Online Reviews: An Introduction

Last year, I packed up my family and moved us to a new apartment, a process I liken to having a root canal, only with less sitting, fewer painkillers and far more cursing. I hired movers for the job, and was pretty impressed with their humor, chill attitude, and the fact that one of the guys kept right on working despite needing to bandage a wound on his palm with paper towel and duct tape.

Yes, I tipped, but then they told me that if I was really happy to give them a review on Facebook. This was a first for me, but it made sense. This was a Maine micro business at its core, just starting out. Online reviews were pretty critical in generating good word-of-mouth.

Making your own business available to online reviews is a double-edged sword. The folks at Yelp acknowledge this on their guidelines for responding to reviews: “Negative reviews can feel like a punch in the gut. We care deeply about our business too, and it hurts when someone says bad things about our business. For you founders and sole proprietors out there, a negative review can even feel like a personal attack.”

Sometimes a business can do everything right, but there may be no pleasing a customer who has had a terrible day, perhaps because he’s just spent the entire week DRIVING AROUND A MOVING VAN THAT GETS 5 MILES TO THE GALLON AND WOULD IT HAVE KILLED YOU TO INCLUDE THE EXTRA SAUCE IN HIS TAKE OUT ORDER LIKE HE ASKED?!?! ONE STAR!!!!!!!!

Sorry about that flashback.

The point being, is it worth buying into online ads? Yes, but it takes courage.

Unlike traditional print reviews written by critics, online reviews keep coming, and coming and coming, so long as internet-savvy folks keep using your products or services. The advantage of this is that each day is another day to get it right, to improve your weaknesses and build upon your strengths. Here are a few more popular choices to get you started in this brave new world:

Yelp is enormously popular, having garnered more than 115 million reviews last year. Making money off ad revenue, Yelp is free for both the business itself and for consumers. Seemingly everything — from local restaurants to doctors, from prisons to showgirl supply stores — gets reviewed through their website or mobile app.

The company uses an algorithm to  weed out fake reviews or reviews written by owners about their own businesses. Yelp’s relations with small businesses hasn’t always been rosy, as owners have complained that the algorithm weeds out positive review and leaves negative ones. Yelp admits its algorithm isn’t perfect, but the company has become so ubiquitous, so popular since its 2004 founding that utilizing Yelp makes still makes sense.

Facebook reviews are a pretty organic extension of your existing business’s page. And it makes all the sense in the world to utilize this free service. As we’ve noted before, 79 percent of American adults who use the Internet use Facebook.

Like Yelp, you can respond to reviews positive and negative. Search Engine Journal also notes that Facebook reviews will be giving Yelp a run for its money, in part, because Facebook is already integral to our everyday lives: “Facebook is a platform that nearly everyone uses on a daily basis. We use it to document our lives, connect with friends through Messenger and check into businesses. It’s the one-stop shop for us to get everything we need to get done, from collecting information about our friends, finding news and stories to read and to watch cat videos.”

Google, like Facebook, is seemingly everywhere. Similarly, it only makes sense to integrate product and service reviews with the search engine giant, especially considering how powerful and important Google Maps has become for finding, well, anything.

Our theme for February is “Loving Your Favorite Businesses Online.” Leaving a review, whether on Yelp, Facebook, Google, or elsewhere, is one way to give a business a boost. Stay tuned for other ways you can share the love this month!

How ‘Checking In’ Works

I saw one of my Facebook friends ask people to check into her business on Facebook and Twitter.

I slapped my forehead because she can’t actually can’t track that unless she’s clairvoyant. (And if you are clairvoyant, by all means close your business and make a ton of money on that skill!)

Having people ‘check in’ on social media allows for several things, including increased visibility for your business on social media and an incentive for people to physically come in to your place of business.

If you are encouraging this behavior (and offering people something to do it), it’s important to understand how it works.

I joke with people that the opposite of what I want people to do is come into the Breaking Even office so I don’t go out of my way to promote in this way. That said, I have some advice that might help those of you who want to encourage this behavior.

1) Encourage people to check in and show someone at that moment for a reward.

If you want people to check into your business (on Yelp, Foursquare, or Facebook… or all three), have them do the checkin on their smartphone and show it to a cashier. (A simple sign at your business can accomplish letting people know they can do this).

Then the cashier can give them something: a chocolate, a pen, some other novelty. Then the cashier can note about who checks in and what website/social network they used. Heck they can even use a camera to snap a picture of the person holding their phone so you can keep track:


(That’s me being the Foursquare mayor of Dog and Pony after checking in. Stop being jealous.) + Read More

This Week In Business: Gas Station Coffee Edition

I always know I’m going on a big trip when I am drinking terrible gas station coffee. I kind of look forward to it actually!

After my presentation at Social Media FTW with Lenny Tracy of the Maine Real Estate Network, who sat through it. See how relieved I look? -Photo Courtesy of Maine Today

After my presentation at Social Media FTW with Lenny Tracy of the Maine Real Estate Network, who sat through it. See how relieved I look? -Photo Courtesy of Maine Today

This week, I headed to Social Media FTW in Portland to present about business blogging. Nothing like standing up in front of 150ish people with a mic on knowing you’re being videotaped. I had a good time but I was also really nervous… I think it went well anyway!

If/when the presentations go online, I’ll link them on this blog. But for the moment, here is a link to the slides of my presentation. You know, in case you want to feel like you were there.

Here’s what else happened this week:

Matt and I got a little more organized with the Downeast Learning workshops.

There seems to be two groups of people we contact about our workshops. 1) Publications who need to know about something way ahead of time to be able to publish it. and 2) People who only need it about a week ahead (as in they need a time constraint to actually register). Matt organized our press email list (and we have a separate email list we maintain off the Downeast Learning website of other people).  Now we can make sure the notification goes out twice: once a month ahead for the publications (and people) and once one week ahead to remind folks to sign up.

Matt and I are also going to try to live stream this next workshop to see if we can have people remotely register to attend workshops. We’ll keep you posted about if it worked.

To make sure we got in the print version of the Ellsworth Chamber newsletter, we also decided on our workshop topic for next month. You’ve Been Yelped! is all about the use of online review websites and how they can help businesses and non-profits can get and use online reviews to their advantage. There, now you know a month ahead! Though honestly, if anyone would sign up this early, you’d officially shock me.

My blog continued its move to Wordpress.

At the talk I gave, I told people how I’ve moved my blog three times to different software/domains. I swear this move to Wordpress was the last (from MyBlog, a Joomla component, in case you were curious).

Last week was the big move: making the software live and making sure everything worked overall. This past week has been tweaking things. I’ve been adding plugins, tagging blog posts, and otherwise polishing the content that’s on this site.

Do you believe it’s been four years since I’ve started the Breaking Even blog? Crazy!

I decided to tell people I would have to hold off on their work for a few days… and the world didn’t end.

I think those of us who work alone can think the world will don’t end if we don’t do everything right away. I had applied to be part of the Social Media FTW conference a few months ago and the last few weeks, work has gotten really busy. Ah, timing.

I had two choices: 1) Not sleep for the next month. or 2) Tell people there was going to be a bit of a delay. Since I need sleep so I don’t become Crazy Sleep-Deprived Nicole, I opted for option 2. Guess what? The world did not end. My clients were ok waiting a couple days. I love that people are reasonable…

I had breakfast with someone absolutely inspiring.

Samantha Warren is one of those rare people that has managed to be friends with a lot of my friends on Facebook without me having met her. And it’s not one of those cases where she knows people from one part of my life. I decided we should meet for breakfast, as cool people and fellow small business owners.

We had such a nice time: great conversation about life, work, and all the people we have in common. One idea she had that I thought was great was making a ‘procedures’ document, in case someone ever has to take over work for her (and also as a checklist to make sure all things she does get done on schedule). Anyway, if I ever need a wedding photographer, I think I’ve got one.

So while this week was a lot of driving, it was a great week in terms of meeting people and networking.

If you met me this week, I do hope you’ll comment below so I can follow you online as well. Have a good rest of the week!