Remember the days when you visited Facebook on your web browser, while you were surfing the Internet, looking for funny cat videos and the latest news?
Or how about the days when being on social media actually put you among a small, trendsetting, elite group?
Back in those days, you had to navigate to different sites to experience the Internet. If you wanted to see how other consumers rated a restaurant or a plumber, you would seek out business reviews on Yelp or Angie's List.
Well, things have changed.
For one thing, everyone-your boss, your great-aunt, your tech-challenged brother, and his Yorkshire Terrier-is on social media.
It doesn't help that social media apps come preloaded on most smartphones, of which everyone has at least one.
And then social media itself has changed. It's not content to be just a stop on people's Internet journey anymore. Instead, it has transformed to let people experience the Internet-news alerts, cat videos, blogs-without ever leaving social media. Result: most people don't navigate to websites. And that includes review sites.
After all, if consumers don't have to leave social media to get everything they want to look at, why make the arduous journey all the way to another website to let the world know about your love/hate for a company?
The major social media platforms have picked up on this trend and responded by bringing reviews right into their platforms. Facebook provides star reviews on business pages. Google+ lets you review some businesses.
And then, of course, social media users don't even need star rating tools or similar features to let others know how they feel about a restaurant, a vacuum repair business, or an auto shop. They can, and do, simply broadcast their feelings through a (good, ol' fashioned?) status update, with a snappy hashtag of their choice thrown in for good measure. A disheartened Wendy's customer, for instance, can snap a photo of his botched meal and then post it on Instagram accompanied by a nasty-worded review.
Of course, if you're on social media (and who isn't?), you already knew this. But your company might not have fully realized this in how they spot and deal with consumer reviews. One study found that only 30% of brands had a dedicated customer service handle on Twitter. Another study discovered that only 46% of companies responded to any @mentions on Twitter.
Yes, we can do better. Social media may have changed the consumer reviews landscape, but companies can adjust to these changes and build better relationships with their customers than ever before. Here are the top five ways that social media has changed reviews and how you can use those changes to be more customer-focused:
The go-to response for companies facing negative reviews was to bully and threaten review sites and reviewers with legal action unless they took down the review in question. Another, more sloppy, approach involved going to the offending review and replying to it hostile fashion, attempting to rebut it. Unfortunately, neither of these is an option with reviews on social.
For one, when confronted with requests to take down content, social media sites will always side with users. All social media sites purport to give power to the people and will, more often than not, reject takedown requests.
But this doesn't mean that negative review posts on social are a complete loss. Many companies are learning how to to not only spot these reviews, but to turn them into an opportunity to showcase their concern for their customers.
In one such example, the team at Delta Hotels spotted an unhappy tweet from a guest, Mike McCready, who liked his room at the hotel but not the view. In the old days, a review like this would have been buried. Amazingly, however, even though Mike hadn't even tagged the hotel on the tweet, they found the tweet and, within an hour, offered Mike a room with an improved view. As if that weren't enough, they delivered some sweet treats and a handwritten card from hotel staff to Mike's room.
How would you respond to such service? Mike was so impressed that he published a post about it (titled "How to Be Freaking Awesome") that very night:
"The staff managing the official Delta account didn't have to pass on the message to Delta Vancouver Suites. The staff at the Delta Vancouver Suites didn't have to do anything. I probably wouldn't have thought any less of them. But now, I think more of them and the brand they represent."
If you've been focused on merely sweeping the top review sites for reviews about your company, you're probably missing out on all of the reviews that are happening via social media. This is likely leaving you with some serious blindspots.
If you already feel overwhelmed trying to monitor just the review sites, the thought of expanding your search to the vast galaxy of social media is probably more than a little overwhelming. So how are top companies tackling this challenge?
Food retailer Wholefoods has divvied out the management of its 300 Twitter and 250 Facebook accounts to their local employees. This has given them a virtual army of representatives to find and respond to social reviews in a personal and localized fashion.
Whether you think it's fair or not, consumers expect the best out of you and your team, whether you're responding to their needs on social media or on Yelp. So it's not just about covering both areas: you need to deliver the same great performance in both areas-or at least aspire to.
This means, most of all, coordination between your various customer-facing teams. Consider this success story from JetBlue.
One of their passengers tweeted casually about her sadness at having to go home and asked for a parade to greet her at the gate. Not a major customer meltdown. But the JetBlue social team recognized an opportunity to delight a customer. They tweeted the customer team at the passenger's destination airport, which in turn decided to make her request a reality: they threw her a homecoming parade.
This win took more than just hiring another social media manager or training the customer service team. It took coordinating and building a strong relationship between the social media team and the customer service team and preparing them for the time when they would receive such an unusual request.
You can't win attacking negative reviews on social media. Period. Attempts to rebut reviews on social media become extremely public, visible to all friends, family, and connections of the user being rebutted against. It's like chewing out someone, in a very public place, for bringing up your toe fungus problem.
"[C]ustomer complaints are increasingly being channeled through the oh-so-public social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter," says Sarah Burke at content marketing firm Spokal. "This means that companies have to get on board fast, or risk the wrath of their unhappy customers' complaints and criticisms going viral."
As demonstrated in the Delta Hotels example above, the best response to negative review on social media can be concern, acknowledgement, some extra TLC, and maybe humor. But perhaps the biggest takeaway is that smart companies can actually use negative reviews on social media to make themselves more agile and customer-focused than ever before. Burke explains:
"We all know that criticism can sometimes be hard to take, but we also learn very early on that it usually makes for a stronger and better business."
Social media is too fast for you. That's right. By the time you've discovered a negative review it's already been available to hundreds of users. Consider Starbucks' red cup. That time the BBC accidentally reported the death of Queen Elizabeth That other time when American Apparel used the Challenger shuttle explosion to celebrate the Fourth of July. By the time these companies realized what they'd done and tried to launch a response, millions had been witness to their failure.
The truth is, social media moves faster than most companies are prepared to move. For one, today's consumers are more demanding than ever-they want a response now. But a 2013 Simply Measured study found that brands took an average of 5.1 hours to respond to complaints on social media. Another study reported that most companies (64%) were lucky to mount a response within five days. Only 11% were able to respond within an hour.
Your company is most likely not yet one of that 11% of companies, but that doesn't mean that one-hour measurement shouldn't be your goal. This will likely require changes to the resources you give to social monitoring and response.
The silver lining here is that positive reviews on social also travel fast. If you've delivered a great customer experience, thousands can get a passionate testimonial to your greatness, within minutes. The comment-and-reply structure of social media also lets bystanders see you work out problems with your customers, play by play, in a patient, professional, and caring manner. This might feel like flying without a safety net, but it also sends a far more powerful message than even your best marketing copy ever could.