Business Week reports 70% of Americans consult online product reviews or consumer ratings before a purchase.
What's more, Nielsen Online reports North American users place high trust in fellow users' posted recommendations.
These are staggering revelations considering that few dealerships give online reviews a second thought, much less make them part of their Web marketing strategy.
Every day, Internet users find new ways to rate, review and critique dealers.
Using social networks like Facebook, review websites such as Yelp.com, personal blogs, and forums, it's very easy for a consumer to rate and review dealerships.
By themselves, these comments and reviews might have a limited impact. However, because of search engines, it's often very easy to find each and every review or mention of a dealership.
The fact is, without a plan in place, the online reputation of a dealership is up for grabs. However, this doesn't mean that dealerships are powerless against the rants and ravings of a tech-savvy public.
A strategy and some tools are all a dealership needs to manage its reputation.
Start With Tracking
Your first order of business is to set up keyword alerts for your dealership name. Online conversations about your business can happen anywhere; leverage search engines and monitor as many mentions as possible.
Google and Yahoo offer keyword alert systems that email you when someone mentions your dealership by name. Also, customer-relationship management firms offer enhanced services that do such monitoring and handle subsequent interactions.
Hype Positive, Defuse Negative
If a mention is positive, promote that. Link to those mentions from your dealership's website or blog, mention the link on your Twitter or Facebook page, and thank the person who praised you.
When mentions are negative, defuse the situation. Engage with the upset party. Try to draw them into an offline conversation and make things right.
Whatever you do, it's never good to respond to a negative mention with a defensive or negative comment.
Stack the Deck
Even with perfect tracking and dogged effort, the best reputation-management efforts will fall short at some point. Negative reviews and scathing comments about your dealership are bound to come up eventually, which is why you need to plan ahead.
Start by “stacking the deck” of search results so that anyone who searches for your business name will find as many positive mentions as possible. There are dozens of tactics that can help you do this, many of which require the help of a search-engine optimization expert.
There are three simple tasks, however, that dealerships can do in-house:
- Create a Facebook business page
Facebook business pages rank high on all the search engines, often ahead of review websites that could contain potentially negative reviews.
- Register your business name on popular social news and social networking websites
Even if you have no intention of participating, your dealership should create an official profile on Twitter, YouTube, Digg, and MySpace because these profiles will appear in search results.
- Issue online press releases with your business name or brand name in the headline
Because search engines like to show press releases in the top-10 results, regularly issuing press releases with your dealership name in the headline will further help you control the search results for your dealership.
By tracking mentions, responding correctly and making proactive efforts to control search results, your dealership will maximize positive mentions and minimize the impact of bad reviews.
Jason Lancaster is an auto industry veteran and Internet marketing expert. As founder of Spork Marketing, he helps dealers increase visibility and sales. He's at www.sporkmarketing.com
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