Chris recently posted an article about alternatives to .COM for review websites. This is a great place to start if you're interested in starting a reviews site for anything from cameras to cafés. But what if you're part of a company or organization and concerned about reviews for your products or services?
Approach it with the right perspective
As many misguided companies have learned, no one controls the Internet, or how people act or what is posted on it. You only control what you post and how you respond to others.
You might be able to prevent people from expressing themselves on your company's website or social media properties, but if they're upset about something, that just means they'll go elsewhere to do it. And hey, there's a whole new world of yourcompanysucks.com or, coming soon yourcompany.sucks out there these days. A better focus would be on not needing to try and bury the bad reviews.
First thing to understand is that no matter how hard-working and well-meaning a company is, eventually everyone has a misstep or customer who they just can't make happy. The question is how to address it, turn it around if possible, and keep the negative comments off the first page of search results or Buzzfeed.
Questions to ask before getting started
What are the best ways to create a good balance? How can you publicize all your happy customers, your awesome products and services, and your stellar customer service, while still addressing real issues? While keeping in mind, of course, that there are people who are only "happy" when they're trashing others.
First off, ensure you have a solid policy in place before embarking on the great adventure that is the Internet. Some questions you'll need to answer:
- If your company doesn't yet have a website, what domain(s) will you choose? (What's available, memorable, and best reflects your business, products, services, or culture?) With all the new gTLDs available and yet to be launched, there's more choice than ever.
On what sites will you have a presence? (I.e. where will you create your company's own accounts/sites/properties.)
What are the common terms that people might use to look for or talk about your company or products? (These should include both the official nomenclature of your company, and words and phrases that customers and others use.)
On what sites will you engage with customers, prospects, and others? (This means both your own properties and other third-party sites and accounts where others may be talking about you.)
What kinds of content will you post?
Will the content you post differ by property, audience, etc.?
Via what channels do you want people to contact your company? (E.g. email, phone, chat, etc.)
Via what channels will you offer support? (If you choose not to support a common channel, like the phone, make that very public and clear and make it easy to contact your company in other ways.)
Who is going to have access to post content and respond to others who engage?
What is your standard policy regarding complaints? (Be familiar with and clear on legitimate complaints or criticisms and trolling.)
When do you respond to complaints and when do you ignore them?
What is your escalation policy regarding complaints?
What is your timeline for responding to people, whether it's comments, questions, or complaints? (On the Internet, you can never respond too quickly.)
What is your policy regarding unfounded complaints? These can include, but aren't limited to people who are...
- spreading misinformation
- have never been customers and are just ranting
- are secretly competitors trying to make the competition look bad (as a general rule, never talk about the competition, especially to bad mouth them)
- are trying to spread hate
- may not be mentally stable
- are angry for reasons beyond your control, like your company simply doesn't do something they want.
Your company should have a solid understanding and policy for all of these things before engaging online, else you're likely to find yourself scrambling when something goes wrong some day. This could happen when your company screws something up, when there's big (bad) news in your industry, or for many other reasons.
Don't sharecrop, register a domain
As much as social media has become pretty thoroughly integrated into consumers' and companies' online experiences, it's still a good idea to have your own web properties. Certainly you can brand and monitor third-party sites, but having your own provides your company with a solid and centralized online identity. ("Sharecropping" refers to relying on third-party services, platforms, and companies you don't own or control for functions that are essential to your business.)
It provides a destination with your branding, correct and comprehensive information about your company, and a single location to receive questions, comments, and concerns (and potentially post replies). These days plenty of people are reticent to do business with a company that doesn't have a website, since it seems a bit sketchy. Who are they, really?
To this end, registering your own domains and either creating sites or directing them to relevant existing properties is a good idea. (And yet, many small businesses still don't have a web presence.)
Monitor, engage, and converse
In addition to keeping a close eye on your own online properties, it's a good idea to set up social media, blog, and news alerts for those aforementioned terms (the ones your company uses and the ones others use) to enable good awareness and responsiveness.
On third party sites on which you participate, like social media, make sure that people are actively monitoring them if people choose those avenues to contact you. People will almost always try to contact you by the ways they're familiar with, rather than whatever your company might prefer. If your audience or customer base is on Twitter, then you'd better be, too.
Also be aware of how much you "broadcast". That might seem odd, given I just recommended having policies for what, where, and how much you post. But note that Internet culture doesn't tend to be a fan of companies having exclusively a "me, me, me" attitude.
Yes, people want it to be easy to get information and answers about you and your products. But that's not all they want from you. They also don't want to be asked for things or told to do things that are clearly only going to benefit your company.
They want to be heard, and to be able to have a conversation with you (when they want one), and know that their concerns are being listened to and that their problems get fixed.
How to make your sites a really useful destination
So looking at your company's own web properties, how should you handle those with respect to customer reviews and feedback? Well, ideally your company and its representatives don't suck very often, and so people don't have much reason to go looking for yourcompany.sucks to vent their spleens.
On your company's main website, be it yourcompany.com, .BIZ, .IO, or other TLD variant, make sure it's clear and easy for anyone to contact you. When someone is frustrated, not being able to find out how to get help or give feedback is only going to make people more upset.
Include plenty of links to your firstname.lastname@example.org email address or contact form, a feedback button on every page, etc. Think of the places you go on sites to find that kind of information, and then make sure it's there. (And in places where people look that wouldn't have occurred to you.)
Be the master of your own domain(s)
To enable your company to have input and the ability to manage review-related sites about your company, you may want to register relevant domains yourself, before someone else does. This way you can manage what information is available there. Even if you think all your customers love you, it won't hurt to register yourcompanyreviews.com, yourcompany.reviews, yourcompanysucks.com or similar domains.
You don't need to create websites for any or all of those. You could have the domains forward to your main website's support section, customer forums, or other relevant location where people can give feedback, ask questions or express frustrations.
It's ok to have fun
If you're really confident in your brand, customer service, culture, and customer base, you could approach things with a sense of humour (and bravery) and create a website at yourcompanysucks.com where you actually welcome complaints. (And will also be including info about what you did about those complaints, e.g. linking to fixed issues, new features, etc.) Kind of like when celebrities read mean tweets or post hate mail on their websites.
If you do so, however, ensure that you have dedicated staff to monitor the site, respond, and who have enough agency to actually help people. If they're going to go to yourcompanysucks.com you need to make sure their next stop after that is yourcompanyrocks.com.
Of course, none of this is a one-time project. Building a presence, reputation, and community online takes time, effort, and long-term commitment.