industry. Some business models (restaurants) legitimately earn hundreds of reviews each year on a given platform, but others (mortuaries) are unlikely to have the same pattern. If a competitor of yours has 5x as many reviews as seems normal for your geo-industry, it could be a first indicator of spam.

Strange “facts”:

None of your staff can recall that a transaction matching the description in a negative review ever took place, or a transaction can be remembered but the way the reviewer is presenting it is demonstrably false. Example: a guest claims you rudely refused to seat him, but your in-store cam proves that he simply chose not to wait in line like other patrons.

Obvious threats:

If any individual or entity threatens your company with a negative review to extort freebies or money from you, take it seriously and document everything you can.

Obvious guideline violations:

Virtually every major review platform prohibits profane, obscene, and hateful content. If your brand is victimized by this type of attack, definitely report it.

In a nutshell, the first step to spotting review spam is review monitoring. You’ll want to manually check direct competitors for peculiar patterns, and, more importantly, all local businesses must have a schedule for regularly checking their own incoming sentiment. For larger enterprises and multi-location business models, this process must be scaled to minimize manual workloads and cover all bases.

Scaling review management

On an average day, one Moz Local customer with 100 retail locations in the U.S. receives 20 reviews across the various platforms we track. Some are just ratings, but many feature text. Many are very positive. A few contain concerns or complaints that must be quickly addressed to protect reputation/budget by taking action to satisfy and retain an existing customer while proving responsiveness to the general consumer public. Some could turn out to be spam.

Over the course of an average week for this national brand, 100–120 such reviews will come in, totaling up to more than 400 pieces of customer feedback in a month that must be assessed for signs of success at specific locations or emerging quality control issues at others. Parse this out to a year’s time, and this company must be prepared to receive and manage close to 5,000 consumer inputs in the form of reviews and ratings, not just for positive and negative sentiment, but for the purposes of detecting spam.

Spam detection starts with awareness, which can only come from the ability to track and audit a large volume of reviews to identify some of the suspicious hallmarks we’ve covered above. At the multi-location or enterprise level, the solution to this lies in acquiring review monitoring software and putting it in the hands of a designated department or staffer. Using a product like Moz Local, monitoring and detection of questionable reviews can be scaled to meet the needs of even the largest brands.

What should your business do if it has been victimized by review spam?

Once you’ve become reasonably certain that a review or a body of reviews violates the guidelines of a specific platform, it’s time to act. The following list contains links to the policies of 7 dominant review platforms that are applicable to all industries, and also contains tips and links outlining reporting options:

Google

Policy: https://support.google.com/business/answer/2622994?hl=en

Review reporting tips

Flag the review by mousing over it, clicking the flag symbol that appears and then entering your email address and choosing a radio button. If you’re the owner, use the owner response function to mention that you’ve reported the review to Google for guideline violations. Then, contact GMB support via their Twitter account and/or post your case in the GMB forum to ask for additional help. Cross your fingers!

Yelp

Policy: https://www.yelp.com/guidelines

Review reporting tips

Yelp offers these guidelines for reporting reviews and also advises owners to respond to reviews that violate guidelines. Yelp takes review quality seriously and has set high standards other platforms might do well to follow, in terms of catching spammers and warning the public against bad actors.

Facebook

Policy: https://www.facebook.com/communitystandards

Review reporting tips

Here are Facebook’s instructions for reporting reviews that fail to meet community standards. Note that you can only report reviews with text — you can’t report solo ratings. Interestingly, you can turn off reviews on Facebook, but to do so out of fear would be to forego the considerable benefits they can provide.

Yellow Pages

Policy: https://www.yellowpages.com/about/legal/terms-conditions#user-generated-content

Review reporting tips

In 2016, YP.com began showing TripAdvisor reviews alongside internal reviews. If review spam stems from a YP review, click the “Flag” link in the lower right corner of the review and fill out the form to report your reasons for flagging. If the review spam stems from TripAdvisor, you’ll need to deal with them directly and read their extensive guidelines, TripAdvisor states that they screen reviews for quality purposes, but that fake reviews can slip through. If you’re the owner, you can report fraudulent reviews from the Management Center of your TripAdvisor dashboard. Click the “concerned about a review” link and fill out the form. If you’re simply a member of the public, you’ll need to sign into TripAdvisor and click the flag link next to the review to report a concern.

SuperPages

Policy: https://my.dexmedia.com/spportal/jsp/popups/businessprofile/reviewGuidelines.jsp

Review reporting tips

The policy I’ve linked to (from Dex Media, which owns SuperPages) is the best I can find. It’s reasonably thorough but somewhat broken. To report a fake review to SuperPages, you’ll need either a SuperPages or Facebook account. Then, click the “flag abuse” link associated with the review and fill out a short form.

CitySearch

Policy: http://www.citysearch.com/aboutcitysearch/about_us

Review reporting tips

If you receive a fake review on CitySearch, email customerservice@citygrid.com. In your email, link to the business that has received the spam review, include the date of the review and the name of the reviewer and then cite the guidelines you feel the review violates.

FourSquare

Policy: https://foursquare.com/legal/terms

Review reporting tips

The “Rules and Conduct” section I’ve linked to in Foursquare’s TOS outlines their content policy. Foursquare is a bit different in the language they use to describe tips/reviews. They offer these suggestions for reporting abusive tips.

*If you need to find the guidelines and reporting options for an industry-specific review platform like FindLaw or HealthGrades, Phil Rozek’s definitive list will be a good starting point for further research.

Review spam can feel like being stuck between a rock and a hard place

I feel a lot of empathy in this regard. Google, Facebook, Yelp, and other major review platforms have the visibility to drive massive traffic and revenue to your enterprise. That’s the positive side of this equation. But there’s another side — the uneasy side that I believe has its roots in entities like Google originating their local business index via aggregation from third party sources, rather than as a print YellowPages-style, opt-in program, and subsequently failing to adequately support the millions of brands it was then representing to the Internet public.

To this day, there are companies that are stunned to discover that their business is listed on 35 different websites, and being actively reviewed on 5 or 10 of them when the company took no action to initiate this. There’s an understandable feeling of a loss of control that can be particularly difficult for large brands, with their carefully planned quality structures, to adjust to.

This sense of powerlessness is further compounded when the business isn’t just being listed and discussed on platforms it doesn’t control, but is being spammed. I’ve seen business owners on Facebook declaring they’ve decided to disable reviews because they feel so victimized and unsupported after being inundated with suspicious 1-star ratings which Facebook won’t investigate or remove. By doing so, these companies are choosing to forego the considerable benefits reviews drive because meaningful processes for protecting the business aren’t yet available.

These troubling aspects of the highly visible world of reviews can leave owners feeling like they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. Their companies will be listed, will be reviewed, and may be spammed whether the brand actively participates or not, and they may or may not be able to get spam removed.

It’s not a reality from which any competitive enterprise can opt-out, so my best advice is to realize that it’s better to opt-in fully, with the understanding that some control is better than none. There are avenues for getting many spam reviews taken down, with the right information and a healthy dose of perseverance. Know, too, that every one of your competitors is in the same boat, riding a rising tide that will hopefully grow to the point of offering real-world support for managing consumer sentiment that impacts bottom-line revenue in such a very real way.

There ought to be a law

While legitimate negative reviews have legal protection under the Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016, fraudulent reviews are another matter.

Section 5(a) of the Federal Trade Communication Act states:

Unfair methods of competition in or affecting commerce, and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce, are hereby declared unlawful.”

Provisions like these are what allowed the FTC to successfully sue Sage Automotive Group for $ 3.6 million dollars for deceptive advertising practices and deceptive online reviews, but it’s important to note that this appears to be the first instance in which the FTC has involved themselves in bringing charges on the basis of fraudulent reviews. At this point, it’s simply not reasonable to expect the FTC to step in if your enterprise receives some suspicious reviews, unless your research should uncover a truly major case.

Lawsuits amongst platforms, brands, and consumers, however, are proliferating. Yelp has sued agencies and local businesses over the publication of fake reviews. Companies have sued their competitors over malicious, false sentiment, and they’ve sued their customers with allegations of the same.

Should your enterprise be targeted with spam reviews, some cases may be egregious enough to warrant legal action. In such instances, definitely don’t attempt to have the spam reviews removed by the host platform, as they could provide important evidence. Contact a lawyer before you take a step in any direction, and avoid using the owner response function to take verbal revenge on the person you believe has spammed you, as we now have a precedent in Dietz v. Perez for such cases being declared a draw.

In many scenarios, however, the business may not wish to become involved in a noisy court battle, and seeking removal can be a quieter way to address the problem.

Local enterprises, consumers, and marketers must advocate for themselves

According to one survey, 90% of consumers read less than 10 reviews before forming an opinion about a business. If some of those 10 reviews are the result of negative spam, the cost to the business is simply too high to ignore, and it’s imperative that owners hold not just spammers, but review platforms, accountable.

Local businesses, consumers, and marketers don’t own review sites, but they do have the power to advocate. A single business could persistently blog about spam it has documented. Multiple businesses could partner up to request a meeting with a specific platform to present pain points. Legitimate consumers could email or call their favorite platforms to explain that they don’t want their volunteer hours writing reviews to be wasted on a website that is failing to police its content. Marketers can thoughtfully raise these issues repeatedly at conferences attended by review platform reps. There is no cause to take an adversarial tone in this, but there is every need for squeaky wheels to highlight the costliness of spam to all parties, advocating for platforms to devote all possible resources to:

  • Increasing the sophistication of algorithmic spam detection
  • Increasing staffing for manual detection
  • Providing real-time support to businesses so that spam can be reported, evaluated and removed as quickly as possible

All of the above could begin to better address the reality of review spam. In the meantime, if your business is being targeted right now, I would suggest using every possible avenue to go public with the problem. Blog, use social media, report the issue on the platform’s forum if it has one. Do anything you can to bring maximum attention to the attack on your brand. I can’t promise results from persistence and publicity, but I’ve seen this method work enough times to recommend it.

Why review platforms must act aggressively to minimize spam

I’ve mentioned the empathy I feel for owners when it comes to review platforms, and I also feel empathy for the platforms, themselves. I’ve gotten the sense, sometimes, that different entities jumped into the review game and have been struggling to handle its emerging complexities as they’ve rolled out in real time. What is a fair and just policy? How can you best automate spam detection? How deeply should a platform be expected to wade into disputes between customers and brands?

With sincere respect for the big job review sites have on their hands, I think it’s important to state:

  • If brands and consumers didn’t exist, neither would review platforms. Businesses and reviewers should be viewed and treated as MVPs.
  • Platforms which fail to offer meaningful support options to business owners are not earning goodwill or a good reputation.
  • The relationship between local businesses and review platforms isn’t an entirely comfortable one. Increasing comfort could turn wary brands into beneficial advocates.
  • Platforms that allow themselves to become inundated with spam will lose consumers’ trust, and then advertisers’ trust. They won’t survive.

Every review platform has a major stake in this game, but, to be perfectly honest, some of them don’t act like it.

Google My Business Forum Top Contributor and expert Local SEO, Joy Hawkins, recently wrote an open letter to Google offering them four actionable tips for improving their handling of their massive review spam problem. It’s a great example of a marketer advocating for her industry, and, of interest, some of Joy’s best advice to Google is taken from Yelp’s own playbook. Yelp may be doing the best of all platforms in combating spam, in that they have very strong filters and place public warnings on the profiles of suspicious reviewers and brands.

What Joy Hawkins, Mike Blumenthal, other industry experts, and local business owners seem to be saying to review platforms could be summed up like this:

“We recognize the power of reviews and appreciate the benefits they provide, but a responsibility comes with setting your platform up as a hub of reputation for millions of businesses. Don’t see spammed reputations as acceptable losses — they represent the livelihoods of real people. If you’re going to trade responsibly in representing us, you’ve got to back your product up with adequate quality controls and adequate support. A fair and trustworthy environment is better for us, better for consumers and better for you.”

Key takeaways for taking control of review spam

  • All local enterprises need to know that review spam is a real problem
  • Its scope ranges from individual spammers to global networks
  • Enterprises must monitor all incoming reviews, and scale this with software where necessary
  • Designated staff must be on the lookout for suspicious patterns
  • All major review platforms have some form of support for reporting spam reviews, but its not always adequate and may not lead to removal
  • Because of this, brands must advocate for better support from review platforms
  • Review platforms need to listen and act, because their stake in game is real

Being the subject of a review spam attack can be a stressful event that I wish no brand ever had to face, but it’s my hope that this article has empowered you to meet a possible challenge with complete information and a smart plan of action.

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Link campaigns: Strategy development and review

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Diagramming the Story of a 1-Star Review

Posted by MiriamEllis

Researchers estimate that it’s up to 25 times more expensive for a company to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one, making ongoing investments in consumer satisfaction a priority. There’s nothing more disheartening to a local business owner than receiving a very negative review — and given that as little as 13% of consumers will patronize a business with a 1- or 2-star rating, there may be nothing more important than the owner taking every possible step to resolve negative reviews with speed and skill.

Negative reviews don’t write themselves. While looking at restaurant reviews recently, I came across an owner-consumer interaction that perfectly encapsulates the typical steps that take a transaction from bad to worse. It serves as a diagram of how these costly scenarios begin, proceed, and escalate, ultimately resulting in permanent damage to the company’s reputation.

The blame isn’t one-sided, and my goal here isn’t to make the customer or the owner out to be “the villain.” Rather, I’d like to point out key elements that actually worsen the situation, rather than improving it. Both owners and consumers sincerely want to feel satisfied, and the good news is that, in most cases, the only thing standing in the way of this is responsible communication.

Let’s take a look!

Image courtesy of Blake Patterson on Flickr.


The key to the “Food Truck Fiasco”

This story begins at a family-owned Philly Cheesesteak food truck that signed up to be a concession at a festival in the Southwest. One customer describes what happened on the day of the event this way, with my interpretation to the right:

Key to Review

Grabbed “The Storm” (cheesesteak with green chiles) for $ 9 when they were parked outside the bike and brew festival. Customer sets the scene for his story.
The woman told us it would take 20 minutes, but when we arrived back it took at least an additional 15 minutes to get our food. I’m sorry, but 45 minutes wait for a sandwich simply isn’t acceptable. The sandwich was super small for the price, I could’ve eaten 3 of these things easy and I’m not a big person. I expect more for a $ 9 sandwich The legitimate complaint in wait time, improper expectations being set, food portions, and pricing.

These are honest grievances.

from a crappy concession trailer with zero overhead. The revenge. Customer vents his disappointment with cutting, dismissive language. He insults the business.
EDIT: Like several other Yelpers, I had originally rated them higher, but reduced my rating after I received a nasty email from the owner shaming me for my feedback. Seriously, that is how you treat customers after making them wait 45 minutes for a super overpriced sandwich? If you can’t handle honest feedback, then you should probably find another line of work. Keep it classy, [name removed]. The worst possible outcome: owner’s response leads to consumer editing his original review to dock stars and complain of a second bad interaction with the business.

The customer is permanently lost, and the world is informed.

The customer’s complaints are certainly understandable: he was honestly disappointed that it took so long for his food to be ready and then felt the portions were overpriced. It didn’t help matters that the staff over-promised and under-delivered in estimating the wait time. Up until this point, the consumer is blameless. But then he makes two mistakes:

  1. He makes no mention of voicing his complaints to the owner or staff in-person, at the time of service.
    Upon receiving his small sandwich after 45 minutes of waiting, it would have taken him just one minute more to say, “I really want to speak the owner about this. I’m not happy with what just happened.” It’s the customer’s responsibility to speak up on his own behalf — to the let the owner know there is a problem for him to resolve.
  2. Having failed to take on the responsibility of voicing his complaints directly to the owner at the time of service, the customer then vents his feelings to the world in the form of a negative review.
    Not only this, but his remarks about a “crappy concession trailer” are mean-spirited, showing zero respect for the reality that this is, in fact, another human being’s livelihood. Being dismissive of someone’s job is uncivil, snobbish, rude, etc. Using language like this is unlikely to make friends, and is unlikely to bring out the best in the owner whom he is now, in fact, goading and insulting.

Regardless of the customer’s tone, the owner’s job is to be professional at all times. I’ve seen adept business owners handle even the rudest customers with a skill that leaves me in awe, but in this case, the owner of the food truck went down the worst possible road. Far from remedying the initial negative review, the owner’s response brought the customer back with further negativity, including taking off stars. Here’s how the owner responded (Eds. note: original spelling and grammar intact), with my interpretation on the right:

Owner’s Response

Key to Owner’s Response

5/23/2016 I’d have to say, I’m shocked and appalled at this “customers” behavior. However, if you look at his profile…it is really not all that shocking. Many businesses have felt the wrath of this poor shmuck. And just so everything is clear and on the table…I’m copying and pasting our so called “nasty” email we sent him. You can be the judge: Calling your customer names and trying to shame him is the worst possible way to begin an owner response.
Hello,

I am one of the owners of [business name removed]…along with my wife and father in-law. I just wanted to take a minute to help you understand the impact of your publicly posted criticisms.

The owner’s job is to apologize, not to correct or instruct the customer.
First, you should understand that we are an 8 by 16 truck that was inundated with 100′s of orders all at once. Simply put, we did the best we could to get your sandwich out as fast as possible. With the space we have, grill size, etc…we can only do so much. It is not the customer’s job to be understanding about the business’s limitations or problems. He expects to receive service. That is all.
We tried to be as honest and as accurate as possible with regards to wait time.

As for the quality, we certainly want our customers to enjoy our food. This is why we cook to order, and try to maintain a level of freshness that other trucks may not. Given that you didn’t like it, we would have preferred to have a chance to make the situation whole. However, you clearly chose not to afford us that opportunity.

An explanation of the business’s goal to provide quality product is good, but the real gem here is the owner’s pain that the customer didn’t complain in person.

This is the owner’s honest disappointment.

In regards to “no overhead.” Well, that’s just so far from accurate it made our heads spin. Perhaps consider: food costs (certified angus beef is not cheap), labor for our employee, propane, the generator rental fee ($ 200), the city temp license fee, the fire inspection fee, fees to do the event itself, the gas to tow and run the gene, water….I could go on, but hopefully you get the point. The customer may be ignorant of how the business operates, but this is not the time to explain its costs. You haven’t yet earned the customer’s friendship or empathy.

He’s going to walk for lack of an apology.

Lastly, on a more personal level, you should understand that we worked two 14 hour days for this event. We have a 10 month old son that was at his grandparents, suffered from great separation anxiety, a cried himself to sleep both nights. We finished cleaning at 1 am this morning only to wake up no your negative review about our “crappy food truck.” This is completely over the top. Customers do not want to hear about crying babies. They are paying for service, not sob stories.

At the same time, the owner admits he’s stung by rude language. This is real.

Overall, my ultimate goal with this note, is to help you better understand the impact of your words. And to understand that we are hard working people, who genuinely care about our business. When you are unhappy with a level of service, please, by all means, contact them privately and at least give them the opportunity to make the situation right. Criticizing them publicly gives them absolutely no chance to do that, creates a lasting stain on their hard work, and potentially takes food out of their children mouths. Had you contacted us, we would have offered you a free meal at our regular location or refunded your money. The closing sums up how wrong and how right this owner’s mindset is.

He is totally wrong to believe the purpose of an owner response is to correct his customers.

But, he’s totally right that the lack of opportunity to respond well to an in-person complaint is a major pain point for his business, and millions of other businesses, too.

Reading between the lines of the owner’s response, a picture emerges of a business that underestimated how busy it would be at an event and did not have adequate cooking facilities or staff to fulfill orders within a normal timeframe. This was the initial mistake that set the stage for all that transpired. Unfortunately, the owner then worsened the scenario by making the following additional mistakes:

  1. He confused his business with himself.
    Learning not to take business criticism personally is Reputation Management 101 for all owners and staff, and it can be the hardest instinctive mindset for anyone to overcome. If you’ve put your heart into your business, it is genuinely challenging not to view criticism as a personal attack … but you mustn’t get stuck there. You’re offering goods and services; paying customers expect to receive them. Business is transactional, not personal, and the customer is not signing up to hear about your fatigue or family problems. All this customer wanted was the sandwich he ordered. This is not personal.
  2. He refused to accept responsibility for the customer’s bad experience.
    The response penned by the owner is not an admission that the customer’s legitimate dissatisfaction stemmed from poor planning or poor execution on the part of the business. The owner refuses to say, “My fault, I’m sorry.”
  3. He failed to see the owner response function as his last chance to save a bad situation.
    He views it as a place to justify himself by correcting the customer’s attitude, expectations, and sentiments. Once the negative review has already been published, the owner response function is likely the only life preserver left.

    Given the costliness of replacing a lost customer and the way a negative review can cost a company future business, the owner response field is not a platform for a lecture; it’s a platform for making the greatest possible effort to make amends.

  4. Finally, the owner devolved into personal insults, betraying a fundamental lack of professionalism.
    A business is professional. A customer is just a person. Even if your customer cannot utter a single sentence without using colorful expletives, professionals are meant to be trained to communicate in business-appropriate language at all times. What this owner has done is to reveal to the whole world that he refers to his customers in insulting terms if they have a complaint. Once anyone reads that, they know not to expect empathy if they encounter a problem with the business.

Perhaps the most powerful element of the owner response function is that it is not just for a single customer to read, but for all future customers to read. Respond well, and you may not only win a second chance with the customer, but also prove to all future potential customers that they will be treated with respect, empathy, and fairness by your company.


Crafting a powerful owner response

If the food truck owner were my client, this is a sample of how I would have helped him respond, with my key on the right:

Owner’s Response

Key to Owner’s Response

Dear Jim,

I hope you can find it in your heart to accept my apology for the poor experience you had on the day of the event. This was totally my fault.

Greet customer personally, if possible, and begin with a sincere apology. Take responsibility for your business, as its owner.

I underestimated how swamped we would be and would have hired extra staff for the day if I’d realized 10,000 people were attending. This was our first time doing this event, and my failure to correctly predict the number of orders we’d be filling is what led to you waiting 45 minutes for your sandwich.

I feel really bad thinking of you having to stand around waiting for your lunch when there was so much else to do at the festival. We make each sandwich fresh to order and my staff simply got inundated.

Where possible, explain how the mistake happened.

Validate the customer’s experience by expressing empathy for their situation.

Be accountable for any errors.

I wish you’d had the chance to talk to me about this in person at the time, but I realize it may have been too hectic to reach out to me that day. I would gladly have given you a full refund or a free cheesesteak to try to make up for the inconvenience.

Please, accept this as my invitation to stop by our regular location at 123 Main St. for a cheesesteak on me, where I promise you’ll receive within our normal 10-minute timeframe.

If you come, I’d really appreciate you taking a minute to let me know, in person, anything else you feel we can do to improve our food or service. This is our family business and we are so invested in serving our community well.

Encourage all readers to believe that, if a problem occurs, you would love to have them speak directly to you or staff about it right at the time of service.

Since the presence of the negative review means an in-person complaint likely never happened, offer an appropriate means of atonement and a guarantee of a better experience, if the customer will give you a second chance.

Again, please accept my apology, Jim, and please give me a chance to make it right.

Thank you,

Bill Williams
Owner, Philly Cheesesteak Truck

Close with a repeated expression of your sincere regret, your offer to make things right, and an identification of yourself as the owner of the business.

Contrast the owner’s real response with this sample suggested response, and you are likely to come away with a completely different, more positive impression of the business. A few quick suggestions for coming across well:

  • Keep length reasonable; don’t write a novel
  • Beware of sounding like you’re on your high horse; use common, neighborly language
  • Make sure you’ve apologized
  • Where appropriate, explain what went wrong and describe any steps you’ve taken to correct an issue
  • Extend your offer of something nice to try to make it better
  • Welcome further feedback; it could lead to the reviewer updating their review with positive sentiment

Those are quick tips that should immediately help you to improve your reputation in the eyes of all who read your owner responses. Ready to dig deeper into developing a powerful, permanent mindset for all future tough transactions? Read on.


3 empowering tactics for better reputation management

Every business encounters criticism. Meet this reality better prepared with these three tips:

1. In business, we wear the mask.

When your spouse tells you’re inattentive, when your friend points out that you chew with your mouth open, when your children berate you for not letting them adopt another dog, it’s personal. It’s your privilege to respond with tears, embarrassment, a lecture, or whatever you feel you need to express at that moment, reacting to personal criticism in your private life.

In business, it’s different. In a civil society, and particularly in a business setting, it’s simple reality that we tend to suppress strong reactions and strong words for the sake of professionalism.

If you feel the color rising to your face when a customer insinuates that you actually founded your whole company for the purpose of ripping him off for $ 9.99, try picturing in your mind the image of the most serene, inscrutable face of a statue you’ve ever seen. Perhaps it’s the face of the Buddha, or a classical Greek god, or a Tlingit totem being. Imagine donning that mask, like a zone of safety, between the disgruntled customer’s business complaint and your personal life. It’s cooler behind the mask and you can respond to almost any commercial criticism, knowing your personal feelings are completely safe behind the barrier you’ve established.

2. Muster empathy to integrate as much of yourself into the interaction as you feel comfortable with.

Now that you’ve tried on the mask, and you’ve got your worries, your insecurities, loves, family, and everything else personal safely behind its barrier, see how much of yourself you feel safe putting outside the mask for the world to see.

Your life may feel too divided if your business and personal worlds are kept 100% separate, and you may not be able to pour the full passion of your heart and intellect into the business you are building if you have to be a statue at all times. Some customers may be so irrational in their expectations or conduct that the only way to manage them is with a marble coolness or a wooden face, but hopefully that will be the exception. For most customers, this technique will help you integrate your genuine human feelings into a situation in which distress is being expressed.

Picture a person you not only really love, but also of whom you feel protective. For just a moment, substitute that special person for the complaining customer. Imagine that it is your grandmother who had to wait in line for 45 minutes (she might have gotten heat stroke), or your nephew who was still hungry after being overcharged for lunch (he’s had trouble getting up to a healthy weight), or your spouse who was treated rudely (how dare someone disrespect him/her), or your friend whose product broke after a week of use (she can’t afford to replace it). Suddenly, that customer is transformed from an unknown complainer into an important person who deserves fair, empathetic treatment.

Integrate as much of the empathy you’d feel for a friend or relative as you can for the customer. The health of your local business, and your good feelings about the way you conduct it, depend upon turning as many unknown neighbors as you can into loyal customers and, hopefully, friends.

3. Master catching complaints before they become negative reviews.

It may seem counterintuitive to want to receive as many complaints as possible, but when you consider that they are your best safeguard against the publication of negative reviews, making your business complaint-friendly is incredibly smart! Implement these tips:

  • Install visible in-store signage detailing options for requesting help with a complaint. Wall signs, window signs, signs on counters, tables, menus, aisles, print materials, and company vehicles can all alert customers to complaint-receptivity.
  • Signage can include a complaint hotline text message number and phone number, both of which should be regularly monitored for activity.
  • One recent survey found that 57% of consumer complaints revolve around poor customer service/employee behavior. This means that the quality of your hiring and training practices are the key to ensuring satisfaction. Go one further. Be sure all staff are trained to resolve complaints or escalate them through a defined hierarchy (manager, owner, etc.).
  • Instruct all staff who deal with the public to invite complaints with clear language, like “Was there anything you couldn’t find, anything we can do better, etc.?”
  • Be sure your website is mobile-friendly and includes a visible complaint form.
  • Gather emails at the time of service and email customers shortly thereafter to request feedback, both positive and negative. Follow up quickly on any negative experiences and make every effort to remedy them.
  • Assign a staff member for each store who regularly checks popular social media sites for mentions of your business and who is empowered to reach out any time negative sentiment appears.
  • Document all complaints, identify patterns, and implement solutions. Your complaint document will be an absolute goldmine for resolving common problems before future customers experience them.
  • Consider purchasing paid products that help you analyze your social media opportunities and manage your reputation. Followerwonk and GetFiveStars are good places to start. Don’t leave things up to chance — know your stats and actively control the conversation that’s happening about your business! Be as connected and engaged with your consumers as you possibly can.

Speaking of GetFiveStars, I highly recommend taking the time to read the series of articles they’ve been publishing regarding the subject of consumer complaints, including some really insightful surveys. My favorite tip from co-founder Mike Blumenthal is this one:

Make a complainer feel like your most valued customer because, in some ways, they are.”


Happier endings for everybody

The art of customer service is one you’ll be training yourself and your staff in for as long as you serve the public. Even if you’ve made every effort to catch complaints on the spot, no method is foolproof and every business is almost guaranteed to have to deal with a negative review here and there.

Some customers will not speak up for themselves, even when expressly invited to do so, because they are shy, dread confrontation, or are so accustomed to being treated poorly that they don’t believe their voice will be genuinely heard. They may utilize online reviews as substitute for having to “make a fuss” in person about their dissatisfaction.

Then there are those truly awful customers no business can avoid. They may have entitlement issues, unrealistic expectations, unpleasant personalities, or even have made it a life practice to throw tantrums in hopes of receiving free stuff. They may utilize online reviews as a place to spew rude language and invent false accusations because they have personal problems.

No business is immune to either type of customer, but if you plot out your company’s reputation management course, you can weather most storms and end up looking like one smooth sailor! Your plan might look something like this timeline:

onestar5.jpg

I continue to be amazed at how many negative reviews slip through and sit unanswered on major review platforms, raising doubts in potential customers’ minds and giving a neglectful impression of the business.

With the right mindset that delineates comfortable boundaries between your personal and business worlds, cultivation of empathy, a clear plan, and concentrated devotion to staff training, no business need suffer dread of negative feedback, and can, in fact, view it as a powerful resource for making meaningful improvements pre-guaranteed to resolve existing issues. And when those negative reviews do squeak through your process, a beautiful, professional response can write a happy ending, just like this one:

onestar4.jpg

*Review star screenshots used in this post from Yelp.

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