Reputation Management- A Hair Ball Wrapped in Spaghetti

By: Michael Sos

I have been working in the automotive marketing industry for about 15 years; in direct mail, dealer websites, robust lead generation programs, affiliate marketing, loyalty email marketing, lead management systems, SEO programs and recently, social and reputation management programs. I mention this because, in my entire automotive career, I have never seen more fervent opinions around any subject as around the topic of reputation management.  Now, it could be that I am dialed into the commentary on this subject, but I am pretty sure the passion for this is a result of a few things:

1. Reviews and ratings are very personal. A bad review can make you want to take big leap off a high bridge, especially after dedicating an 80hr work week to the brand, revenue, and local reputation of your dealership.

2. Old School SEO is Dead. In the new Google Algorithm, Social Signals are king. Most digital marketing companies are not equipped or experienced as customer engagement businesses…so the new Google algorithm is like reading hieroglyphics with astigmatism. This is frustrating for a lot of established digital vendors.

3. Refer to #2 and put yourself in the shoes of any lead generation company that previously stole your dealership’s traffic (through good SEO) and sold it back to you for a profit. Now these lead gen companies are thrust into a hostile environment where they must compete with Yelp, Yahoo local, G+, etc, for traffic.

4. The Internet used to be the Wild West, where marketers could obscure anything to benefit business ambitions. Now buyers can only be won through good customer service and engagement. In other words, win as business people utilizing relationships with real customers.

 

Most of the stories written about reputation management only touch the surface. Assuming that you already know the impact of reviews on your dealership’s brand and that Google’s algorithm is fueled by local citation and social signals, let’s dive deeper into driving consumer engagement through reviews.  Get ready for some tips along the way.

Reputation management is a dynamic subject because it requires that businesses incorporate customer service, direct marketing principles, data collection habits, search engine optimization and market intelligence. It is like a hair ball wrapped in spaghetti and it is the ultimate challenge for even the seasoned marketing geek.

Driving Customer Engagement in Review Sites:

Direct marketing is a huge part of effective reputation management. The biggest challenge is reaching customers and getting them to engage online. The best method to do this is to ask for a review in-store and follow up with an email afterwards. It sounds simple but can be challenging if your dealership doesn’t treat the email follow-up like a lead generation campaign.  The typical store only has about 1500 transactions a month, including car sales and repair orders. This is not a huge list of opportunities within which to work. Dealers face an additional challenge in the fact that customers get nothing for their survey efforts. Conversely, a lead gen campaign results in a new vehicle or free money from a Nigerian prince. It’s imperative that the review follow-up campaign is extremely efficient. Don’t take opens and click-thrus for granted. The most inefficient part of the campaign occurs when a customer clicks onto a review site and is tasked with creating an account in order to leave the review. This process is arduous and results in a self-filtering. In other words, only the really happy customers and the really unhappy customers will write reviews.

Tip #1: If you are working with a reputation management company and they are not discussing in-store email collection, email open rates, click-thrus and conversion stats for review sites…it is time to bid them adieu.

These are all methods for driving the highest conversion from every email customer interaction. While a large portion of email is viewed on mobile devices, iPhone and iPad users make up a smaller percentage of traffic, but a higher percentage of engagement.

 

Tip #2: Make sure your entire user path is optimized for mobile and especially IOS users as the Apple Geeks are the most likely to write a review

I always get asked the question: “where should I send my customers to leave reviews?” It sounds like an easy question, but it’s not.  First, evaluate the SERPs- (S)earch (E)ngine (R)esults (P)age. Go look at your website stats and find out which keywords are driving your web traffic.  I am willing to bet my Vanilla Ice personally autographed commemorative box of Count Chocula that your top performing keyword is the name of your store. Type the name of your dealership and check out who is accompanying your store on the results page. It is likely dominated by reputation and social sites, which have content relevant to your business. This is your dealership’s digital resume. See, these review sites are not your friends. These guys are just the newest players out there that are stealing your traffic for their own benefit. They want your traffic to generate ad revenue. Some of them will sell that ad space to you and others will sell it to competitors. That said, some of these companies have strategies that will benefit you- like Cars.com and Edmunds.com. They have your inventory and are using social content to bring more eyeballs to it. They also provide consumers a new way to differentiate stores. Good dealerships benefit on these sites. Other review sites are a little grey; counting on your commitment to monetize their program in order to decide the value. A lot of review sites are neutral and their advertising business is no threat to your strategy. Watch out for review sites that use convoluted filtering strategies ensuring that real reviews (mostly happy customers) don’t make the front page. Why do they do this? Ad revenue. A page full of happy reviews does not motivate a consumer to view multiple pages on a review site, which hurts the advertising model.

Tip #3:  Double down on your partnerships by driving customers to share reviews where your inventory lives. This gives potential customers more information and creates a path for them to become a lead. More review content bolsters that partner in search and helps you to steal more traffic from competitors.

Tip#4: Identify traffic cul-de-sacs and starve these sites of your reputation engagement. Without fresh review content and link backs, they will fall out of your SERPs and become irrelevant.

Tip#5: Beware of Silicon Valley. These guys makes changes that can shake up your strategy overnight and you have to be nimble.

Tip#6: A good social strategy is a strong pairing with SERP control. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Youtube are good examples of this one.

Dealers have worked hard on web site branding for years…but now it is just as important to understand that consumers go to lots of sites before a dealership’s website. This is why it is crucial to manage your expanded web presence. You can do this through good customer engagement- the essence of reputation management.

Tip #7: If your reputation, social company, or internal resource is also your web master, make sure they are not too preoccupied with your web site and turning a blind eye to the expanded web presence. Great Reputation Management is not won on your website.

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