“Trust, but verify” — a phrase often repeated by President Ronald Reagan — is arguably more applicable to modern business reputation than in the context of nuclear disarmament. For your potential customers, this axiom manifests through checking and writing online reviews. Reviews can even become weapons, as seen in the case of Rocket Express Car Wash last year. A rejected job applicant created numerous fake online identities and crafted a fictional narrative in an attempt to discredit the business permanently.
Business owners need to be aware of “disinhibition effect” that happens when people go online. Given an audience, a perception of anonymity and a lack of direct feedback, a person online tends to act differently than they would in person — on a scale from benign to toxic.
A customer in a restaurant may seem nonchalant that their steak was cooked medium well instead of medium, but behind the safety of a screen, that experience could evolve into a vicious one-star rant.
Google reviews are arguably the most important due simply to the fact that most users will be using the search engine and will see their reviews first, but Facebook, Yelp, the Better Business Bureau and industry-specific reviewers also play into that first-glance impression. Almost all of these “secondary” review sites are aggregated by Google and displayed as the familiar numbers-and-stars ratings right next to the search listing.
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Because of this, most users will be making instant decisions the moment they run their first search. That means that many of your potential customers won’t even read the text associated with the reviews — they’ll just take that initial impression and run with it.
The worst thing a business can do is to stay silent online regarding its reviews and reputation. Regularly engaging with customers through social media and through direct replies to reviews creates a perception of presence for your business. It gives your business a voice and allows you to better control your brand’s reputation online. There is no excuse for silence in response to any review, positive or negative.
Take reviews seriously, and take an active role in your business’s voice online. Respond to reviews, keep your customers regularly engaged on social media and control your own online narrative. No amount of advertising can be more powerful than what can be gleaned from a two-second glance at a Google search.
Neal Custer is president of Reveal Digital Forensics & Security and an adjunct professor at Boise State University. firstname.lastname@example.org.