Time: A Business Owner’s Best Weapon Against Negative Yelp Reviews

By Todd Bacile, Ph.D. | October 14, 2014

Negative Yelp Reviews

Negative Yelp reviews are a concern for business owners. The cause for worry is due to various studies illustrating that negative online reviews can decrease consumers’ purchase intent and can decrease revenue by sizable amounts.Hate us on Yelp

My research on social media complaints and the impact of consumer-generated comments directly relates to Yelp. Negative Yelp reviews came up in a discussion at an industry conference where I was the keynote speaker discussing social media’s impact on business.

“What can we do?,” asked a small business owner, who was concerned that the negative comments would impact her business. Her concern is legitimate.

The Problem of Negative Reviews

Negative reviews generally have a greater impact on a person’s perception of a business versus positive reviews. This negativity-bias can be traced to economics’ and psychology’s theory of loss aversion, where a loss (i.e., something negative) is a more powerful piece of decision-making criteria versus a gain (i.e., something positive).

In the context of online reviews, positive comments are not nearly as memorable or impressionable as negative comments and complaints. Yet, there may be a useful strategy to combat negative reviews that every business owner has access to: time.

Temporal Cues & Negative Reviews

A study recently published in the Journal of Marketing Research highlighted the value of temporal contiguity cues in online reviews. The inclusion of temporal cues, such as a review written on the day of product consumption (e.g., comments including “today” or “we just went to this place”) had a profound effect.

In reviews which included temporal cues, consumers perceived the value of positive reviews to be stronger, while the value of negative reviews became weaker. That’s right, even a negative review with temporal cues did not become more impressionable, meaning the power of a negativity-bias was diminished.

The study, written by Zoey Chen and Nicholas Lurie, analyzed over 65,000 Yelp reviews across numerous experiments to arrive at the final conclusions. Read the full study for the complete details.

Using Time as a Review Strategy

Theoretically speaking, the study is fascinating. In a managerial context, here’s an operational strategy to benefit from the findings of the study: ask for reviews – be it positive or negative – immediately! Create marketing communications or retail signage promoting the importance of posting a review “today”.

If it fits within your business model, provide incentives to consumers, such as offering a freebie item or discount for “posting your positive or negative review and mentioning you came in today.” If you have front-line service workers be sure a quick line is communicated to customers (e.g., “We would love a review – please explicitly say you were in here today!”)

If you’ve exhausted your efforts as to how to get negative reviews removed, the findings from the study and the suggested strategy above may cause your business to not suffer as much from negative Yelp reviews.

This is a unique spin on the old adage, “Time heals all wounds.”

Dr. Todd Bacile (@toddbacile) is a marketing professor at Loyola University New Orleans, a marketing consultant, and a professional keynote speaker who features presentations on social media marketing, search engine marketing, online complaints, online reputation management, and customer service issues at corporate and industry conferences. He holds a Ph.D. in marketing from Florida State University. Social Media Marketing Magazine ranks him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. Have a question or comment? Post it here and you will receive a response.

Social Media Complaints: An Example of the Tip of the Iceberg Effect

By Todd Bacile, Ph.D. | July 31, 2014

Tip of the Iceberg EffectSocial media complaints are a new challenge to firms. The connected-consumer now has a platform to efficiently disseminate an unfavorable message about a company or its products to the masses.

Social media complaints produce what I refer to as the Tip of the Iceberg Effect. You may be wondering, ‘What is this effect?’ An example which happened to me this week will nicely illustrate it.

Poor Customer Service

To briefly summarize, I had a bad experience with a car I rented from Enterprise and National Car Rental. Soon after driving away with my rental car I discovered an issue. It reeked. A heavy smoker had used the vehicle. Plus, there was a sticky substance on the steering wheel. It should have been cleaned better. The time was 1 AM and with small children in the car I decided to resolve the issue in the morning.

A summary of the situation the next morning: phone support was great. They said I could swap the vehicle at any location. No need to go back 45 minutes to the airport where I picked it up. I went to a closer Enterprise location, where a rep agreed to swap the vehicle (“we have plenty of cars for you to choose”). However, his computer told him he couldn’t swap vehicles due to a technicality.

I called phone support back, who then contacted the location’s rep five minutes later to make them swap the vehicle. Now another rep at the location insisted they had no vehicles to swap. “All of our vehicles are reserved,” he said proudly. I felt bamboozled.

I referred to Enterprise’s policy to request a car be brought to my location; and was told that would not be possible. Phone support gave me two choices: drive 10 miles to another location to swap my full size car for a compact or drive back to the airport to **try** to get another vehicle. Like I was trying at that moment with no success. Right.

In the end my wife spent three hours cleaning the smelly, sticky vehicle. Hooray, we’re on vacation!

Social Media Complaints

As a consumer who spent a lot of money, only to receive poor service, I was upset and disappointed. In my opinion, the company was not willing to resolve the issue for me in a fair manner. Thus, I had experienced a service failure. Left without another option, I took my complaint to social media to tell others.

A single tweet to my followers, as well as the Twitter handles of the two rental companies I was having an issue with started the ball rolling. At the time I posted my tweet I had about 1,300 followers. That is 1,300 people who may potentially read about my poor service encounter in their timelines.

Would they all read it? No chance. But, some would. And some did.

My single complaint tweet soon produced 21 retweets and/or modified retweets. A quick calculation of the total number of followers of these 21 people: 13,263. That is 13,263 people who potentially would be exposed to my complaint in their Twitter timelines. There were a few other responses or retweets of responses from various people, which added to the overall reach with an additional 4,252 followers exposed to the tweet.

Altogether, 17,515 people were exposed to some of the details associated with my poor service encounter. That’s a lot. What can I say, other than I have a certain degree of “Klout“.

Tip of the Iceberg Effect

A single complaint tweeted and then retweeted by 21 people. In sheer numbers of consumers in a target market, that is a very small number. However, there was an underlying effect of word-of-mouth communication being disseminated. My complaint and the 21 retweets resulted in a possible audience of up to 17,500+ consumers.

This illustration resembles the physical properties of an iceberg, which often has 90% or more of its structure residing underwater. Moreover, when you view an iceberg peeking out of the water, you are only seeing a small portion of it. Less noticeable to plain sight is a larger structure quietly lurking below.

Tip of the Iceberg EffectSocial media complaints also exhibit characteristics of an iceberg. If a company sees a single complaint and a small number of follow-up social actions by others — retweets, shares, likes, comments, or +1’s — what is noticeable in plain sight may seem like a small number of consumers. However, just as the majority of an iceberg is out of plain sight, the number of followers who are exposed to these follow-up social actions may be immense.

This is word-of-mouth 2.0.

Proactive and Reactive Strategies

The best strategy to avoid social media’s tip of the iceberg effect is to proactively resolve a problem. This means correcting a problem when a consumer first voices before wide exposure. How? Perform a service right the first time, make it easy for consumers to complain, and make the recovery a hassle free experience. If a product can’t be replaced, there are other options (e.g., sincere apologies, showing genuine empathy, or offering a future benefit as compensation).

However, not all companies have the resources to proactively correct a service failure. If not, a reactive strategy may be necessary. A resolution can still be completed to satisfy a complainant, but now the world is exposed to poor service details.

In my case, the rental company chose the reactive route. However, by the time it reached out to me via social media — and four days later via a telephone call to my phone — the retweets and the audience exposure was already in motion. The delay in a resolution also gave me time to become more upset.

The takeaway: fix problems as soon as they occur. Proactive strategies will save your business a lot of negative word-of-mouth. If you must use a reactive strategy to resolve a complaint, try to resolve the issue quickly. Use tools such as Radian6 to quickly find complaints and then use real-time engagement to attempt a resolution. However, negative word-of-mouth has already begun: the number of consumers exposed to a complaint — and the size of the proverbial iceberg — is growing. It is still worth your time to try to resolve the issue to minimize the iceberg.

Dr. Todd Bacile (@toddbacile) is a marketing professor at Loyola University New Orleans, a marketing consultant, and a professional speaker with presentations focusing on social media marketing, search engine marketing, online complaints, and online reputation management at corporate and industry conferences. He holds a Ph.D. in marketing from Florida State University. Social Media Marketing Magazine ranks him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. Have a question or comment? Post it here and you will receive a response.

Search Marketing and Social Commerce: Location (i.e., Click) is Everything

By Todd Bacile, Ph.D. | July 7, 2014

Present the Purchase Funnel’s End to the Consumer

Twitter Buy Now buttonTwitter’s Buy Now button began appearing recently, serving as yet another vehicle for brands to conduct social commerce. The idea is simple: by adding a ‘buy now’ link embedded into a tweet, it becomes easier for consumers to click for a purchase. Moreover, if marketers decrease the time and effort it takes to find a landing page to complete a purchase, then (hypothetically) consumers will buy more.

Social media and search engine giants have been attempting to move consumers more quickly down the path to make a purchase for years. Facebook stores and f-commerce, despite their flaws, sprung up due to large numbers of consumers engaging with brands via the social site. Consumers were already on Facebook, so why would you want to re-direct people off the social site to a corporate site to make a purchase? It’s more convenient to bring the purchase opportunity closer to the consumer’s location.

Google, Bing, Yahoo et al. approach the notion of ‘ease of purchase’ in a similar manner. Search engine ads are quick vehicles to make a purchase. Case in point: the next time you search for something notice all the calls to action to make a purchase in the sponsored advertisements on the search engine results page. Why have a consumer click-through several links on a web site to add a product to a shopping cart when you can bring the purchase right to the person?

4P’s of Marketing: A Modern Point of View

4Ps of MarketingDecreasing the number of clicks to make a purchase is part of the progression of marketing’s ‘Place’ element within the 4P’s marketing mix framework. The 4P’s requires marketers to consider aspects and characteristics of the Product, Price, Promotion, and Place. Note: for a quick tutorial check out this 4P’s of marketing video, which contains a detailed description of this marketing mix framework.

The ‘Place’ element was originally designed to signify distribution to and through a physical store location, hence the old adage, ‘location is everything.’ Those wise old marketing geniuses circa 1960 professed that you need to put your store in a high-traffic physical place, thereby decreasing the time and effort required of nearby consumer traffic to come into the store and make a purchase. Great location = convenience = ease = sell a lot of stuff.

The evolution of technology requires marketers to expand upon ‘Place’ to consider online ‘Space’ or ‘Distribution’ aspects. No longer do you need the busy physical location. Instead, consider busy online spaces as viable ‘Place’ options to distribute goods, services, and information. Such busy online spaces include Google search results pages, Facebook, and Twitter.

Having a social or search engine presence is not enough, though. If you want consumers to make a purchase, bring the end of the purchase funnel closer to them. One way to do this is to reduce the number of clicks a consumer must execute in an effort to make a purchase. Fewer clicks equates to fast, easy, and convenience for consumers. Think of ‘fewer clicks’ in the era of newer more personal media as the proverbial ‘physical storefront on a busy street corner.’

Dr. Todd Bacile (@toddbacile) is a Marketing Professor at Loyola University New Orleans and is the CEO of Bacile Marketing Research LLC.  He holds a Ph.D. in Marketing from Florida State University. Social Media Marketing Magazine ranks him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. Have a question or comment? Post it here and you will receive a response.

Facebook and Business Ethics: Five Questions to Ponder

By Todd Bacile, Ph.D. | January 21, 2014

Five Ethics Questions about the Social Giant

Ethical business practices are imperative for today’s business leaders. So, how does our social media giant, Facebook, fare in the ethics department? Let’s examine these five questions to find out.

#1: What am I agreeing to in Facebook’s user agreement?

Facebook

For the users of Facebook’s mobile app you should know the following. First, Facebook can monitor you by microphone at any time. Second, Facebook has the right to take videos and pictures using the phone’s camera at any time without permission. Third, Facebook has the right to read your phone’s call log and capture data about your contacts, such as the frequency you have called, emailed or communicated with each.

Mobile aside, the Facebook user agreement at one time or another has stated things such as Facebook does not guarantee that its site is safe or secure; Facebook owns a worldwide licensing right to any content you share; and Facebook may use your name or images in ads.

#2: Will Facebook use my likeness in advertisements without my explicit permission?

Starbucks Sponsored Story ExampleBuilding on that last point, Sponsored Stories was one of several types of Facebook’s advertising models. The engagement rate with these types of ads outperformed competing models. Why? Because your friends and family members were depicted in an ad-like format as if they were promoting certain products.

By the way: your friends and family members often had no idea Facebook was using their name and / or image in association with product promotion. Of course this led to lawsuits against Facebook. Legal pressure “persuaded” Facebook to discontinue Sponsored Stories. Yet, one must wonder if these types of ads will resurface at a later date.

#3: Have we seen the last of our deceased friends and relatives used in Facebook’s advertisements?

Facebook and Deceased UsersI’ve written before about Facebook “accidentally” using deceased persons in ads such as Sponsored Stories. How could this happen you may ask? Well, a friend/family member with a Facebook profile dies. It is not uncommon for people to post positive messages and tag the deceased in posts/pictures for peace of mind and a type of memorial. Facebook’s algorithms would notice increased engagement surrounding the deceased’s user account.

And like any advertiser, if someone is influential, popular, or being talked about then an effort must be made to promote products associated with that person. Sure enough, Facebook would serve up Sponsored Stories featuring the deceased to friends and families. Facebook claims it did not serve up these ads on purpose; and it has since tweaked its algorithms to prevent this from recurring.

#4: How private are my “private” messages sent to other Facebook users?

Facebook’s algorithms read your private messages that you send to other Facebook users. Facebook claims it does so to detect criminal behavior. Oddly enough, though, if you send a private message which includes a hyperlink, Facebook may automatically assign a “Like” for the hyperlinked page! It makes you wonder what else is happening to your so-called “private” messages.

#5: Will Facebook crack down on fake “Likes”?

Facebook LikesItem #4 points to another problem: “Like” Fraud. There are two distinct fraud activities happening on Facebook. The first is “Like” scams. This occurs when a page posts provocative images or offers prizes in an effort to gain a lot of likes. The owner of the page then attempts to sell the page to a third-party.

Why? It takes time and effort to build a social following. Some unscrupulous companies want to avoid the work and simply buy a page with a “following”. In fact, there are online markets to facilitate such sales. At the time of this writing, it appears the asking price of a Facebook page with 42,000 likes is $50!

The second type of like fraud is when a page decides to purchase likes in bulk. The practice of buying a large following has been popular on Twitter for years. Well, it is also happening on Facebook. One reason is that a like count is a vanity metric. It looks nice to have a larger following, but there is a debate as to what likes actually mean.

To its credit, Facebook has claimed it is cracking down on all fraudulent “Like” activities.

Ethical Social Media?

These five questions and answers raise serious concerns about ethical business practices used at Facebook. Many consumers are skeptical that their information and privacy are safe within Facebook’s servers. Facebook is the king of social media at the moment, but this may change as social technologies progress and consumers are presented with other social networking options.

Dr. Todd Bacile (@toddbacile) is a Marketing Professor at Loyola University New Orleans and holds a Ph.D. in Marketing from Florida State University. Social Media Marketing Magazine ranks him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. Have a question or comment? Post it here and you will receive a response.

Has Facebook Heard of ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’?

By Dr. Todd Bacile | September 30, 2013

Facebook & Corporate Social Responsibility

Todd Bacile's Marketing Blog - Facebook and Corporate Social ResponsibilityFor such a young company, Facebook already has created numerous debates about its ethical / legal use of consumers’ information and questionable business decisions. Today’s businesses are expected to maintain a certain level of corporate social responsibility (CSR), defined as a company being responsible for its actions – socially, ethically, and environmentally. CSR often captures headlines in the environmental context. But, it is the ethical context where Facebook skates on the proverbial thin ice.

It seems there is a fine line between a firm being innovative versus unethical. On the one hand, Facebook has continued to push the envelope to develop technologies and a marketing platform never before possible. On the other hand, the push toward new and innovative technologies at times borders on invasive or illegal behavior. The following is a brief list of some of Facebook’s marketing / managerial debacles and legal challenges.

Beacon

The first ad platform Facebook created was called Beacon, which was quickly shut down due to the illegal use of users’ private information. Beacon transmitted data from external websites to Facebook in an effort to create targeted ads. Beacon also made updates in users’ news feeds to announce certain purchase activities. The unethical angle was that Beacon was publishing users’ private information without explicit consent. Ultimately, the courts forced the termination of Beacon and made Facebook cough up a $9.5 million settlement.

The class action lawsuit (Lane v. Facebook) was born from the following sympathetic tale: Sean Lane purchased an engagement ring on Overstock.com. Unbeknownst to Lane, Overstock was one of 44 firms participating in the Beacon system. As soon as Lane bought the ring, Beacon sent purchase data to Facebook, where the social giant then posted a status update of the purchase details in Lane’s profile! Lane began receiving congratulatory wall posts from friends. The only problem was that he had yet to pop the question. Awkward! And illegal according to the courts.

Sponsored Stories

Facebook Sponsored Stories ExampleThis is how Sponsored Stories worked: a user ‘Liked’ a brand, which then enabled the brand to create an ad-like proposition to that user’s Facebook friends. The ad-like template featured the user’s name and image; and looked as if the user was recommending the brand to friends. This design was an attempt to feature an ad that appeared to be organic consumer support (because consumers hate, distrust, and ignore most ads). There was the problem: users claimed Facebook used their likeness to “trick” friends with an ad – without explicitly telling the user.

Taking this a step further, Facebook allows minors to create a profile and use the social network. Facebook’s Sponsored Stories came under attack when some parents began seeing their minor children ‘Liking’ various companies or products, then seeing their child’s name and image used in the ads to target friends. Facebook was forced to kill Sponsored Stories due to consumer backlash and legal pressures: the courts ordered a $20 million settlement.

Postmortem Profiles

Question: what happens to your Facebook account, images, videos, and content when you die? A possible answer: Facebook maintains it status quo of using a person’s information in advertisements. People actually have seen Sponsored Stories featuring a deceased friend. Really.

Then there is the story of Karen Williams and her deceased son. Williams fortunately had her son’s Facebook user name and password. She wanted to review his photos and messages to friends. However, when Williams contacted Facebook to ask that the deceased’s profile be left open, Facebook administrators immediately changed the password and locked her out of the account. The reason: Facebook was concerned about user privacy. Williams pursued and received a court order to allow her access to her son’s account.

These stories have amplified the debate of who owns a person’s digital assets upon death. Facebook has claimed that such instances were accidental; and has since created a memorialized state option. Accidental or not, new legislation is attempting to address postmortem profile access and ownership.

Facebook’s IPO

Facebook IPOFacebook has been under the microscope for allegedly misleading investors prior to its initial public offering. A class action lawsuit claims Facebook execs purposely inflated growth forecasts in an effort to manipulate the IPO stock price upward. More than 40 lawsuits have been filed by investors regarding the IPO.

Gee whiz… whether it is marketing programs, privacy issues, or managerial decisions on finance, Facebook appears to have a history of turning a blind-eye to anyone and everyone in pursuit of its own corporate goals. And that, my friends, is the antithesis of corporate social responsibility.

Dr. Todd Bacile (@toddbacile) is a Marketing Professor at Loyola University New Orleans and holds a Ph.D. in Marketing from Florida State University. Social Media Marketing Magazine ranks him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. Have a question or comment? Post it here and you will receive a response.

Three examples of consumer generated YouTube video for brands

By Todd Bacile | December 6, 2012

YouTube - Broadcast Yoursel

YouTube content is not limited to music videos or classic scenes from movies. Consumers can – and do – create videos about brands and products that they like or dislike. Many people think about consumer review sites or Facebook status updates in the age of online word-of-mouth referral. However, YouTube videos are a visually rich method for consumers to discuss brands.

One of the assignments in my undergraduate Electronic Marketing course at Florida State University is for my students to create a YouTube video about a product they like or dislike. For many students this is their first experience of creating and uploading a video. Below are two of the more interesting submissions from the current semester.

Positive Video: Red Bull

Positive Video: Frank’s Red Hot / Coors Light

Negative Video: United Airlines

While each of the above videos highlights consumers discussing brands they adore (i.e. brand advocates), the power of YouTube is also used against brands. One of the best examples is the case of United Airlines and passenger Dave Carroll. United damaged Dave’s guitar and then refused to repair or replace it. The full story can be read here. Alternatively, Dave created the video below where he discusses the details in the format of a song. It is a real ditty. It has also been viewed over 12,000,000 times.

The Future

The future is video. Consumer opinions and referrals will be a big part of that future. Brands should expect to see more consumer generated videos as time goes on. Mobile devices are becoming more powerful with better cameras. Image and video editing tools with enhanced features are becoming less expensive. Plus, network bandwidth speeds continue to increase making it easier to download and watch streaming video.

Todd Bacile is a marketing doctoral candidate and instructor for Electronic Marketing and Services Marketing in the College of Business at Florida State University. Social Media Marketing Magazine ranks him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. You can contact him on Twitter @toddbacile

Don’t press send: a lesson of personal brand building

By Todd Bacile | November 21, 2012

Woman showing disrespect

In the immortal words of former NFL coach Herm Edwards, “Don’t press send.” Coach Edwards’ famous line was used to describe the social media world we now live in. Once a person presses a button to publish text, a picture, or a video there is not a magic un-do button. You must live with the consequences.

Due to the far-reaching effects at lightning-fast speed of social media’s viral nature, there is a certain degree of risk present if one chooses to publish content which others may perceive to be offensive. The image depicted above is from the most recent example of a poor decision gone viral. What started as a joke shared on her Facebook profile has since turned into a national story .

The young woman depicted above thought it would make for a funny picture if she was portrayed as yelling and flashing an offensive gesture in front of a sign at the Arlington National Cemetery which read “Silence and Respect”. Thousands soon became outraged due to the cemetery being the final resting place to 400,000 American casualties of war.

The rest is the epitome of viral. The picture has since received over 10,000 re-shares and 4,000 comments. National print and TV media are running with the story. Anonymity of the Internet? Not for this young woman, whose first name, last name, and place of employment is featured in these stories. In addition, a Facebook page called “Fire (first name last name)” has received over 18,000 “Likes”.

It gets worse for her. The picture was allegedly taken during a work outing at the cemetery. Her employer’s Facebook page has since received over 4,900 comments posted to its wall about the incident, most being extremely negative. Amid the huge wave of negative PR, her employer has chosen to place her on leave and is determining whether she should lose her job.

The point of this story is that every one of us has an online reputation (i.e. a personal brand). Every tweet, every status update, and every YouTube video you share is contributing toward your personal brand. You have to be careful what you choose to share via social media. Even if a story is unlikely to go viral, search engines such as Google and Topsy can locate virtually anything online.

This story is relevant to all of us, but is a very important lesson for college students. Most students are heavy users of social media. Some students choose to share what one person may believe is ‘funny’, while another may believe it is ‘offensive’. And nearly all students will soon be looking for jobs as they enter “The Real World”. At any moment an employer or potential employer may find that one embarrassing moment you chose to publish some time ago. Don’t get caught in that situation. Think before you share things online. If the content to be shared is questionable in your mind, then follow the advice of Coach Edwards. Don’t press send.

Todd Bacile is a marketing doctoral candidate and instructor for Electronic Marketing and Services Marketing in the College of Business at Florida State University. Social Media Marketing Magazine recently ranked him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. You can contact him on Twitter @toddbacile