As a digital communications professional, I’ve long known that online ratings and reviews are one element of a marketing program, but I’ve never paid them much attention. Case in point: In my recent Digital Communications primer for this very blog, I listed ten important digital tips, yet ratings and reviews were not included.

A conversation earlier this year with my friend Daniel Lemin — an online reputation guru, author of Manipurated and someone I’ve come to respect immensely over the years — showed me the error of my ways. After talking with Lemin and hearing him speak on this topic at a recent event, I’ve come to realize that online ratings and reviews should be a carefully considered component of any digital marketing strategy.

The importance of ratings and reviews

In Lemin’s own words, his book Manipurated is a manifesto for business owners who are being held hostage by manipulative practices of the online ratings and reviews industry. He says that 30 million businesses in America depend on ratings and reviews for customers, yet few business owners understand that even excellent businesses can be permanently damaged by a few bad reviews. Managing a reputation online requires skills and tactics that are not always intuitive to business owners.

Lemin’s keynote presentation in April at Ohio Northern University’s second annual social media workshop really drove home this point — especially when he called online ratings and reviews “the gaping open wound of the Internet.” He sees online business ratings and reviews as having many of the same traits as cyber bullying, especially the negativity that can come from anonymity.

According to Lemin, marketing can be divided into two categories: messages you put out and can control, and things other people or entities say about you. Those two used to be about equal but now, thanks to the Internet, the latter is bigger and way more significant.

To back up that point, Lemin cited a statistic that approximately 92% of consumers read and use online ratings and reviews — and they often trust them even more than the opinions and recommendations of friends and family! When I think of my own restaurant choices in a new or familiar city, I have to agree — I’m far more likely to follow the advice of random Yelp users than people I actually know.

Responding to ratings and reviews

Lemin stresses the importance of responding to not just positive ratings and reviews, but negative ones, too. He emphasizes the need to customize responses and provide personal touches so the original poster knows the company or brand cares. According to Lemin, responding to reviews and ratings is the only way to restore and retain balance, power and one’s own brand as it relates to your business and marketing messages.

One study found that 87% of customers won’t consider businesses with low ratings – although I read a more recent article stating that sometimes even negative ratings and reviews online can be good for a business. That’s partially because Google values fresh, consumer generated content like ratings and reviews. Google looks at online content the way shoppers look at produce in a supermarket – they want it abundant and as fresh as possible!

Bottom line: business owners should practice good review hygiene daily, avoid taking online ratings and reviews personally, and take their commitment to their customers seriously. Follow these steps, and you will be well on your way to having a thriving ratings and reviews program that can help keep your business front and center with your target audiences.

Hungry for more digital communication insights? We’ll be happy to come talk to your team – just give us a shout in the comments below or send us an email.

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