Generating Positive Online Reviews

By Aug 9, 2013

In the old days we called them testimonials, and they were must-haves for HR and other consultants hoping to build business and boost their reputations.

Testimonials are still important, of course, only they’ve morphed with the advent of technology and online communication. Today, testimonials are more commonly referred to as reviews, and they’re posted in online formats and forums. That can be both good and bad for HR consultants: Good because the online format allows reviews to be spread far and wide; bad because the online format allows reviews to be spread far and wide!

Traditionally, and even for testimonials that HR consultants include on their own websites or solicit through LinkedIn connections, control over the comments was a given. But that control has given way to other sources of input available to prospects—and clients—through myriad online communication channels, from social media to online review sites like Yelp, one of the most popular.

HR consultants, naturally, are far less likely than restaurants or other B2C (business to consumer) venues to find themselves the subject of reviews on these sites. Still, there are opportunities to proactively seek reviews or testimonials (for websites or LinkedIn, for instance). There is also the potential to be the subject of an unsolicited review on any number of social media sites, blogs, forums or other online communication venues.

The Power of Reviews

Despite the proliferation of online commentary across industries and geographies (in the form of fleeting statements on social media), traditional reviews and testimonials still have a place.

“While the focus has been on social media most recently, recent trends and studies indicate that online reviews make a greater impact on business performance than tweets, likes, and fans or follower count,” said Chris Campbell, chief tracking officer at ReviewTrackersin Chicago, an online-review monitoring solution for small businesses. “Reviews can make or break your business,” he emphasized; thus, putting effort into managing your online reputation is important.

Patrick Coombe, CEO of Elite Strategies, LLC in Delray Beach, Fla., an online marketing company that regularly deals with consumer reviews, points to a study done 14 years ago by Cheskin Research and Studio Archeteype/Sapient. “Even that long ago their findings were that the number and quality of customer reviews had the most impact on consumers when making an e-commerce purchase,” he said. With more and more consumers seeking products and services online, even HR consultants can benefit from relevant reviews.

The critical first step is to provide exceptional services to clients. For HR consultants, relationships matter. “Having genuine interaction with your customers creates trust, which is the key to a solid and lasting relationship,” said Campbell. But don’t overdo it by badgering or annoying clients about writing a review. “It is best to let customers review your products or services on their own terms,” he said. “If you continually ask them, or ask them before you’ve established a relationship, the review—if they eventually agree to write one—will feel inauthentic.”

Mastering “The Ask”

Asking for reviews, like asking for donations, can be uncomfortable for many. Getting beyond that discomfort is important, said Ted Sindzinski, digital and marketing strategy consultant at Modern Insider in Orange County, Calif.

“Asking needs to feel comfortable or the customer is likely to snap back—even send their marketing viral,” he explained. “This is most obvious when companies ‘buy’ reviews through discounts or rebates, something which happens far too often for how obviously tainted it is.”

But, he noted, pushing too hard for a positive remark can also be viewed negatively. “By using language that encourages honesty first, and acknowledges that a review is a favor, companies stay on the right side of the public perception and can actually add to the experience.”

Sindzinski recommends a request like, “Good, bad or indifferent, we want to know your thoughts.” That type of appeal is not only more likely to resonate positively with clients but also more likely to yield authentic reviews or online comments.

Focus on Authenticity

Many are skeptical of what appear to be “seeded” reviews on sites like Amazon.com or Travelocity.com—are those glowing endorsements for real? That can be a real problem when it comes to leveraging the value of online endorsements. Particularly for HR consultants, whose reputations serve as the foundation for their success, credibility is key. “Trust is one of the largest factors that will sway a consumer,” Coombe said.

Consider the endorsements of yesteryear. There were generic endorsements: “a satisfied customer.” There were first-name endorsements. And there were full-name endorsements, perhaps with a photo. Which is most likely to generate trust and suggest authenticity?

Attaching confirmation of the author to an online review is a good practice, said Coombe. “One way that websites do this on their testimonials page is to list the full name of the person who left the review, along with a photo of them and their contact information. Websites that simply have a first name and last initial are much more suspect than those with full information.”

Having just five-star, glowing reviews should not be the goal of HR consultants or anyone else seeking customer comments, advised Elena Meadowcroft, a content creator at PDR Web Solutions in Timonium, Md. The mistake many businesses make, she said, is pursuing only positive feedback. “When people see an abundance of five-star reviews, they tend to perceive them as fake,” she cautioned. A good balance between positive reviews and criticism is crucial.” She offered these additional recommendations:

  • Do ask your clients to review your business online.
  • Don’t ask employees or relatives to write reviews, and don’t pay for fake reviews.
  • Don’t ignore or delete negative comments.
  • Never argue with anyone on a review site; if you feel the review is unfair, contact the person who left it and ask what he or she didn’t like and whether you can help.

From solicited comments that appear on your website to random tweets, posts or Yelps that may sound off unexpectedly from time to time, the online world holds both promise and peril for HR consultants if they’re not aware and proactive when it comes to managing their online reputations. Make sure you’re taking steps to seek reviews from clients and also spending time monitoring what’s being said about you in cyberspace. What you don’t know could hurt you!

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.

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