Everyone’s got an opinion. And in the internet age, everyone can and does voice their opinion online. A short search online will bring back at least one person’s opinion about every kind of business under the sun, from eye doctors to painters. Restaurants are particularly targeted by the masses of opinion makers out there, since the very nature of making and serving food is so subjective.
So do you have any idea what people are saying online about your restaurant? I have talked about Yelp in previous posts, the restaurant review site that has had a tenuous relationship with restaurant owners at best since its inception. But Yelp is only the tip of the opinion iceberg, and the restaurateur who ignores the behemoth that is social media is doomed to the same fate as the Titanic.
This is not to say that the opinion machine driven by social media is all bad. It is, however, a decidedly double-edged sword. On the one hand, positive reviews and feedback coming from your happy customers can bring new customers in droves. On the other, one jerk who may or may not have actually had a bad experience can pick up the megaphone and start screaming nasty things about your restaurant.
84% of American consumers say online reviews affect their decisions on products and brands. That’s a number you simply cannot ignore. So what should you do? 4 steps to manage your restaurant’s reputation online:
Step 1: Listen to what people are saying. You can’t manage something if you don’t know what you’re dealing with. So tune in to the internet and start listening. Some places to start: Yelp, OpenTable, and UrbanSpoon are just a few of the myriad websites that post restaurant reviews. An even better option is to use Google Alerts, which will scour the entire internet for new content with your restaurant’s name in it and send you a report on what it finds.
Step 2: Respond to your critics and thank your fans. The new internet (a.k.a. Web 2.0) is all about conversation. You’ve listened. Now it’s time to answer. Yelp gives some helpful tips on how to respond to both positive and negative reviews. No matter how you respond, do it with a healthy dose of common sense: e.g. don’t insult people, don’t act defensively, don’t act like a jerk, don’t pat yourself on the back, etc. Basically, all the things that annoy you about people at a dinner party are the same things that are going to annoy your customers online. So avoid them.
The most important thing here is the creation of a dialogue. When you interact with customers, you cement loyal fans in place and you blunt the negative effects of the critics. You also appear open and engaged, which will earn you serious points with all your existing and potential online customers.
Step 3: Take the initiative. Don’t let the naysayers define your restaurant’s reputation online. If you’re not offering an alternate narrative, then people will start to think everything they read about you is true. Here’s where Twitter and Facebook come in. As I already said, if you’re not an active member of these two sites, then stop reading this blog post and go create an account with both.
The reasons for this are simple. These services are free. These services are popular. These services are also considered culturally important. Take the time to learn how to use them and then start talking about how great your restaurant is. You’ll be amazed how many people want to listen. All this costs you is your time, and the potential for new customer development is virtually unlimited.
Step 4: Gather intelligence. This goes hand in hand with Step 1, but you can’t really gather effectively until you’ve started the conversation that follows from Steps 2 and 3. Once you’ve established your own presence online, you can start to really learn exactly who your customer is and what they want. This is the revered Holy Grail of marketing: knowing customers better than they know themselves. You can achieve this through effective online reputation management.
That’s because when you converse with your customers in the realm of social media, you are going to start noticing trends and patterns. If you are careful about tracking and analyzing this data, you’ll be able to learn the habits of your customer, which means you’ll be able to serve them better, which in turn means they’ll write nice reviews about you online….
You get the point.