Consumers today find online reviews more useful than traditional ads, direct marketing messages -- even social media signals (e.g. likes and followers). Why? Because reviews provide a way to determine whether a local business is good or not, based on the opinions of those who've been there, done that.
If you want to be more visible to your audience, focus on generating more reviews.
Indeed, getting your happiest customers to talk about your business on review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor can build buzz more effectively than a viral YouTube video or an artsy Instagram pic. It can strengthen your online reputation, foster loyalty and help you attract new customers.
Generating new reviews can be tricky, though. It’s not a straightforward point-and-click strategy like setting up Facebook ads or distributing a press release to online news wires. Asking or encouraging customers to post online reviews of your business requires you to be creative. Here are some suggestions to help you get started:
1. Promote your presence on review sites -- online
You can add Yelp or TripAdvisor widgets to your website, blog and social media pages. Or if you’re fussy about the aesthetics of your Web design, you can just add a simple one-liner (“Tell us what you think,” “Would you recommend us to your friends?”) along with a link to your review site business page.
The key is to raise awareness and communicate to customers that you can’t wait to hear what they think.
2. Promote your presence on review sites -- offline
Sites like Yelp, Foursquare and TripAdvisor let listed business owners request or print collaterals like stickers, window clings, certificates, what-have-you.
Take advantage and place these prominently on your business location. Other places where you can encourage customers to check out your review site pages and leave reviews include business cards, brochures, printed receipts and even employee buttons.
3. Add links to your e-mails
Sending out newsletters? Add a review request link that recipients can click to post a review of your business on a site of your choice. Or if you don’t want to seem too pushy, add some simple text to your e-mail signature such as, “Check us out on Yelp” or “Visit our Google+ page and tell us your opinion.”
4. Increase social engagement
This works well if you've built a strong community on networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Make it easy for customers by adding a link to the review page where you want them to go.
5. Create special check-in / walk-in offers
People love pleasant surprises, so cook up one of your own to influence those who are nearby. During low season, give a random guest a free room upgrade. Or offer a free dessert or discount to customers who check in using Swarm, Yelp or Facebook. Identify the most crucial customer touchpoints and make them special and unforgettable. Before you know it, customers will be writing reviews about how their visit to your business was super awesome.
6. Use review request tools
Several e-mail marketing providers offer tools for creating customizable e-mail templates, and industry-specific review sites have similar offerings: Edmunds has Review Accelerator, for example, and TripAdvisor has Review Express.
7. Try gamification
Including the basic mechanics of play -- like social interactivity, friendly competition or raffle draws -- in your digital marketing efforts can be an effective way to generate positive reviews. For example, you can hand out monthly giveaways to a random reviewer or to anyone who leaves the funniest review. The key is to offer a small incentive to customers who take the time to write reviews, regardless of whether it’s a positive or a negative one.
8. Improve your Wi-Fi and phone service
Instant Internet access encourages customers to check in, geo-tag their posts, post online reviews and start socially-driven conversations about your business. But so many businesses have been given a one-star rating for spotty Wi-Fi or crappy customer phone service. By making a minimal investment to improve the quality of services and facilities like these, you make it harder for customers to give you a bad review.
Don’t let fears of a one-star rating stop you from embracing online reviews as a marketing tool. By encouraging customers to share their opinions online, you can demonstrate that your business is the kind that values customer feedback, and that you’re confident in the excellent quality of products and services you offer.