What Are They Saying About You?
The new reality: Marketing for franchise development now includes monitoring your online reviews.
By Heather Ripley
If you’ve ever considered buying anything online, you know that reviews are everywhere. The website you use will often have reviews right there next to the price or the description. Sometimes the reviews aren’t as obvious, but you know you’ll be able to find them with very little effort. And if you are serious about finding reviews by themselves, you can simply type in the search bar the item and the word “review” next to it and see the search results.
The same is true in business. If you are considering a vendor or a contractor, what’s your first inclination? You’ll most likely do a Google search, and find out what people are saying about that business. The same holds true for just about anything today. People looking for a job will look up that company and see what past or current employees say about it.
Or, when looking for a new car, most consumers will research it online for its reliability, comfort, drivability, gas mileage, cost and more before even stepping foot in a dealer showroom. Car sales staff know that the typical customer has done a lot of research before coming in, and if the sales staff are smart, they’ve gone online to see what the general public says about the cars being sold and the dealership too.
If you have a franchise operation and you are actively seeking to bring in new franchisees, those franchisees who do their homework are going to know what those reviews say before they even consider your franchise. And aside from potential franchisees researching your specific franchise operation, all they have to do these days is type “buying a franchise” in a Google search bar and they will get thousands of suggested articles to read – some with headlines and content that are not very favorable.
On a recent Google search for the same, Forbes.com staffer Susan Adams suggested in her article “12 Things to Do Before you Buy a Franchise” that potential franchisees “dig for dirt” on the franchise they are considering. Other similar suggestions can be easily found.
The takeaway here is: If you think reviews don’t matter when marketing your franchise to potential franchisees, you are dead wrong. There used to be a saying in business deals, “my word is my bond,” which loosely meant “you can believe/trust what I say.” It used to carry a lot of weight, but in the online world of constant and immediate information dissemination, your business is only as good as its most recent reviews.
What Can You Do About Reviews?
As a franchise public relations professional, my recommendation to all franchise organizations is to do a search online on your own franchise. Rather than wait to hear the difficult questions from potential franchisees at your next discovery days or franchisee event, be prepared beforehand. Do your own research. Find out what people are saying in reviews, chat rooms, on the comment sections of articles posted in trade magazine and business journal websites and on general searches for the franchise – so you are aware of what might come up in a Q&A session.
You should also:
* Research ways to manage online reviews and your reputation. This is easier said than done, as a negative review can occur at any time. And one negative review can hurt your franchise review ranking even if there are more positive than negative ones. And one thing to remember, according to a variety of studies published online, is that unhappy people are more likely to write a review than happy ones!
* Use social media to your advantage. A recent article posted on socialmediaweek.com explained how social media is also influencing purchasing decisions. Reviews on review sites are always a concern and need to be watched diligently, but did you know that your social media channels can affect your reputation as well? If you don’t already, you need to have someone monitor all your social channels for comments and reviews. Google My Business is a channel you should also watch carefully as those reviews show up on the maps area on a Google search for verified businesses.
If this all seems like a lot of work, it is. Reputation management is a huge concern for franchise businesses, and reviews are especially concerning because the majority of those considering buying a franchise most likely do research online. While exact figures are not available, an Entrepreneur.com article noted an Accenture study that revealed 94 percent of B2B buyers performed their own research online before a purchase.
The bottom line for franchisors is to be aware of your reputation online and take measures to boost your positive reviews through constant monitoring, commenting and asking for good reviews from happy customers. PR firms specializing in this can take the burden off by creating great social content, actively pursuing reviews and keeping franchisees and potential franchisees happy through social interactions and conversations.
Heather Ripley is the founder and CEO of Tennessee-based Ripley PR, a global public relations agency specializing in franchising. She is also a guest contributor to Entrepreneur.com.