Loved and loathed in equal measure, online reviews can be highly valuable for a brand in one moment and little more than a headache the next. So should marketers really worry about online reviews? In an age obsessed with customer experience, how can marketers integrate insights from online reviews into strategy?
Why marketers love to loath online reviews
Marketers have a complicated relationship with online reviews.
On the one hand, positive reviews can act as an extremely valuable vehicle for promoting your brand and its offering. A few weeks ago we wrote about how this earned content can often be the most effective and authentic method of creating engagement, and one which is a wide reaching, low cost form of promotion ideal for the social media influencer age in which we live.
Yet despite the potential for positivity and word-of-mouth-style exposure, one of the most obvious problems that online reviews present for marketers is the difficulty of owning the conversation. For many this inability to control what is said about your brand, its reliance on the good will of customers and its potential to descend into a forum for grievances make the prospect of dealing with online reviews difficult. As a result, many brands simply choose to side-line the discussion taking place on such forums and do not see it as a valuable place from which to draw insights.
So how should marketers deal with online reviews and ensure they are a positive part of strategy, as opposed to simply a burden to be crisis-managed?
Reviews matter, and you should be owning the conversation
Whatever your feelings on online reviews, there is little doubt that customers themselves see them as a primary source of research when making a purchasing decision. A recent article by Business2Community pointed to a consumer survey report by SEO analytics organisation BrightLocal, which found that ‘84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.’
It was also found that ‘90% of consumers read less than 10 reviews before forming an opinion about a business.’ With such importance attributed to so few reviews, marketers are faced with the reality that no matter how much paid or owned content is put out into the sphere, perceptions of your brand could already be cemented by the time you reach your target demographic.
With such insights only looking set to increase in the coming year, marketers cannot simply ignore the impact of online reviews. Taking ownership of this conversation is vital if marketers want to direct and manage their brand image, and this can be done in a number of ways:
Authority and social proof
The strengths of online reviews in the eyes of the consumer are twofold: they are authentic, and they are interactive. In order to carve out space for the brand voice, interaction with what is said about your brand is crucial. This is true of both positive and negative comments, as it allows organisations to manage their relationship with the customer and address any negative images constructively.
Forbes recently wrote that two of the most important tools for digital marketing in 2017 will be social proof and building authority. It is argued that ‘brand authority naturally persuades customers, providing a secure feeling for your product or services [by] catering to human emotions.’
Forbes also noted that social proof is just as important in order to show rather than tell consumers how to best benefit from your offering. Forbes said ‘find[ing] your best customers and develop[ing] case studies about their success and how you helped them achieve that success’ can be extremely effective in allowing you to take ownership of your image.
Fight the fake
In an age of fake news, alternative facts and post-truth (which was named Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2016), fighting the fake has risen high on the public agenda. This is also true in the arena of online reviews, which often suffer from fake reviews, both positive and negative, that try to impact perceptions of a brand.
Marketing Tech recently argued that more should be done to address these fake online reviews, and that doing so would increase the trust of both marketers and customers in their authenticity.
The article noted that ‘when it comes to regulating the consumer reviews space, the industry needs to continue to embrace the benefits of showcasing honest, real and verified reviews, but work harder to combat fake reviews.’ Marketing Tech argues that although the technology already exists to improve the processes surrounding online reviews, marketers need to participate in the struggle in order to stamp out the damaging practice.
What is clear is that whatever the struggles of managing and interacting with online reviews, their value in the mind of the consumer means marketers have little option but to learn to love them, and to own the conversation surrounding their brand.