reputation management

“Hearsay can be much better evidence than direct evidence.”​ – Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL)
… Is this true for businesses?

That’s the quote flying around on the internet right now that most of us likely are arguing with ourselves about as to the extent in which we allow it to be true. Yet, consider how many truths we accept throughout life based on the “say so” of the source.

Certainly, we’d all love to believe we make intelligent choices based on facts we’ve researched out, when in reality decisions we make in the end are a combination of bias and emotion formed over time. In many cases, we even allow decisions to be influenced heavily by word-of-mouth from trusted (shared biases sources), and increasingly by reviews/hearsay from complete strangers in the form of online reviews.

Let’s look at some consumer driven numbers when it comes to the impact of hearsay in the form of reviews online over any “actual evidence”.

online review management

It’s common knowledge that we would trust the word of a family member or friend more than any marketing messaging. Now, with the ability to connect so broadly with the experiences of others, we’re extending our trust to the voices of perfect strangers and what they’ve had to say about a business. No direct evidence necessary.

You may not even realize you’re doing it, and are even less likely aware your current/potential customer are doing it, too. Just take me, for example. Reviews I’ve written have received tens of thousands of views influencing others opinions about businesses I’ve been to. And, that with just 71 reviews I’ve posted.

Facts vs Legend

“This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact… Print the legend.”

In an old Western movie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), there are two pivotal characters: Senator Stoddard (James Stewart) and Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). Both were friends and the story revolves around the Senator returning to a town for Doniphon’s funeral. A journalist comes to interview Stoddard – who became a town legend for standing up against and killing Liberty Valance. However, [If I need to do a spoiler alert for an almost 60 year old movie, here it is] the Senator reveals to the journalist that it was Doniphon, not he who shot Liberty Valance and gave him the credit. While hoping to have the burden of carrying this truth lifted, the journalist saw the big picture of what happened as a result of Stoddard receiving the credit. A lawyer, not a real gunman, was the hero to a city. Stoddard’s status rallied people and aided him to becoming the first and three-timed Governor, two-termed Senator, Ambassador, and a man who could be the next Vice President. With that, the journalist took his notes from the interview, tore them up, and put them in a wood burning stove.

“You’re not going to use the story, Mr. Scott?”, inquired Senator Stoddard. (And, I hope you heard that in Jimmy Stewarts voice)

“No, sir,” Mr. Scott replied. “This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact. Print the legend.”

What to do about the hearsay/legends being spread about your business.

While the means available for consumers to influence opinions about your business continues evolving, here are a few things you can do (apart from the obvious continuous effort to provide great service) to ensure the best possible hearsay/legends being spread about your company.

  1. Be Aware –  If you’re not already reading and tracking reviews about your business, start. There are review management solutions that can help you get setup to view and respond to reviews from one place.
  2. Be Responsive – 53% of consumers expect negative reviews to be responded to within a week. Yet, over 60% of negative reviews have never been responded to. Thank the positive reviewers and use the negative as an opportunity to exercise your customer service muscles online. While many businesses fear negative reviews, how you respond to them can make a significant impact in the perception of future potential customers who come across the comments.
  3. Be Proactive – 69.5% of consumers say they would be willing to write a review or give feedback if asked. So start asking. Even if you get the comments on a comment card (old school, I know), you could share them on your website. Because the percentage of people willing to leave reviews after a negative experience is more than double what customers voluntarily post after positive experiences, it’s critical you ask for reviews – especially if you know they’re satisfied. If you have a reputation management program in place, you can solicit reviews via text or email, directing customers to Google, Facebook, and other review sources.
  4. Be Consistent – Because 85% of consumers think that reviews older than three months are no longer relevant, a steady stream of reviews spread throughout the year is far more effective than seeking and receiving reviews in small bursts.

The Yelp stigma of online reviews is diminishing as businesses pursue more online reviews. Since 2010, the average review score has increased by 12%!

Yes, hearsay can and will have significant influence over conclusions made by others about your company. It’s up to you to either fight of that notion or adjust how your business addresses it and starts influencing the alignment of facts connected to the legend being printed.