Is Joining an Online Review Service Good for Your Small Business?

If you are a home-based or other small business opportunity or franchise owner, creating a company profile on an online review service like Angie’s List, Yelp or ServiceMagic won’t cost you anything. However, choosing NOT to acknowledge the fact that customer experience is now a very real part of today’s overall marketing mix just might.

Is Joining an Online Review Service Good for Your Small Business? Is It Too Late to Join One?

Time was when word-of-mouth advertising for a local business owner was relegated to an exchange between neighbors over the backyard fence. Not anymore. The fact is that how well or how poorly you are doing your job is something the whole world pretty much knows about in a nanosecond these days. If you’re doing things well, then having that broadcast everywhere free-of-charge works very much in your favor. If not, managing the fallout can be a full-time job.

Online review services like Angie’s List, Yelp and ServiceMagic, to name only a few, all provide a platform for consumers to speak openly about the products and services they buy each and every day. While the latter two options are free, services like Angie’s List charge a fairly nominal monthly fee for those who want access to reliable feedback on service companies and health care professionals in more than 500 industry categories. The site now boasts well over 1 million customers and growing since its inception 17 years ago.

As a small business owner, the question of whether or not to actively engage in any or all of these kinds of online forums is an individual one. If you’re thinking it might be a good idea, but you’re not sure, here are some key pros and cons to consider:

The Pros:

• Increased exposure―By taking a proactive stance on these sites and creating your company profile, you ensure your name is out there when customers come searching for the kinds of products and services your provide.

• Image control―Branding of your company is on your terms when you get out in front, and you’re able to control consumer perception of you before someone else does.

• Greater targeted reach―Customers searching for products and services like yours are directed to you in a targeted manner.

• Paid sites offer additional benefits―Paid sites like Angie’s List offer the consumer accountability in ways that foster trust that ultimately may rub off on you and your company. Comments are never anonymous. Furthermore, they provide resolution assistance between dissatisfied customers and business owners that can be a very good incentive for both parties.

The Cons:

• Invites feedback―Having a presence on a site can invite reviews, which if they are negative can be a bad thing.

• Unstructured reviews―Customer reviews are oftentimes subjective in that they focus too much on the intangibles such as perceived friendliness or a lack thereof, or they put too much emphasis on price, all without measured consideration with regard to things that should be equally if not more important such as skill, technical expertise or the quality of the final product.

• Jury’s out―There is no consensus as to just how beneficial taking an active role on these sites is to a company’s bottom line. The feedback is all over the map and very anecdotal.

• Paid sites have some additional drawbacks―Consumers pay for access to reviews about companies in a specific region. Additional regions mean more money, so your reach is somewhat limited. Because rankings are directly linked to the quality of your reviews, one bad one can really have a negative effect and work against you.

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