Let’s say you’re running a small soup kitchen in Manhattan. Today, you have to receive and catalog new stock, cook five different soups, pay your staff, order from four different suppliers, take out newspaper ads, serve at the lunchtime rush and … check your Facebook?

Yes, you’re busy. But marketing experts say you can’t afford to ignore social media. This is why.

Remember when you would ask your friends and family for recommendations when seeking places to eat or shop? It turns out we still do that, but with strangers, on sites like Yelp and with our networks on Facebook and Twitter. BrightLocal’s 2013 Local Customer Review Survey found 79 per cent of customers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

Founder Myles Anderson said online reviews and social media discussion gave customers a peek “over the wall” at the personality of a business.

“The way a business responds to public complaints and praise is equally important. Businesses need to act swiftly and positively to show they listen to and care about what their customers think,” he wrote.

But a report by software contact company Genesys found more than half Fortune 500 companies failed to link to their social accounts on their customer-facing websites. About half failed to list a Facebook page, 55 per cent had no Twitter account listed and a whopping 89 per cent did not offer an email address for customer feedback.

Genesys head of sales Tom Eggemeier said social media was a key service tool but big businesses were shy.

“Many large consumer-facing companies are still struggling and not confident in their ability to deal with customer queries and complaints via social media,” he wrote on the site.

Forbes social media blogger Alex Knapp estimates 80 per cent of actionable posts on business social media accounts relate to service, so these companies are missing the boat.

Responding to bad reviews


Opening your social media channels does not give your customers permission to bag you on Facebook. If they want to, they will do that anyway. But you’re improving your ability to find those reviews, contact the poster and have a discussion that will improve the outcome in most cases.

Marketing experts are agreed that it’s important to treat bad reviews fairly. Most have the same advice:

  1. Cool down. Don’t respond in a fit of pique.
  2. Write to the customer privately, apologize and try to address the issue.
  3. If the review remains unchanged, consider a public response.

Local Search Association president Neg Norton also suggests businesses should be proactive, encouraging happy patrons to write good reviews. Every time I picked up a souvlaki at my formerly local Greek place in Melbourne (which is superb, by the way) the owner would ask me to write a Yelp review. I rarely write reviews but I did for him, because he asked.

Brand.com CEO Mike Zammuto also has some good advice for dealing with cyber bullies and Yelp trolls.

What is the risk?

Business reputation has never been more transparent. A complaint that once would have been handled in-house or at best, in the local newspaper, can now go viral overnight, causing incalculable damage to a business.

When Dave Carroll’s guitar was smashed by United Airlines baggage handlers in 2008, he spent nine months trying to negotiate compensation, to no avail. So he wrote a song about it that has been watched 13 million times on YouTube. Mainstream press coverage followed, as did a stream of complaints from other United passengers. It amounted to a public relations disaster for United and a 10 per cent drop in its stock price in four days.

HigherVisibility.com social media blogger Amanda DiSilverstro says businesses can’t afford to ignore bad reviews. She said reviews gave potential customers a look at the business and its managers, but were also important for improving your search engine performance.

“Remember that even negative reviews can serve as a positive. They give you an outlet to show your great customer service and turn a bad relationship into a good one (hopefully creating a life-long customer),” DiSilverstro wrote.

“If nothing else, just remember that the review can be overshadowed by a lot of positive reviews, so always encourage your customers to help.”

Addendum: You can get away with responding poorly to a bad review … but only if you’re Axl Rose.

axl rose review

Axl Rose responds to a bad review. Picture: Letters of Note