Amplify the power of word of mouth: How to get the most out of positive online reviews

By Colleen Malloy

Earlier this year, ARI teamed up with Outdoor Power Equipment (OPE) magazine to publish our first OPE Dealer Marketing Benchmark Study. If you haven’t read it, I’d absolutely recommend you go to www.outdoorpowerequipment.com/ARI_white_paper and download it for free to see how your marketing initiatives stack up against your fellow OPE dealers.

In that study, we asked dealers to rank the effectiveness of 19 marketing tactics. Word of mouth ranked #2 in the study, finishing behind only websites. This begs the question: If word of mouth is the second most effective generator of new business for your dealership, how much time and effort are you putting in to cultivate it?

The answer is likely that you aren’t spending enough time harnessing the power of word-of-mouth advertising to promote your dealership. And, while the good old over-the-fence recommendation is still alive and well, many of your prospective customers are going to turn to their trusty search engines to help them vet your business through online reviews.

The most important thing you need to do is be aware of all the online reviews for your dealership and respond to those reviews in a timely manner. Even if you receive a less-than-flattering review, it can work in your favor. How and when you respond to reviews is key. Respond swiftly and politely, and offer to make good on any mistakes offline. Engaging with a negative reviewer confrontationally will never go well for your brand.

This article will walk you through many of the online review channels that your team needs to be aware of to ensure that you’re taking full advantage of the positive online recommendations from your customers — a component of the practice known as “online reputation management” or “ORM.”

While I won’t dive deeply into the offline activities you can do to support positive online reviews, I will kick things off with a few basic pointers:

* Ask happy customers to go online and share their experience with their friends and family via their favorite online recommendation engines.

* Ask new customers how they heard about you — if a customer referral or positive online review drove the sale, reward the referrer or the reviewer with a discount on his or her next purchase.

* Harness your positive online reviews for your next print piece — a quote from an online testimonial is a great piece of social proof for this season’s direct mailer.

Ready to find all of your online reviews? Let’s take a look at some of the primary online locations you need to ensure that you’re tuned in to.

The search engines

* Google My Business: Let’s start with a quick exercise. Go to Google and type in your dealership name. In the right-hand column, you’ll find a box that looks like the one pictured below, featuring Google Reviews.

1509_OPE_FS_Positive Online Reviews2_Google Reviews-webAnyone can leave a review for your business — good, bad or ugly. You can and absolutely should keep tabs on these high-profile online reviews by signing into your Google My Business Account, scrolling to “reviews,” and clicking “manage reviews.” From there, you can click “view and reply” to write a response to your reviews. If you don’t have a Google account, you must first claim your listings.

* Bing and Yahoo! local listings: Bing holds the second seat in U.S. search share at approximately 12 percent, and Yahoo! comes in at a close third at 11 percent. Lucky for you, both of the runners-up in the search engine business have partnered with the third-party site Yelp to auto-populate reviews in both Yahoo! and Bing local search results.

Third-party sites

* Yelp: Yelp is by far the biggest name in online reviews. Since its start in 2004, “Yelpers” have written more than 77 million local reviews, and Yelp had an average of approximately 142 million monthly unique visitors in the first quarter of 2015 alone! As a first step, it’s important that you set up your Yelp profile to make sure that the information listed about your dealership is accurate. As with Google, you have the opportunity to log in and respond to reviewers.

Over the years, there has been a level of controversy surrounding paid advertising on Yelp. While the company says that advertising has no bearing on positive reviews floating to the top and negative reviews fading to the bottom of the list, with such significant traffic, a small advertising investment may make sense if, and only if, your dealership is seeing a lot of traffic and reviews on the site.

* Angie’s List: Angie’s List is available to consumers on a subscription basis, and its ratings and reviews offer a higher level of clout than some of its online competitors. While consumers have to pay a fee to view ratings and reviews, business owners like you can access your information for free. The site offers owners nice perks, including marketing materials and review notifications. With 2.4 million paid households trusting the site, it’s worth checking it out to make certain that your listing paints your dealership’s products and services in a positive light.

* CitySearch: CitySearch focuses on delivering locally targeted listings for its users, making it a great avenue for businesses like yours to connect with consumers right around the corner. In order to respond to CitySearch reviews, you need to create a free business listing that also allows you to update information, including your address, website URL, phone number, hours of operation and more.

Social media

* Facebook: A well-managed Facebook presence is not only an informational portal with content that you post out to your fans, but a collection of recommendations for your business from consumers as well — all reviews of your dealership will show up on your timeline.

If you aren’t seeing any ratings or reviews, check your Facebook settings to ensure that your page category is set as a “Local Business” — without this key setting, your fans won’t be able to rate your dealership on Facebook.

* Twitter: While Twitter doesn’t offer reviews per se, it’s critical to monitor Twitter’s hyper fast-paced conversations — a negative review here can quickly snowball! Monitor all Tweets that mention your dealership, interacting with them just as you would on any review site, being sure to “Favorite” and “Retweet” positive mentions.

Your website

Finally, your most prominent online space is the venue where you have total and utter control of what you share. Cultivate your positive reviews from all of the online locations we’ve covered in this article and share them in a dedicated reviews and testimonials section. Be sure to give site visitors an option to submit reviews of their own, so that you can consistently update your site with rave reviews from happy customers. There’s no need to limit these kind words to your testimonials page; consider adding testimonials to your home page, landing pages and product pages for maximum impact.

Managing all of these online reviews and listings can become a bit of an overwhelming task. Services like ARI Premium Directory Management can help you simplify the process by managing your dealership’s information across online directories and review sites, giving you a one-stop portal to manage online reviews across the web. Talk to your website or digital marketing services provider to see what tools they offer to make the overwhelming task of monitoring your online reputation much easier.

1504_OPE_FS_Social Strategy2_author-Colleen Malloy-webColleen Malloy is the director of marketing at ARI Network Services. Prior to joining ARI in November 2013, Malloy served as the editor of Motorcycle and Powersports News. She is dedicated to the mission of helping dealers improve their operations through the implementation of ever-evolving best practices paired with ARI’s suite of an award-winning data-driven software tools and marketing services that help dealers “Sell More Stuff!” — online and in-store. ARI removes the complexity of selling and servicing new and used inventory, parts, garments and accessories for customers in the outdoor power equipment, powersports, marine, RV, automotive tire and wheel, and white goods industries. More than 22,000 equipment dealers, 195 distributors and 140 manufacturers worldwide leverage ARI’s website (www.arinet.com) and eCatalog platforms to “Sell More Stuff!”

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