The Internet has certainly made it easier for consumers to learn about new products, businesses, local and international trends, and information that can help them further enjoy hobbies and activities in which they participate. Agricultural business owners and operators with an Internet presence, either in addition to or in place of a brick-and-mortar retail outlet, realize soon enough that their website needs to be kept up-to-date and that consumers demand timely, if not instant, responses to emails requesting information or assistance - or business owners may see a decline in the number who visit them online.
Reduction in "foot traffic," or visitors, may not be the only negative outcome for poorly perceived performance or response. The number of forums, bulletin and message boards, and social networking sites that allow consumers to comment, rant, or rave about a business is continuing to grow. Agricultural business retailers who have been the subject of consumer expression, good or bad, soon come to understand the power of the poster's voice. Posting not only impacts the person who directly interacted with the business, but others who read reviews may be swayed by the information they glean from "real people." According to data published in 2009 (Jamieson), "one in three consumers affected by bad customer service" will post or blog about the situation online and that "one negative consumer social media comment can influence 30 customers to defect." Posting and reading reviews will not likely diminish anytime soon. According to research conducted by Forrester Research, consumers who shop on the Internet "rank reviews as the most desired feature of a Web Site."
Taking the necessary steps to monitor what others are saying about your business online is an essential component of building and protecting your business's reputation. Keep in mind that consumers are not the only group that can post about your business. Former vendors, competitors, partners, or others who have ill feelings towards your business may also use this avenue to negatively impact your business.
An owner can, however, take action to address messages, good or bad, if they are able to monitor what consumers are saying about them on the web. Fortunately, there are tools available. Consider using third party websites to monitor messages and posts that include your business's name and correctly acknowledging and addressing both favorable and unfavorable reviews.
Third Party Websites for Online Monitoring
The number of tools available for monitoring what is posted about your business, either for free or for a fee, increases frequently. What is presented in this factsheet is an overview of the types of tools available. Just as you would research a new piece of equipment or software accounting package, we encourage you to do the same for third party websites. Regardless of which tools you use, it is important to use them weekly, if not daily, to learn what is being posted and read about your business. Keywords you may want to use in your search include "social media monitoring" and "online media monitoring."
By using a website like socialmention, agricultural businesses can type in keywords or phrases in the search box and access a list of previously published entries. The site uses your keywords to search through blogs, microblogs (such as Twitter), networks, images, video, Q&A, and other information posted online (www.socialmention.com/alerts). In addition, a free RSS feed is available to alert users daily about new postings. The alert can be customized for the type of media searched and then sent to the user's email account. Because results may be from social networking tools such as Facebook, you may need an active social media account to view that complaint.
Another option is Google Alerts. This tool is similar to socialmention.com, but without a Twitter alert search feature. Google Alerts does allow the user to determine how often alerts should be sent. Alerts can be sent weekly or "as-it-happens." To receive alerts for Twitter, consider a tool such as TweetBeep which alerts users to @replies and @mentions posted on Twitter that contain keywords/phrases. Similarly, users can create an account on IceRocket and search blog postings and subscribe to RSS feeds to receive alerts when new blogs containing keyword/phrases are posted.
These tools can be useful well beyond the purpose of alerting a business owner when information is posted on the Internet about their own business. They can also assist producers, retailers, and others about topics consumers are blogging, tweeting, and posting about including trends, hobbies, and interests in new products and services. By entering keywords/phrases into search boxes on these sites, users may see common themes among those who are posting online, and they may even discover new merchandise that would be a good fit for their current product offering. Feeltiptop.com can be used to conduct Twitter-based searches where posts, called "tips," are presented based on whether the comments were positive, neutral, and negative. Users are also presented with suggestions for related searches and can narrow down searches based on specific cities. Additionally, Google Trends and Alexa provide lists of keywords, topics, and/or webpages that consumers are searching for online.
An extensive list of third party websites can be found online.
Responding to Customer Reviews
Consumers like to tell others about problems and issues that they have with a product or business - both good and bad. According to a survey conducted by Forrester Research, consumers who shop on the Internet consider reviews to be an important feature of the website. In another study, 74% of online shoppers responded "noticing product recommendations" and that "nearly six in 10 respondents who spent at least $500 online in the past six months" based some purchasing decision on the online reviews posted near the product (Anonymous, 2010).
Whether posted on your website or a third party website, it is your duty as a business owner to respond to what has been published online. Your response to negative posts can help reverse some of the ill feelings that the poster and other readers might have towards your business. According to one source:
- "60% [of those who post] would welcome a company's response to a negative comment to resolve the issue"
- "66% want the company to contact them after they post a positive comment"
- "75% believe their comments deserve corporate attention and response" (Anonymous, 2009).
Based on this data, and if the customer has a valid issue that needs to be addressed, it is necessary to do the following:
- post a reply and acknowledge that there was a problem and it will be corrected
- provide an explanation for the problem
- apologize for the problem
- thank the customer for informing you about the issue (Starkov and Mariana, 2008).
Consider responding to positive reviews as well. Thanking customers for publishing these positive views, feelings, and experiences is a way to give your business a personality and increases your presence on the Internet. A simple thank you is all that is necessary, based on input from Yelp.com: "while a gift or invitation sounds like a nice idea, it can also be misinterpreted as a bribe or payment for the review. Remember, this customer already likes your business - just use this opportunity to thank them and introduce yourself."
Most likely as an agricultural business owner, you choose to become involved in your industry out of passion for a particular aspect of agriculture, so that you can live your life a certain way, or because of another personal reason. You probably never anticipated having to spend as much time as you do, or that is needed, to protect your business's reputation. As consumers find new ways to communicate with each other, businesses must be aware and participate in these exchanges. By monitoring what is posted online about your business both the good (which can be used to bolster your reputation) and bad (which you can take steps to defuse), you are completing some of the tasks necessary to maintain and increase your business's economical sustainability and profitability.
For Further Reading
by Kathleen Kelley and Dana Ollendyke, The Pennsylvania State University, Department of Horticulture