Has Your Internet Brand Been Vandalized

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  • 1. Has Your Internet Brand Been Vandalized? By Brian Pasch If a customer came to your dealership in the still of the night and spray painted “Liar” and “Cheat” in large letters on your street facing signage, would you leave it untouched when you arrived in the morning? Consumers have tremendous power today to express their opinions about their experience at your business and make that voice heard. With dozens of popular websites containing a listing of your business that allows for consumer reviews, car dealers can no longer ignore the feedback that is being shared online. Automotive studies have confirmed that dealers who focus on good online customer service reviews see a measurable increase in calls and leads referred from review websites. Since Google Maps is now rolling up review scores from multiple websites, the consolidated dealer “score” is front and center for any search that includes a city or state search word and the brand that you sell.
  • 2. Give it a try. Type in “Denver Toyota Dealers” and see that Google Maps is at the top of the organic search results, and under each address is a review count. This data encourages consumers to see how well you are doing. When you click on your review score, are you proud of what you see? Which Websites Should I Monitor? There are a number of review websites that need to be monitored because of how the search engines rank their content. Google, Yahoo and Bing may show a different priority when a consumer searches for your business name. Some of the websites that I suggest you monitor include: • DealerRater.com • Judysbook.com • InsiderPages.com • Yelp.com • CitySearch.com • MerchantCircle.com Since new sites are always being created, the rule of thumb is that you should monitor any websites that have review capabilities that show up on Google Page One and Page Two for a search on your dealership name. Also check searches for your OEM brand and the city name where you are doing business from. DealerRater.com is the only site that has a paid system which gives dealers a two week window to resolve complaints with consumers before they are posted. Since DealerRater.com is highly optimized for organic search, most dealers will find the site on Google Page One for searches on their name.
  • 3. The search visibility of review websites make them difficult to ignore, especially if they have unbalanced negative reviews. Let me emphasize this point again; do not ignore review websites. How To Increase Your Positive Review Counts Like any digital marketing endeavor, you must honestly assess if you have the proper staff in place that will not be distracted from this important task. An effective IRM program, once launched, will require about 3-4 hours a week for the first six months to really see a difference. These hours are spent contacting satisfied customers and getting their buy-in to post a review on one of your targeted review websites. If you don’t have the right staff in place or you know that your IRM staff member will be unable to isolate time each week for this important task, hire someone to do it for you. Dealers do not have the luxury to ignore online review websites. They have to have a process in place that ensures that online comments reflect the true percentage of positive and negative feedback in their store. Proactive IRM Starts With a Friendly Phone Call We have found that starting with a phone call makes the process more intimate and meaningful. Call through a list of customers that have purchased in the last 7 days and ask first about their experience at your dealership. Thank them for their business and find out if they need assistance. Ask them if they would recommend your dealership to family and friends. If they say yes, explain that consumers start their car research on the Internet and that their peers will value their opinion if they found it online. Ask them to help you educate their peers by sharing their positive experience online. If the phone call is handled professionally, most customers will agree to help. Tell them that you will make it easy by sending them an email with links to two websites where they can post their review. Don’t overwhelm them with six
  • 4. review websites; rotate which two sites are used so you cover all sites over time. Ask them if they can write their review in the coming week. Most will say yes. This is an important buy-in question to reinforce in your email. Thank them specifically for their commitment to open the email and post a review in the next week. Once you send the email, keep a log on when they said they would post their review. Check back to the sites you included in your email with links and see if they made a post. If they did not post, send them a very brief email saying that you were following up and that maybe the email was caught up in their spam filter. Remind them how easy it is to click on the link and post a review. Ask them nicely to honor their commitment to help educate others. The second notice gets more people to keep their promise. Everyone is busy and a friendly reminder is just that. It’s A Process That Yields Results If every week your dealership’s proactive IRM program adds two new reviews, at the end of the year you will have over 100 positive statements that you can leverage. More likely, you can get 4-5 reviews a week with a few hours of dedication. This will yield over 250 reviews in a year. When Google Maps displays your dealership and your competitors on a list which shows that you have 100 more reviews than your closet competitor, you will be amazed at the results. If you place a unique tracking phone number on your Google Maps listing today and start this process, you will be pleased to see how an increase in positive reviews equates to more calls. These calls may even be considered “warm leads” because of the positive reviews that they have most likely read. With an emphasis on advertising your customers positive experiences, you are well positioned when a negative comment is posted. The reality is that if you don’t start an IRM process, the majority of posts that you will read online will be negative. Life is about balance. No dealership can be perfect. For most dealers the negative customer experiences are a small percentage of their sales. Make sure your online review scores accurately reflect that same percentage.
  • 5. Don’t Buy Votes Starting December 1, 2009, a new law, which will be enforced by the FTC, has guidelines for people who write online reviews, endorsements and testimonials. The law is focused on online posts where the writer has been compensated in some way for the review. Take a moment to make sure that your dealership is in full compliance. To simplify the matter, never pay for an online review or endorsement. Never offer a free oil change, a free tire rotation, a discount or a gift card in exchange for a review or testimonial. If a reviewer is compensated according to the new law, that must be disclosed in the review. Compensation cheapens the experience for your customers and it may get you in trouble. You don’t want to be the first auto dealer that the FTC sues under this new law because a competitor reported you. Just wait, every industry will have its turn under the FTC magnifying glass. If a customer is not compelled by a friendly voice to share their experience online, move on to another customer. Most dealers have hundreds of customers each month that they can draw upon for IRM assistance. Some dealers have utilized a business card which lists popular review sites, and they encourage their staff to get customer commitment when they deliver the car. Just make it easy to get your customer involved. It goes without saying, never implement a system where your sales staff receives monetary or cash equivalent rewards for having their customers post the most reviews. This system will always result in cheating and fake reviews being posted by sales staff and their friends from their home computers. Never encourage customers to post reviews from inside your Internet café since many sites will notice multiple posts from the same IP address and ban your account.
  • 6. Dealers that have an active Facebook page or Twitter account can also post links to the reviews written by their satisfied customers. By praising customers who have helped spread the word, you create a desire in other customers to receive that same praise. You can ask your followers to post a review by adding easy links to the websites previously listed. Make it easy for them to participate. People who are already online and who are asked to help promote their experience at your dealership are likely to follow a link and post a review if done properly. Defensive Internet Reputation Management Tactics An effective IRM program has an offensive and defensive strategy. The defensive team knows when a new comment, blog post or article has been indexed on the Internet by Google. The defensive mantra says: “ The sooner you know about a problem, the better chance you have to diffuse the matter.” If you would like to receive email notifications when someone writes a review or a blog post that includes your dealership name, I highly recommend Google Alerts. You can use this free service to monitor your dealership name and the names of key executives. When set up, you will know via email when a new post is indexed in Google, and then decide how to respond. There are tools on the market to automate this process. You just have to decide if you need anything more than Google Alerts. If you have an active campaign to post positive reviews each week, your staff will be on all the top review sites every week checking what has been posted. The need to pay for a monitoring service may not be justified for a single point dealership. Larger dealer groups that have one person managing multiple dealer properties may be better served to purchase an automated tool or just outsource the process.
  • 7. Internet Reputation Management = Brand Protection I started the article with this question: If a customer came to your dealership in the still of the night and spray painted “Liar” and “Cheat” in large letters on your street facing signage, would you leave it untouched when you arrived in the morning? An Internet Reputation Management (IRM) program is also a brand protection process. As more of your customers start and end their car shopping experience on the Internet, your online brand becomes vitally important. I predict that customer reviews will be further leveraged and consolidated by savvy entrepreneurs because of the influence that they yield. Imagine what would happen if someone created a customer “score” and made that score a household name. When used car shoppers want to know about a vehicle’s history, they often ask for a CARFAX report. Imagine the impact if a company invested the money to nationally brand the concept of a DEALERSCORE report; a consolidated summary of your online customer satisfaction scores. What would your consolidated score look like? From my search experience, less that 20% of car dealers across the USA have implemented a healthy proactive IRM program. Over half of the dealers in America have “You Suck” written on their Internet billboards and they don’t seem to care. The rest may have no reviews at all, which means they are even more vulnerable for that first negative post. There is no better time to get started than today. Your competitors hope you do nothing.
  • 8. About The Author Brian Pasch is the CEO of the Pasch Consulting Group and an active writer for the automotive community. You can find him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/automotiveseo or on Facebook http://facebook.com/paschconsulting. You can also reach Brian in his New Jersey offices at 732-450-8200.