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Can negative google and Facebook reviews damage brand reputation?

Local business reviews are becoming increasingly important for reputation management, with recent research showing 90% of consumers read online reviews before visiting a business and 72% say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more, according to Invesp. 

Reviews are very powerful as they can influence consumer decisions and this is reflected in the enormous push we are seeing from Google, Facebook and TripAdvisor to boost local business reviews.

Google has experienced exponential growth in local business reviews submitted to it since inception. From 2015 to 2016, the number of reviews grew by a massive 278% thanks to its sheer scale, visibility and influence as the number one search engine.  Every time someone searches for a local business, they’re offered the option to leave a review.

Google is able to get My Business reviews in front of smartphone users and has been pushing for more users to leave reviews, with a marked increase in the number of notifications users receive after frequenting a business. Facebook is also seeing explosive growth in reviews with its encouragement of checking into local businesses. 

It’s no surprise then that online reviews present estate agents with one of the most powerful marketing channels to help drive instructions. Testament to this is the move by some agents, like Purplebricks, to aggressively pursue customer reviews, as ‘star ratings’ give them ‘social proof’. This helps vendors to refine their research and make quicker decisions on which agent they will use. They are the modern day ‘word of mouth’.   

All agents, large and small, should be pushing for more reviews from their vendors and buyers, as consumers are increasingly searching for and reading reviews on a regular basis. Reviews give agents a great opportunity to enhance their reputation online and convince potential vendors to get in touch.

Good reviews can also be used across all marketing channels including press, online and outdoor advertising, across social media and on agents’ websites. They can be very powerful and if successfully incorporated into a Google AdWords campaign, they can help to increase click-through rates and boost instructions.

However, some agents do struggle to get genuine reviews written. Asking outright can feel like asking a favour and risks souring an otherwise good relationship and outcome. You may also be tempted to ask vendors for reviews at a particularly favourable part of the process (e.g. once an offer is accepted rather than completed), or write reviews on their behalf. Both of these are bad ideas. It’s always better to send a friendly message to the client via social media – ‘Thank you for your business, please let us know how we did’. When they respond favourably, ask them if they would mind you sharing their comments.

It’s inevitable that an agent will receive a small number of negative reviews, no matter how good they are and how much they focus on customer service. It’s vital that you therefore adopt best practice when it comes to handling bad reviews. If they are handled in a professional manner, you can send the right message out to prospective vendors. But if they are dealt with in an unprofessional manner, they can seriously damage reputation and lead to a loss of potential instructions.

Resist posting your side of the story, but rather post a polite message addressing the customer that they’ll be contacted directly, as this shows a willingness to resolve the issue without it playing out in front of your entire social media audience. And of course, make all reasonable efforts to resolve whatever the issue is – sometimes the people who recommend businesses the most are the ones that have been impressed with how a complaint has been dealt with. 

The important thing to remember is that potential vendors will read how an agent has responded to a bad review, as it gives them a clear indication of how complaints are handled.  If a bad review is ignored, or responded to in an inappropriate way, prospective vendors will understandably form a poor opinion.  How an agent handles a bad review can be potentially more damaging then the review itself.

*Ben Davis is chief executive officer of PropertyHeads.com 

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