Category Archives: Reputation Management

Social Media for Tragedies

As the recent tragic events at the Boston Marathon were discovered on Twitter by a colleague, and then unfolded before me, it was a sharp reminder of the need for compassion, tact and etiquette when it comes to Social Media.  During tragic times, people are looking for information, contact from loved ones, where to get help, or how other people can help.  What people don’t want to see are insensitive Facebook posts or Tweets, either scheduled or manually posted, according to other agendas.

Like other similar events of the past, brand marketers and individuals were guilty of either conscious or unconscious acts of insensitivity.  The unconscious posts are typically either scheduled earlier in day, triggered to be spread out over time.  The conscious ones are posted by marketers attempting to take advantage of the event, sometimes complete with event hashtags, to increase visibility of their brand.  The conscious variety create Social hating for that brand, the most famous for the Boston event was Epicurious, the publisher of food and recipe content.

The Epicurious tweets were later apologized for, but after the damage was already inflicted.  Individuals will have already formed an opinion for that brand or person, and it will be a long road to rebuild that trust.  Epicurious should have learned from the past mistakes of others, take for instance the Gap’s tweets during Hurricane Sandy.

The Gap, knowing that folks were monitoring the hashtag #Sandy, took advantage of this and tried increase their business because of it.  Nasty stuff, and clearly the wrong way to engage during tragic times.

So what is the best approach to take?  That is a tough question, and one there may be no one answer.  I think you must put yourself in the position of someone directly affected by the tragedy, and gauge how they might respond if you were standing next to them and spoke your tweet.  At the very least, or if in doubt, brands should simply be silent rather than inserting foot-in-mouth.  Perhaps you could offer your condolences, but why clog Facebook or Twitter feeds posts from car dealerships who have no connection to the tragedy, simultaneously apologizing?

For the scheduled tweets or posts, that is a much simpler, but often overlooked fix.  You simply turn the, off as quickly as you can.  Or perhaps as Gary Vaynerchuk advises, don’t use them ever!

I don’t know if I would go as far as Gary advises, and never use scheduled posts, but I think you get his message.  Effective Social Media needs to feel as personal as possible, and scheduled posts rarely hit that mark.  If you are late in discovering a national or local tragedy, and scheduled posts have already gone out, simply stop the posts and issue a quick and sincere apology.  People are human, and they will understand that not everyone gets news at the same time, and something can always slip out.

So when can you resume your posting and tweets as normal?  Again, I’m not sure there is any single answer.  Once more I would advise to put yourself in the position of someone who has been affected, and get a feel for how long to wait.  Perhaps you slowly ramp back to your business-as-usual activity.  If you or your business is located near the tragedy, that may mean waiting a bit longer.

Of all the scientific and metric-driven activities we do, Social Media during and after a tragedy takes patience, tact, and compassion.  Your opportunities can wait, your audience will still be out there, have empathy, relax, and count your blessings.

Dealers, Managers…You Must Immerse

One of the biggest challenges dealerships and other business people face is the rapid pace of technology innovation.  Just when a dealer or manager feels they have a grasp on where Digital Marketing technology is, new developments come to market that confuse the audience.  For many, this results in the dealers either making no decision, or very uninformed decisions.  Progressive dealers will attend training at conferences, read articles, and try their best to ensure that when that next vendor begins explaining “the next big thing”, that they have some idea of what’s being discussed.

In my new book, Unfair Advantage, co-authored with some of the most respected names in automotive retail, in his gripping introduction titled “The Fear Stops Here”, Brian Pasch outlines these challenges and assures the reader that the book will help them be more educated and informed.  He advises dealers to “…take one step at a time,” and embrace the change.  Brian is right.  The old adage that you must approach eating an elephant one-bite-at-a-time definitely comes into play with gaining an understanding of technology.

I also feel that is goes far beyond reading, attending conferences, and listening to informed consultants.  I would argue that you could attend a dozen seminars on how Twitter can help your dealership, but you still won’t truly “get it”.  In order to truly understand, you must immerse.  What does this mean?  Immersing means saying goodbye to your fears of the unknown, and instead diving right in headfirst.  In order to understand technology, you must begin to truly experience it.  You must sign up for, and use: Twitter, Foursquare, Tumblr, and Facebook, recognizing that early sledding may not be easy.  There will be periods of confusion, misunderstanding and general frustration!  But over time immersion will lead to osmosis.  Without even realizing the moment, you will begin to understand, you will begin to “get it”.

Dealers and dealership managers should resist the urge to outsource this to their IT folks, or people that already understand technology.  If you outsource it, you will miss out on both the true confidence to make informed decision, and the experience of trying and learning something new.  In addition, if the person you outsourced it to leaves the dealership, your knowledge goes with them.  New technology is not that tough, but you have to make a commitment to embracing and immersing.

So what exactly do I mean my immersing?  First it means stop saying, “I don’t Tweet”, “Foursquare is a time-waster”, and “I’ve got better things to do than be on Facebook”.  Go online, sign up for these services, and begin experiencing them.  Don’t be worried that at first everything seems confusing and overwhelming.  On Twitter for instance, you can start out by simply setting up an account, picking 20 of your favorite automotive industry folks (or others) and commit yourself to following them daily.  I guarantee that will only take about 10-15 minutes per day.  At the same time you’re learning about Twitter, you will also be learning about what is going on in the industry, what trends they see, and what they’re thinking.  Over time the # hash tags and @ symbols will begin to make sense, and you will start to “get it”.  It is only by this commitment to immerse that you can become one with the new technology that your shoppers and customers are using, and trying to communicate with your dealership with.  Another great benefit of immersing is setting a great example for the rest of the dealership personnel.  If you want them to embrace technology, then their boss needs to do the same.  Lead by example by diving in, asking them to dive in, and then learning from each other along the way.

Brian was right, the fear needs to stop here, and it needs to start with you embracing and immersing yourself in technology, before you’re left behind.

Outrun the Bear

Likely you’ve heard this old joke: Two campers walking through the forest encounter a grizzly bear, who rears up and lets out a terrifying roar.  Both campers are frozen in their tracks.  The first camper whispers, “I’m sure glad I wore my running shoes today.”  “It doesn’t matter what kind of shoes you’re wearing, you’re not gonna outrun that bear,” replies the second.  “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun YOU!” he answers.

For many dealers in competitive markets, their approach to Online Reputation Management (ORM) should keep this old joke in mind, since knowing where your competitors rank is critically important.  That is not to say our only goals is to make sure we only have a few more reviews, and one-star more than their ranking.  The goal should be to capture as many positive reviews as possible from customers doing any and all transactions with your store.  Not only people buying vehicles, but also people in your service, parts, or body shop.  Ideally you have a system that allows you to intercept negative reviews before they ever make it online, to keep your ratings as high as possible.

To quickly review a basic approach to ORM:  Customers who have a positive experience with your dealership will most likely just smile and drive away, and never leave you a positive review online.  Why?  Think about your own behavior.  Most of us only leave reviews when we experience poor service, and want to vent to the rest of the world.  If you leave ORM up to nature, unless your staff never, ever disappoints a picky customer, you will likely have more negative reviews vs. positive reviews.  Getting a strong online reputation requires proactive work.  You must both encourage, facilitate, and follow-up to make sure your happy customers share their great experiences.

There are many great-published approaches to get this done.  My vote goes to the approach that gets you the best results, which means you must have a solid solution to measuring how you’re doing.  You set an initial benchmark where you start, determine how often you ask for a review vs. how often you get one, and then measure how your ranking evolves over time.  It would be great if there were only one review site, but of course there is Google, Yelp, FourSquare, DealerRater, and many more.  Depending on which site is most relevant on Page 1 of your local search results (which changes daily), you need to balance the number of reviews you’re getting from each site.

When potential customers find your store online, they will likely find it listed along with your top competitors.  So your goal should be to constantly monitor how you’re competitors are doing with online reviews, and make sure you are consistently beating them on each of the specific review sites.  This way, “outrunning the bear” doesn’t become the goal, as much as “outrunning your competitors”.

Online Reputation Management is not overly complicated; in fact in principle it is very simple.  However, the amount of activity you need to generate, and the high level of required monitoring can get pretty cumbersome.  You can easily hire one or two people to encourage customers to give you reviews, respond to published reviews, and to monitor how your ratings compare to your top competitors.  There are also great software solutions out there that can automate this process.  Whichever path you choose, just make sure your strategy includes closely monitoring how well your competitors are doing, to make sure potential customers continue to choose your store.

Don’t ignore your online reputation, since I can guarantee your top competitors are putting plans into action.  Get started today, and let me know if I can help with more ideas.  Got your running shoes on?

5 Strategies for Reputation Management

On a recent flight, sitting next to a longtime automotive colleague, I was asked about Reputation Management strategies. Thanks to in-flight Wi-Fi, we jumped on the net and I began to share my opinions. This is always an enjoyable topic to discuss, since the reaction from the audience is usually that of shock, then enthusiasm, and then action! My opinion is that, of all of the opportunities in the dealers’ digital marketing arena, Reputation Management is clearly a situation where “the dealership is on fire”. For many dealers who are ignoring their online reviews, they literally have everything to lose, but also everything to gain.
In 2011, we saw Reputation Management take on an entirely new level of importance for car dealers; with consumers posting more reviews, and Google emphasizing these reviews on the Places pages and on SERPs. What changes will we see in 2012? I’m taking a stab at offering five (5) of my top recommendations for Reputation Management strategies.
1. Get committed to Reputation Management. Any recommendations begin and end with the dealership (at the highest level) committing to managing their online reputation. Dealers who have operated in small, local communities may be the most inclined to understand the importance of this. What was the impact of a detractor 50 years ago? A customer who had a bad experience with a dealership in a small community would share their story at church, at bingo, at the corner grocery, etc. If a dealer was to survive in any small community, they needed to limit (or eliminate) detractors, and encourage more promoters. Today, the Internet makes large markets behave like small communities, since opinions are both easily shared and easily found. Online Reviews are part of the DNA of every dealership in 2012. While the importance of online reputation reinforces the importance of taking great care of customers, there is also much we can learn from the feedback received. Areas for process improvement, problem employees, and new product/service opportunities can all be learned from reading and digesting the content of online reviews. This feedback should be considered in making both tactical and strategic decisions at the dealership.

2. Monitor your reputation regularly. If you are doing this manually, setup Google Alerts, Twitter searches, and regularly check the online review sites (Google, Yelp, etc.) There are also some good monitoring systems out there that can automate this for you. If you use these systems, regularly monitor your dashboards and spring into action quickly, because each day negative reviews from detractors live online, your valuable brand and good name deteriorates. I’ve heard a fair number of dealers complaining about potential “review fraud” occurrences, where disgruntled employees, competitors, or others post negative reviews for the dealer. Some industries have moved more toward sales-driven-reviews, where only recent customers have the ability to post a review. This is definitely the year for review verification. We’ll see how this finds its way into Google’s world.

3. Respond very quickly to negative reviews. Sitting next to my colleague on this flight, we easily found large dealers in his hometown with negative reviews online since last summer. To the online shopper, no response from the dealer means, “the review is the truth”. If the dealer responds quickly, then the consumer will consider both sides to the story. If you find a negative review don’t immediately jump in and type your response. Take a few minutes to cool down, digest everything, and think about how to professionally respond. Taking a defensive or aggressive approach with your response will only escalate the problem, adding fuel to the fire. Instead, show your concern, apologize for the problem and let them know you want to handle it right away. Ask anyone posting negative reviews of your business to contact you directly and thank them for their feedback. Be very brief, take it quickly offline, and whatever you do, don’t get into an online debate for everyone to see (forever).

4. Promote positive reviews. This is also referred to as Review Suppression Plans. This method will be far more effective than trying to control or simply responding to negative reviews, and while the initiative can be a tough one, it is the only way to truly separate yourself from your competitors. Even if you do an incredible job taking care of customers, don’t expect positive reviews to happen without your involvement. You must create a strong internal process to gain these reviews from your customers. When most people have a positive experience, they simply smile and drive down the road. If you’re lucky, they’ll tell a few people. In rare instances, these customers may actually go online without prompting and write you a positive review, but don’t count on it. Since you can’t get rid of negative reviews (you can only respond to them, and improve processes at your store), you must get committed to bombarding the few negative reviews with an onslaught of positive reviews. How can you do this? There are many techniques, including postcards in the store, iPads in the F&I office, email campaigns, and personal outreach. I personally think that an online approach; either during the purchase process or afterwards with an easy click-thru survey will yield the best results. But remember, in general, people will not give you positive reviews without you prompting them to do so.

5. Balance your Reputation Management work across multiple review sites and mobile. It sure would be nice and easy if all online reviews were housed in a single location, but that is not the case. Google, Yelp, DealerRater and many more exist, and you need to balance your approach. Start with measuring which of these sites is driving the most traffic to your website. A simple “Top Referrers” report in your website analytics tool should do the trick. How much traffic comes from your Google Places page? From Yelp? From DealerRater? Your initial Reputation Management strategy should focus on where the most eyeballs are, prior to visiting your site. If you find that several review sites are delivering decent traffic to your site, then balance the strategies across the various sites. Which sites are driving your mobile reviews? I’m a big user of both Foursquare and Yelp, and have both posted and read many business reviews on the mobile versions of these tools. What I’ve noticed is that these mobile reviews are much shorter and to the point. I also find myself more willing to read through them since they are small and easy to digest. Dealers need to pay attention to these short reviews, which often appear in the form of “tips”.
It seems like the world is a bigger place than it has ever been, while in reality, the Internet has made it a much smaller one. Dealers need to manage their reputations just like they did before the digital age, or perhaps even do a better job. Never before has it been so easy for consumers to quickly find out what other people think of your store. If you have “2 stars”, and plenty of negative reviews, trust me…your store is on fire, and any goodwill you think you have will be ashes in the future. Consumers have choices, and they will choose products and people who are more highly rated than their competitors. You have a choice too. Take action today, and don’t be left behind with your online reputation.

Where Most Reputation Management Plans Fall Short

We’re all hearing the buzz about Reputation Management, and for good reason. At the recent NADA show, many existing vendors and some new ones were displaying their new wares and promising to help dealers manage their reputations.
Why is Reputation Management suddenly so important? With the dramatic changes Google put into place last fall, you can no longer have effective SEO (search engine optimization), without a strong reputation. Google has decided that dealers with more reviews, and more positive “star ratings” are more relevant, and thus belong at the top of the search results. This literally-overnight change by Google should have dealers asking their web site providers, “What are your plans for Reputation Management?”. If your SEO provider gives you excuses or doesn’t have strong solutions, run in the opposite direction. Effective SEO requires effective Reputation Management, that is an established fact.
So how do you decide what is the best solution or plan for Reputation Management? You should focus on 3 core items, Profile, Track, Influence.
Profile is all about controlling and distributing your content across the web, and the primary place to start is on your Google Places page. Simply enter your store’s name in Google, find your “Places” page, click to take ownership of this page, then start filling in the content. You can add descriptions, pictures, videos, coupons, and much more.
Track refers to tracking your reputation across the web, knowing when someone says something good or bad about your store. Remember, if someone posts something bad, it is not the end of the world! The most important thing you can do is post your response. Your response should be professional and helpful, apologizing for the issue and committing to make it right. By responding, you show the internet community that while everyone may have an unhappy customer, you are the type of dealership who cares enough to respond and fix problems. I might argue that by initiating this “save”, it can be almost better than a neutral or positive review.
And finally, Influence…and if you’ve read this far, this is reason I wrote this article. You will likely find many solutions that can monitor your reputation, but almost none of them can help you do anything about it! It is not enough for the doctor to tell you your cholesterol is over 300, you need to know what you can do about it…and you need some help getting it done. Influence is where you take your measly 2-star rating, and pump it up to a 5-star rating. Your goal is to get happy customers to give you a positive rating. You don’t have to worry about the unhappy customers, they will give you that review on their own, depending on how unhappy they are. But since you know you have many more happy customers, you need your online reviews to reflect this. The problem is, happy customers just drive off with smiles on their faces, but don’t take action. You need to prompt them to give you a positive review, and you need to do it in a simple and hassle-free way. I would argue that the easiest way for someone to give you a positive review is by simply clicking on an email link. The dealer follows up each sale (new cars, used cars, service, parts, etc.) with a simply email survey, that prompts the customer to give you a review.
By following this advice (and by keeping your store’s customer service high!), you will see your ratings climb in both quantity and star-rating, and you will also see your Google relevance rise along with it. The will translate into higher traffic for your website, more leads, more sales, and solid sustainable growth for your business.