Reviewing Online Reviews

When you’re about to head out for the night and want to try something new, what’s the first thing you do?

When you’re in the market for a new car, home appliance or plumber, what’s your instinct?

If your answer is to go online to check reviews, you’re in line with the majority of American adults. According to a survey by global marketing firm Mintel, more than 70 percent of U.S. adults surveyed say they seek online reviews and opinions before making any kind of purchase.

It’s clear that online reviews are important to consumers, but do they really matter to businesses?

“Yes, absolutely,” says Lee Robinson, manager of Raleigh’s Players Retreat. “You can’t help but obsess about them a little bit. Every time we see a bad [review], we try to figure out what the root cause is and try to fix it,” Robinson says.

Raleighite Melissa Shaheen says that is precisely her motive behind leaving negative reviews,

“I’m a big believer in, ‘how can you fix something if you don’t know that it’s broken?,’” she says.

Shaheen says she leaves both positive and negative reviews often: “It’s such a great tool if it’s used the right way.”

She shares the story of how Delta turned around a bad experience after she reached out.

“My 80-year-old mother was stranded,” she says. “I tweeted the situation @Delta and within 15 minutes of my tweet, a customer service representative was by her side with help and a voucher.”

Using negative reviews wisely is smart business, according to Robinson.

“I find them helpful,” he says. “I would much rather personally touch every table while they are here and make sure they are having a good time as opposed to them going home upset and writing a bad review, but that’s on us. So I’m glad it’s out there.”

However, many have found online reviews to be bad for business. Yelp has already had to defend itself against lawsuits claiming that Yelp’s practices are defamatory and resulted in loss of business. Currently, the California Supreme Court is deciding Hassell v. Bird, a case that hinges on the limitations of free speech and due process for online reviews.

In addition, marketing firms have popped up all over the country with advertised goals to help businesses defend themselves from online negativity.

One such firm in Raleigh, TheeDesign, has a designated Online Reputation Management (ORM) sector. It employs SEO experts who, according to the company’s website, specialize in “digital marketing,” and say it “spares no tactic to revive your organization’s brand and know the most effective, efficient ways to bring your business back on top in the eyes of the public.”

Like social media in general, online reviews can mean different things to different people. Lauryn Colatuno says that for her, online reviews make the world a smaller place.

“I think it’s about being part of the local community,” she says. “There is something cool about seeing what regular people say about their experiences.”

Colatuno was such a frequent contributor that she became one of the first “Yelp Elite” reviewers in Charlotte. The experience later even turned into a career, which brought her to Raleigh.

Because of her experiences as both a long time reviewer and employee of the online review world, she has seen, and left, her share of negative reviews.

“Even before I worked for Yelp, I was conscious of my reviews because I understood it could hurt a business’s reputation,” she says. “Usually businesses would reach out to me after negative reviews in a very positive way asking how they could make it up to me, and would I be willing to give them another chance.”

As a Yelp employee, part of Colatuno’s job was to educate business owners on how to handle negative reviews.

“Customers appreciate it more when businesses simply reach out, acknowledge the bad experience and let them know how they are changing to improve,” she says.

“Absolutely,” agrees Shaheen. “I will absolutely continue to be a customer if they respond and work to make things better.”

Tips for Effectively Reading Online Reviews: 

1. Check out the profile of the reviewer. Do they leave many reviews? Do they only post when they have negative experiences? Our review experts agree that reviewers that leave both positive and negative reviews are more trustworthy than someone who may just have an ax to grind, or, as Robinson says, “it could’ve just been someone we had to cut off.” 

2. Scan through the reviews themselves. Colatuno says, “Just because a restaurant has a 3-star overall review, that can still be a great place to visit. If you only visit places with 5 stars, you’d be missing out!” 

3. Take into account how new a business is. For a new or small business with only a couple reviews, each review is weighted much heavier, so fewer stars may just mean fewer reviews.

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