Internet Reviews – Not to Fear

With the increase in online reviews for dental services and other local businesses, dentists sometimes raise concerns about the lack of control about what is said online. A recent survey of online reviews found that they are largely positive. Like word of mouth, a great experience or a very negative one is more likely to spawn a review.

Here are a few excerpts from a front page Wall Street Journal Article on October 5, 2009 that provide some interesting insights into online reviews.

On the Internet, Everyone’s a Critic But They’re Not Very Critical

Average Review Is 4.3 Out of Five Stars; Jerkface Fights Back and Gets Bounced

By GEOFFREY A. FOWLER and JOSEPH DE AVILA

The Web can be a mean-spirited place. But when it comes to online reviews, the Internet is a village where the books are strong, YouTube clips are good-looking and the dog food is above average.

One of the Web’s little secrets is that when consumers write online reviews, they tend to leave positive ratings: The average grade for things online is about 4.3 stars out of five.

Many companies have noticed serious grade inflation. Google Inc.’s YouTube says the videos on its site average 4.6 stars, because viewers use five-star ratings to “give props” to video makers. Buzzillions.com, which aggregates reviews from 3,000 sites, has tracked millions of reviews and has spotted particular exuberance for products such as printer paper (average: 4.4 stars), boots (4.4) and dog food (4.7).

If the rest of the Internet is filled with nasty celebrity blogs and email flame wars, what makes product reviews sites so lovey-dovey? “If you inspire passion in somebody in a good way or a bad way, that is when they want to write a review,” says Russell Dicker, the senior manager of community at Amazon.

His boss, Amazon’s Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, follows that pattern. He has posted five-star reviews for products like Tuscan brand whole milk and some “ridiculously good cookies” sold on the site. Mr. Bezos’s only non-five-star review: one star for a science-fiction movie, “The 13th Warrior.”

Culture may play a role in the positivism: Ratings in the U.K. average an even higher 4.4, reports Bazaarvoice. But the largest contributor may be human nature. Marketing research firm Keller Fay Group surveys 100 consumers each day to ask them about what products they mentioned to friends in conversation. “There is an urban myth that people are far more likely to express negatives than positives,” says Ed Keller, the company’s chief executive. But on average, he finds that 65% of the word-of-mouth reviews are positive and only 8% are negative.

Some suspect companies goose their ratings. This summer TripAdvisor.com, which averages just above a four, posted warnings that some of its hotel reviews may have been written by hotel managers. But review sites say the incidence of fakes is tiny, and many pay people to delete puffery.Other sites admit they have a positivity problem and are taking novel steps to curb the enthusiasm. One way is to redefine average. Reviews of eBay.com’s millions of merchants were so positive that eBay made 4.3 out of five stars its minimum service standard. Beginning this month, it is switching to a system that counts just the number of one- and two-star reviews. Sellers who get more than 3% to 4% of those ratings could get kicked off of eBay.

Another site, Goodrec, decided to ditch the five-star rating system altogether, replacing it with a thumbs-up and thumbs-down system. Amazon now highlights what it dubs “the most helpful critical review” at the top of its reviews page.

Jeremy Stoppelman, chief executive of Yelp.com, which posts reviews of local businesses in cities around the country, bragged in September that his site’s reviews were more diverse. The average review on Yelp is 3.8. Many assume online reviews are “only rants or raves, resulting in consumer Web sites composed solely of ratings on the extremes,” he blogged. “A broader range of opinions can give consumers a more complete view of a business,” he says.

What can we take from this? Providing outstanding customer service in your dental practice leaves you nothing to fear. Going beyond the expected to make their experience in your dental office exceptional and will likely eventually help you develop exceptional reviews online. Paying attention to your online reputation as a portion of your internet dental marketing strategy also pays off.

Building Your Online Reputation

In the past, dental practices relied on satisfied patients to spread the word with their friends and acquaintances. Today, more and more patients are going online to share their experiences with friends and many others they don’t even know. While reviews have been online for several years for books, electronics and sellers on eBay, reviews are just gaining hold for local service providers.  This is an important developing area of the internet that makes sense to cultivate. While what others were saying about your practice was fairly invisible in the past, now word of mouth is online and visible for years.

Following are some excerpts from an October 2, 2009 Wall Street Journal article by Raymund Flandez that suggest some tips for improving your online reputation.

Three Best Ways to Improve Your Online Reputation

By RAYMUND FLANDEZ

These days, a great danger lurks just a few clicks away: the online review. By Googling your company’s name, anyone can read and track your business’s performance – including missteps, poor service or less-than-stellar products.

Protecting your company’s reputation is now a 24-hour vigil. Negative reviews – whether they’re merited or not – can turn away potential customers and vendors, and reflect badly on your company’s brand.

The good news is that small-business owners can be proactive in securing positive reviews by asking satisifed customers to share their experiences. But what if it’s already too late?

Here are the three best ways to improve your online reputation:

1. Reach out immediately to dissatisfied reviewers. Their negative comments don’t need to be the end of the conversation. Small-business owners should attempt a dialogue, experts say, as complainers might improve the review or take down the post. Oguz Ucanlar, president of SpaForever LLC in Chicago, managed to turn around bad reviews on Yelp.com by contacting the aggrieved posters. He apologized, explained the situation and offered the reviewers discounts or a free massage. The result? One bad review was deleted, and the spa’s overall rating went up. “I take it really seriously,” he says. It also helps that Yelp now allows business owners to respond publicly to any customer comment, giving others a window into how the business treats its most finicky customers.

When a bad review surfaces, an apology goes a long way, says Lisa Barone, co-founder of Outspoken Media Inc., a Spring Hill, Fla., Internet marketing company. “Most people just want to be heard,” she says. “They just want to know you’re listening and you care, and that you’re going to try and fix it.”

Keep in mind that a negative review can sometimes be helpful. Case in point: an online customer of Nationwide Candy LLC of Albuquerque, N.M., complained after she received the wrong bubblegum product. Turns out, the candy wholesaler had posted an incorrect image on its site. “It just casted a bad image on us,” says Ken Hanson, its general manager, who immediately corrected the error.

2. Flood search engines with content you can control. Use digital media’s reach to your full advantage, says Evan Bailyn, founder of First Page Sage LLC, a New York search engine optimization company. Mr. Bailyn says he often helps clients put “good publicity on top to knock bad publicity off the first page” of search engine results. To do that, he suggests releasing press releases through prnewswire.com or pr.com and building Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts since these social-media sites show up high on search results. “The overall strategy is inundating the Google results with as much good or neutral content as possible so that the bad seems like an anomaly,” Mr. Bailyn says.

3. Appeal to bloggers to review your company or your product. Getting others to weigh in can be an effective way to generate neutral or positive reviews to counteract negative ones. Influential bloggers in your niche market can bring instant credibility to a company. If you already know bloggers in your industry, read or reach others by simply scanning their blogrolls, a handy list (typically placed in the sidebar) of potential contacts. Alert them to news about your product or service as a first step in building the relationship.

For your dental practice, one of the ways you can take control of your online reputation is to invite your satisfied patients to provide reviews.  This is easy to do with a simple e-mail invitation that includes a link to your listing on a site such as Google Maps or Yahoo Local where they can write a review.  ProspectaMarketing assists dentists with this by building their local online listing with helpful information about the practice and then providing e-mail templates that can be sent to their patients to write reviews.  It is easy to implement and just requires some ongoing attention and effort.

Some dentists have concerns about the lack of control over reviews.  The best defense is a well-run practice.  However, even the best practices may have a dissatisfied customer from time to time.  One doctor of an excellent practice had a dissatisfied patient who wrote a negative review and had her husband write a negative review as if he were a patient also.  After a phone call to discuss their concerns, they agreed to remove the reviews.  Sometimes just showing you hear them and will resolve their concerns will resolve the problem and maybe even create greater loyalty.

ProspectaMarketing Blog

Welcome to the ProspectaMarketing blog.  This blog has been established to provide information and insights into internet marketing, particularly for dental practices and businesses seeking to reach consumers. I hope you will find it useful.

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