People Will Talk

Back in the good old days, if you wanted to try a new restaurant or needed the name of a reliable electrician, you asked your friends for a recommendation.  That basic information gathering technique still applies but now it’s being done online and the universe of “friends” willing to share their opinions has expanded exponentially.

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Online review sites, essentially crowdsourcing platforms for consumer comments and recommendations, are among the largest and most active on the web. People view the comments on sites like Angie’s List and Urban Spoon as just as reliable and trustworthy as those made by friends and family.  

There are specialized sites devoted to rating home improvement contractors, dentists, babysitters, private schools, dog walkers, car repair shops, etc. Trip Advisor and Yelp, the two largest travel review sites, are especially relevant to those of us offering local tours, working at historic sites and attractions, visitors’ bureaus, and in small museums.

Perhaps you’ve used Trip Advisor or Yelp when planning a trip. If not, visit them and take a look around. You may be surprised at what you find. Trip Advisor, for example, contains more than 225 million reviews covering 150,000 destinations. And the comments are not limited to hotels and restaurants.  The site includes candid reviews of more than half a million attractions.

People search review sites for local knowledge. They are looking for the inside scoop. Trip Advisor and Yelp help them find small businesses and attractions they would have missed in the past. That’s the up side. The down side is negative reviews and comments can drive potential visitors away.

So what do you do? How do you manage this?

The first step is to claim and fill out your business profiles on Trip Advisor and Yelp. The process is similar on both and will only take 5 – 10 minutes.  Even if you’re a nonprofit, you’re a business for purposes of these two review sites.

Make sure the phone number, address, opening hours and other information in your profile is complete and correct. Add your email address and a link to your website. Post the best photos you’ve got as well as a short, appealing description of your site, tour, destination or attraction. 

Once the profiles are cleaned up it’s time to deal with the reviews.

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If you have positive, or mostly positive, reviews, congratulations. That means your customers think you’re doing a good job. Even if all your reviews are positive, it’s important that you respond. You don’t have to write a novel. Say thank you. Tell the reviewer you appreciate the fact that they visited and invite them back.

How about the negative reviews? You need to acknowledge those folks too. Thank them for coming to your attraction and for taking the time to comment. Apologize for whatever went wrong. Don’t get your back up and do not argue.

Some people are nutcases. But everyone who makes a negative comment about your attraction or tour is not crazy. Consider what they’ve said. They may have a legitimate complaint. Maybe it’s time for a certain staff person to hit the dusty trail. Or maybe there are things you can improve in terms of how people access your building.

An interesting aspect of review sites is commenters are allowed to change their reviews. Let’s say someone nukes your attraction. If you apologize and address the problem, the commenter may modify the negative review or delete it entirely. Believe it or not, this happens all the time.

What if you don’t have any reviews? People may not know you want comments. Ask for them. Say something like, “If you enjoyed the tour, could you give us a review on Trip Advisor? We’d really appreciate it and it helps other folks find us.”

Both Trip Advisor and Yelp have free widgets that add small versions of their logos to your website, another way to let people know you’d like reviews. If you have a fully functional website that you can update yourself as we recommend here (we’ll never stop beating this drum), adding the widgets takes zero thought and less than two minutes. Really.

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You need to keep an eye on your comments. For most of us that won’t take more than a few minutes a week. It’s important to respond to reviews promptly. Pay attention to what people are saying and if there’s something you need to fix, do it.

When you have a little spare time, spend an hour or so scanning other business’s profiles and reading their reviews. Look for those who are getting lots of negative comments and see how they respond. This can be quite illuminating. So can reading the reviews of your competition.

Special thanks to Betsy A. Decillis of BAD Consulting, LLC whose excellent presentation on this very subject inspired this post.