Work it!

The enclosed article from the San Francisco Chronicle reveals the danger of schilling on Yelp!  Yelp, in order to create the impression that their reviewers and reviews are legitimate (both a very real concern and a PR move) are removing entire accounts associated with what they deem ‘fake’ reviews:  reviews written to artificially inflate the public record and discourse on the business of record.

The comments section in this article is more interesting and pertinent than the actual article itself.  It provides insight into the public impression of Yelp and it’s users.

So what do you do as someone who owns or operates a retail business or is involved in “social media”?  Does one get better and more ‘sneaky’ and ‘authentic sounding’ when it comes to writing reviews for your friends or family, or your own business on Yelp or City Search?

The question misses the point entirely as I see it.  The way  to create a great reputation online is to be open, sincere and relevant.  Rather than “game” the system, “work” the system.  Engage users.  Write them back.  Respond.  Get involved in the discussions on Yelp as the business owner you are.  Use the tools available to you on Yelp.  Very few business owners do this for many good reasons, namely time and inclination.  Who has time to do this?   But at the end of the day, spending just 5 minutes a day not on your profile, but on your competitors profiles, on the “Talk” section of Yelp, in the “Events” section of Yelp, etc…the more time you spend on Yelp / online and get to know your customers there, the better you’ll do.

Participation Premium – The Golden Rule of Social Media

Robert Scoble, Shell Israel, Michael Arrington – figure heads in “social media” – have recently been referring to a premise that is just as important for businesses online as is it for individuals:  the more you participate the more successful you’ll become.

Sound familiar?  Give and you shall receive!  Listen and you shall learn.  We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much.  Do unto others as you would have them read and comment on your blog or website…

You’re a business who is jumping in online.  “What do I do?” you ask.  The most important first step, along with defining your goals and online identity, is to listen twice as much as you ‘participate’ and participate 10x’s more than you are now.

Find out the top 10, 50 or 100 bloggers in your field.  Read them consistently and multiple times a week, if not daily.  Read the sports section less or stay up 10 minutes longer and read what people are saying in and around your industry and business.  Visit websites associated with your products or service.  Read reviews first, read them again, think about it, absorb it…and then respond.  Read comments, watch videos, listen to podcasts.  Become an expert in what people are talking about in your field, and than start communicating, posting and interacting.

The more you get involved – the more you participate in responding, posting, interacting, and being a part of the dialogue online – the more it will pay dividends in terms of creating connection, loyalty, understanding and a swell of presence that was never there before

User Reviews: The Five Stages of Denial

July 5, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, User Reviews Online

User reviews of your business are a roller coaster – glory and defeat for all to see!  And you hate this.  It’s not fair!  You might be the victim of miscommunication, of an ex employee’s grudge or an over zealous competitor.  It’s an irritation to no end, and understandably so.  What if people constantly wrote reviews about you online, about your personality?   Can you imagine?  This “graffiti and heresy about you and your business” just isn’t right.  Hence there are always excuses:  That review just isn’t true!  My competitor wrote that review.  “Oh, I remember that guy, here’s the situation with that…I can’t believe he wrote that…it wasn’t our fault”.  Or there is just the perennial rolling of the eyes, a mutual sign of grievance and disgust.  Hands in the air:  I give up!

For the most part the small business world is at stage 2 of their denial cycle:  Anger!

The Five Stages of Denial

Denial: (these reviews don’t matter to my business…those aren’t my customers…the internet doesn’t matter..who are these people?  Who has the time?  These people are losers…they aren’t my clientele, my “base”)

Anger: (Why me?  I HATE user reviews.  That is total bull…I’m going to post a sticker:  NO YELPERS ALLOWED)

Bargaining: (if I could only delete the review…or maybe I’ll sue them…)

Depression: (I don’t care anymore…I’m going to just ignore the whole thing…forget about it…)

Acceptance: (I’m ready for whatever comes – I’m ready to deal with this – let’s go…let’s engage this beast…)

Go to the beach, do yoga, get some extra sessions with your therapist in and vent until it hurts…beat up some pillows, cry.  Get a good long cry out.  Let it alllll out!

And then accept it!  Embrace it.  Start to engage user reviews, blogs, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and everywhere and wherever.  Be open.  Be passionate.  Be real and be honest.  But most importantly:  be there!

Facts are Boring

July 3, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, Online Advertising

Today I attended a Web 2.0 media group.

The topic of blogs and whether to write about what you think v. facts came up:

“At my company, I propose we only write facts on our blogs – what we’re working on, what’s in development, etc.”

The spirit of the comment was that opinions can be ‘dangerous’.  “Everybody has them – they don’t really mean much” to roughly paraphrase.

Facts are boring. Much like menu items, they’re necessary, but when leaned upon exclusively for safe content on a blog, it can be dry and hard to pull off in terms of creating a connection.

Tell your story. There is an art to this, but tell your story, your passion, your challenges, your trials and tribulations. Have some fun. Let it hang out there, just a bit. People will connect with authenticity and they’ll be impressed with hearing the truth – truth and facts that have grit, zeal and honesty.

Those are the facts people will come back to see again!

Social Media: Jump in…

June 26, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, Social Media

I work with restaurants.  And small business, but primarily restaurants.  Some restaurant chains (+20 locations) but mostly I interact with 1 – 3 location businesses.  Average yearly revenues:  around $1 – $3 million, on average.

Most of these restaurant owners, for reasons well intentioned, are not sure they want to jump in with a blog or into ‘social media’ or ‘web 2.0′.  They aren’t quite sure what to do with a Facebook pages, nor are they quite sure what they think about them.  Whatever happened to the days where you just tried to run a good restaurant and you didn’t have to worr nor are they too keen on having a MySpace presence (that’s just not our demo). Restaurant owners tend to obsess over user reviews, namely, bad user reviews.

Forget about the bad user reviews, they’ll take care of themselves and washout. Pay attention to your business and start engaging online in a creative, “cool” manner. By cool I mean being more transparent, being more real, being more you! Be you. Do you!

Don’t tell me about your specials or sell me your happy hour. I want to hear what makes you tick, why your in the business, what is going on in the neighborhood, where you source your food and why, a bad or good experience from last nights dinner service.

And authentic responses to good and bad reviews posted! They mean something. Authentic yet yielding and professional, accommodating responses are critical, especially to good reviews.

Start to engage. Start to trust. Start to yield some of the control over to the social sphere that is your image, your story not quite under your control.

It will pay huge dividends to those who trust, and those who engage. Just be honest. Just be yourself. People see that, they sense it and they love it. Trust me. It works.