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Restaurant’s Response to Yelp Review Causes Lost Customers and Media Backlash August 4, 2010

Posted by StrategicGrowth in Social Media, Strategic Growth Concepts.
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5 comments

Social media, for some a marketing opportunity unmatched by any medium to come before; for others, the worst thing to happen to their business.

Those who have read previous articles on social media on this blog are aware of Strategic Growth Concepts position that social media is meant to provide an opportunity to effectively communicate with a business’ customers and potential customers.  Using social media correctly enables a company to gather opinions from consumers, to shape consumers’ opinion, to share information, and to interact in a way that not only enables their business to grow, but also makes consumers feel that they’ve had a role in helping the business to do so.

However, using social media incorrectly can cause a myriad of problems, not the least of which is the loss of customers and a potential public relations nightmare over which a business will have no control.

Unfortunately a pizzeria owner in Scottsdale Arizona is now learning  about this the hard way – though she doesn’t yet seem to be learning the lesson.  Below is the story.

As most of you are likely familiar, Yelp is a social media site that enables consumers to provide reviews of businesses they interact with, and to provide opinions about things like customer service, a business’ facility, it’s products and for restaurant’s – ratings on the food that is served, pricing, atmosphere, etc.  In recent months the site has garnered a lot of national attention and a signficant increase in consumer participation.  Many articles have recently been written in national publications and the blogsphere about the need for business owners to be aware of the potential that consumers are rating their business on Yelp and similar sites, and that other consumers are paying attention to these ratings – very close attention.  Further, many articles have also been written advising business owners to become familiar with the sites, and to learn how to effectively interact with consumers using them so that any negative situations have the potential of being turned into positive ones.

It appears the previously referred to Scottsdale Arizona restaurant owner hasn’t read the articles, because she did the exact thing that business owners are warned not to do; she took the occasion of a negative review on Yelp, responded very inappropriately  to the customer via the site, and now because of the tenor and content of her response, the whole incident has become a media firestorm and a public relations nightmare!

Joel Latondress, the customer, wrote a Yelp review of the pizzeria, Amy’s Baking Company, that indicated dissatisfaction with his experience when eating at the restaurant.  When Amy’s Baking Company’s owner responded, she attacked Latondress personally, likening him to a tramp and a loser and telling him to “Do us a favor and keep your ugly face and your ugly opinions to yourself.”  Click HERE to read the complete story and see a video by a Phoenix area publication.

Owner Amy is now dealing with the repercussions of that decision.  Not only has the incident garnered an incredible amount of national press, but consumers are now responding with extremely negative reactions to Amy’s response to Latondress and vowing to never visit her restaurant.  Therefore, one negative review has now lost Amy’s Baking Company thousands of potential customers because of an inappropriate response.

Could this situation have been handled better and received a different result?  ABSOLUTELY!  If Amy had done her homework and been aware of the appropriate way to use social media (as well as had a bit of common sense), she could have responded to Latondress’ posting with sincere empathy for having provided him with a less than positive experience during his visit.  She could have invited him back with a substantial discount, or even for a free meal, to provide the restaurant with an opportunity to change his opinion to a positive one.  She could have shown concern that her business did not meet his expectations as a customer, and vowed to improve.  At the very least, she could have apologized for his dissatisfaction and asked for an opportunity to change his mind at some future date, expressing her concern as the business owner that all of her customers be left with a positive experience after visiting her facility.

Any of these responses would have resulted in, at the very worst, one negative posting being on the site if Latondress had decided not to enable the restaurant to have another opportunity to change his mind, and that would have been the end of it.  Instead, Amy’s owner has taken the negative experience of one customer and turned it in to a nightmare, for herself and her business, one which the whole world is watching.  Personally, I’ll be surprised if her business survives, and reading the postings that are continuously being added to her Yelp site, it appears that a majority of consumers would prefer that it didn’t.

Let this be a lesson to all business owners, CONSUMERS ARE GOING TO BE TALKING ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS ON SOCIAL MEDIA.  Therefore, do everything you can to insure they have a positive experience to talk about; and if by chance they report a negative experience, use common sense and basic customer service skills to do everything you can to turn that situation into a positive.  Don’t end up like Amy!

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  7:37 P.M. 8/4/10:

I have been monitoring the community forums on Yelp to keep up-to-date on this situation.  Unfortunately, it appears Amy is unreceptive to all the advice that is apparently now coming her way about the way to interact with customers on social media.  Below is a quote from her that ran in the Phoenix NewTimes and was re-posted in the forums:

“Based on Amy’s most recent comment on the New Times article, she is very clear that no one should feel bad for her.” Julia T.

Amy B says:

If you are all so ignorant and naive to believe that my restaurant will close because of your ridiculous comments then you are all in for disappointment.

My husband and I opened this restaurant for Fun and as a Hobby. We paid to keep this place closed for ONE YEAR while I was in Prison.

I sincerely appreciate all of the attention that this is bring to our restaurant. What is that age old saying? “There’s no such thing as Bad Publicity?”

None of you were my customers before that Tramp Joel came into my restaurant trying to Hustle a free dinner out of us. And none of you will ever be welcome in my restaurant!

We have the pleasure of choosing our customers, who in turn always end up loving us and becoming members of our family.
All of your verbal attacks and advice to use a PR Firm or hire some “Social Media Group” only proves my initial impression from the beginning of this entire situation. You are all so willing to advise me to hire a PR firm and you are all sending me tweets and emails offering your services so what is this some feeble attempt to try to “Shake Me Down?” You people have no idea who you are playing with.

If Joel had a valid complaint and truly there was something wrong with his Pizza that night I would have graciously offered him something else, however from the moment he sat down he was trying to get something for free. He wanted to order the $3 olive Tapenade but changed his mind when he found out it the bread was an additional $3. Is his way of trying to support local business coming in on a Saturday night to order a $3 appetizer? If this is the type of customer that you all represent then PLEASE feel free to go to any other restaurant in this State! My husband and I save our energy for our true customers who don’t have a hidden agenda. And as for me being vicious and mean perhaps you should all take a look at the things you are saying and see who is truly being vicious. All I did was stand up and defend my business. Since when become a crime to fight back against negative reviews when they are untrue? My loyal customers don’t care about negative reviews that are being written or the verbal attacks you have launched against us. They are smart enough and classy enough to not lower themselves to your level.

Here is the link to the chain of comments.

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  9-7-10

The following comment was received today from restaurant owner Amy B.

From amy b on Restaurant’s Response to Yelp Review Causes Lost Customers and Media Backlash #

We have actually been very busy, so I suppose your article is incorrect.

Given Amy’s response, apparently her restaurant has not been adversely affected by the media frenzy surrounding her postings, but in this author’s opinion, she also hasn’t really learned any lessons about appropriate communication within social media.  A more appropriate comment, in my opinion, would have been to apologize to Joel and those who were offended by her postings, to reiterate how much she cares about the opinions of her customers, and to list a few of the lessons learned during this ordeal.

I hope for Amy’s sake this article is wrong and she is not experiencing the business reductions that the social media commentary would seem to indicate, but I would find it surprising.

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  5-14-13

We are disappointed to see that it appears that almost 3 years later Amy has not changed her behavior, though she has apparently gained an even larger audience – on Reality TV.  http://now.msn.com/kitchen-nightmares-couple-are-posting-angry-comments-on-facebook .  All we can say at this point is WOW! Frankly, am very surprised that this restaurant is still in business, but apparently the people in her community have a high tolerance for horrid behavior.

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The author, Linda Daichendt, is Founder, CEO and Managing Consultant for Strategic Growth Concepts, a marketing / management consulting firm focused on start-up, small and mid-sized businesses.  Areas of specialization include:  Mobile Marketing, Social Media Marketing, and Virtual Events production.  Linda is a recognized small business marketing expert with 20+ years of experience in a wide variety of industries.

Linda is available for consultation on Mobile Marketing and other topics, and can be contacted at Linda@StrategicGrowthConcepts.com.  The company website can be viewed at www.StrategicGrowthConcepts.com .  For more information on Mobile Marketing please visit the Mobile Marketing section of the Strategic Growth Concepts website.

3 Local Marketing Initiatives with Higher ROIs November 20, 2009

Posted by StrategicGrowth in marketing strategies, Strategic Growth Concepts, Web 2.0.
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2 comments

With most small businesses today seeking every low or no-cost marketing option they can find to promote their products and services, the publishers of this blog are constantly in search of information about new resources that can help.  As we have discussed in many previous articles, many Web 2.0 options abound to help businesses promote themselves, but most are unable to concentrate your firm’s efforts on your specific geographic area – at least not easily.  However, the following tools are ideal for promoting your business within your specific geographic region to insure that those potential customers closest to you are well aware of your existance and what you have to offer.

Take advantage of these tools that any small business can use to promote your business within your local community.

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Forget the Phonebook: 3 Local Marketing Initiatives with Higher ROIs

Gregory Go (Wise Bread), Nov 12, 2009 –

The phonebook is so 1998. Few people use it anymore, and yet in an ironic twist, advertising in the phonebook has become more expensive as telcos try to boost revenues. Don’t play their game.

Boost the ROI of your advertising budget by switching your local marketing focus to the following 3 websites.

The basic strategy for each of the following options is two-fold:

  1. The first step — making sure you are listed and have accurate info — is free for all three of the following sites. It’s equivalent to making sure your phone number and address is accurate in the free, basic listing in the phonebook.
 
  2. The second step — buying advertising — is equivalent to buying an ad in the phonebook. Versus the phonebook, you’ll get more reach and better tracking data, which helps ensure you maximize your local advertising ROI.

1. Yelp!

Yelp is the premier review site for local businesses. Consumers love it because it lets them easily share their thoughts on local service providers and retail outlets, and in return, get honest reviews of local businesses from their peers. Businesses love Yelp — honest, reputable businesses, at least — because businesses that receive positive reviews see dramatic increases in referral customers.

Start here.

Step 1: Control Your Listing (and Get Stats)

Yelp provides business owners that have “unlocked” their pages with lots of value-added features including messaging options (eg., post offers and announcements, reply to reviewers) and stats on how many people have viewed your business page. Check out this page for a screenshot of the business dashboard you’ll have access to as the owner of the business.

The biggest benefit of taking control of your Yelp page is being able to highlight positive reviews of your business and/or responding to reviewers privately.  However, don’t think that just because Yelp is willing to take your money that it means they will take down negative reviews of your business.  They won’t, unless it violates review guidelines (eg., contains racial slurs or is second-hand information).  As a good business owner, you should take comfort in this policy, because it means your less scrupulous competitors won’t be able to hide their shady practices for long.

Step 2: Buy Advertising

Yelp offers two advertising options for increasing your exposure:

  1. Top placement in search results.
  2. Showcasing your business on a similar business’ page.

You can see screenshots of both options here.  Pricing varies based on your city, business category, and number of impressions you want to buy.  You can talk details and pricing with a Yelp sales representative by filling out this form and waiting for a callback.

2. Google Local

Start here.

When consumers search for a local business or a local service (eg., “thai food”, “dry cleaner”) on Google, a small map and some business results appear at the top of the search results (screenshot).  Additionally, you get a business details page that can contain information like your phone number, email address, store hours, accepted payment types, photos and videos, and service or product categories (screenshot).

Step 1: Take Control of Your Listing (and Get Stats)

Adding business details and creating coupons is completely free on Google. Start by claiming your business at Google’s Local Business Center. Once you’ve verified your ownership, you can start adding details and creating coupons that will appear on your business details page.

Here’s where Google Local become more exciting than the phonebook. On your Google local business dashboard (screenshot), you can see what search phrases people are typing in to find your business and where those searchers are located on a map (abstracted to a zip code level to protect searchers’ privacy).

Click here for more information on Google’s Local Business Center features.

Step 2A: Buy AdWords Ads

AdWords is the program where advertisers bid on search keywords and have their links appear next to or on top of search results.  While the AdWords program is not specifically geared towards a local market, as an advertiser, you can limit where your ad appears based on the searcher’s location.

You buy AdWords ads by bidding on how much you’re willing to pay for clicks on your ad.  Your ads appear on search results for your targeted keywords (ie., phrases people type into the search box).  The more popular keywords (eg., “thai food”) will cost more per click than more obscure keywords (eg., “pad thai”).  

Balancing the cost per click versus the popularity (reach) of keywords is what makes AdWords advertising a bit tricky.  It does take quite a bit of management to maximize your ROI. Fortunately, Google allows you to set spending limits so you don’t blow your monthly budget, and offers plenty of tools and resources to help you manage your AdWords campaigns.

Managing an AdWords campaign is beyond the scope of this article, but here are some resources to get you started:

Step 2B: Buy Local Ad Listings

These are a new type of ads Google is selling specifically for local businesses.  They are currently available only in San Fransisco and San Diego.  To get a notice when they are rolled out to your area, fill out this form.

The difference between Local Ad Listings and AdWords is that you don’t have to bid for keywords or do any fancy campaign management.  Google charges a flat monthly rate for these ads, and shows them on local searches at the top of search results (screenshot) and in Google Maps (screenshot). 

The rate depends on your city and business category.  Rates are offered after you’ve claimed your small business listing in step 1.  Once you’ve claimed your local business and Google has rolled out these ads to your city, you will see a new “Ads” tab in your business dashboard.

An advantage of the Local Ad Listing — in addition to having your business appear prominently on related searches — is the call tracking.  When someone calls the phone number listed on your Local Ad Listing, the call is forwarded to regular phone number, and when you pick up, you will hear a short “this call is from Google” message. Counting up the number of calls you receive from your local Google ad, you can then determine if the monthly fee is worth the number of new leads you receive.

3. Yahoo Local

Start here.

Step 1: Claim or create your Yahoo Local listing

Just like Yelp and Google Local, you can claim your Yahoo Local business listing for free.  Claiming or creating the listing will allow you to enter additional information and keep your business details up-to-date.

The first step is to create a Yahoo login.  If you already have a Yahoo email address, you can use that login account to manage your local business listing.  If you already have a Yahoo account, login to your account.  If you don’t already have one, you can sign up for a Yahoo account here (it’s free).

Start by doing a search for your business at Yahoo Local.  If your business already has a listing, click on the “edit info” link on the details page.  Your business will then be linked to your Yahoo account, and when you go to listings.local.yahoo.com, you can click on the “Local Listings Account Center” link in the upper right hand corner to see all your business listings.

If your business is not yet listed, go to listings.local.yahoo.com and click on the “Sign Up” button. You will be presented with a form to fill out your business details like address, phone number, service description, and hours of operation.

For more information about Yahoo Local Listings, check out the help page for Yahoo Local Listings or visit the start page for Yahoo Local Listings.

Step 2: Upgrade to an Enhanced or Featured Listing

And just like the other options, Yahoo offers premium listings that you can purchase to give your business more prominence.  Yahoo Local offers two levels of premium listings: Enhanced or Featured.

An Enhanced Listing costs $9.95 per month.  You get to add up to 10 photos, a longer description of your business, and stats on how often people see and click on your listing.

A Featured Listing puts your business in the sponsored results section of Yahoo search results.  Pricing ranges from $15-$300 per month depending on the size of your city and demand for your service.  Click here to view current pricing details.

Check out this page for a comparison of features for the Basic, Enhanced, and Featured Listings.

5 Advanced Social Media Marketing Strategies for Small Businesses October 13, 2009

Posted by StrategicGrowth in FaceBook, LinkedIN, MySpace, Naymz, Social Media, Strategic Growth Concepts, Twitter, Video Marketing, Web 2.0.
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by Samir Balwani

Social media marketing and the businesses that utilize it have become more sophisticated. More small businesses are beginning to understand how to best leverage online tools to build a community and recognize that engagement and interaction are the foundations of social marketing, but most don’t know what’s next.  What follows are five advanced strategies for small businesses that may already have small online communities and understand how to create an online presence, but don’t know what to do next.

What Is An Advanced Strategy?

The definition of an advanced social strategy is a technique that goes beyond the normal social media presence. It introduces or reinforces a marketing message while pushing a user to another profile or business site. Before moving forward with an advanced strategy, it’s important that your business understands social marketing, has experience engaging consumers, and that you possess a basic understanding of online marketing.

Strategy 1: Multimedia Usage

The term “A picture is worth a thousand words” has never been truer. Consumers are now using the web to look for product pictures and videos; they want more information and want to see what they’re considering buying. The good news is that it’s easy for a company to create and publish videos and pictures.

In addition to taking photos of products, you can also take pictures at office events as a way to highlight company culture. This not only helps convince others to work with you or to buy from you (consumers see that you are down to earth and one of them, instead of a stuffy company), it also helps your HR department recruit new employees. Who doesn’t want to work for a company that celebrates birthdays and has a good time?   

Videos are useful for explaining complex how-tos or concepts. Showing step-by-step directions can have a greater impact than even the most well written article. Businesses don’t have to invest huge sums of money to create good videos, either. I highly recommend the relatively cheap Flip camcorder, which takes great videos and is easy for even a non-technical marketer to use.  Multimedia can break down the faceless business-to-consumer sales flow and make your company appear friendlier. Use videos and images to show that your business is fun, you care about your employees, and most importantly, that you care about your customers.

Example: WorldMusicSupply.com

WorldMusicSupply.com, an online retailer of musical instruments and accessories, has used YouTube to build a strong online community. Their channel has built over 7,000 subscribers and has over 260,000 views.

Strategy 2: Integrate Offline and Online Advertising

Many small businesses do some sort of offline advertising, whether it be radio, print, or cable. Social marketing allows a business to extend their offline sales pitch.  Including your Facebook Page, Twitter ID or blog URL in offline ads act as social proof, inviting potential consumers to see your community and increase trust in your business. Not only can integrating online and offline advertising help the conversion process, but it can also help build your community. Introducing potential consumers to your social profiles means they may join your community now and buy later.

Strategy 3: Message Adaptation

As businesses start to become more sophisticated with social media they are starting to leverage more online platforms.  However, most deliver the same message over multiple platforms instead of tailoring communications for each individual site.

Social platforms each have an ecosystem of their own. What might be acceptable on Tumblr might be considered spam on Facebook.  A specific style of writing might spread on Twitter but fail on FriendFeed.  Understanding that each site is different and then customizing your message ensures they do well on each respective site.

Not only does customizing messages across sites help the message spread but it keeps users from receiving multiple identical communications. Be sure to maximize your potential by sending a user that follows the business on Twitter and Facebook two different messages, instead of the same thing.

Strategy 4: Local Social Networks, Beyond Yelp

For a small business, local search can be a big win. Being visible to consumers looking for a business in their area is extremely important. Make sure your site is included in local business directories in order to help ensure that consumers find you when they need you. Sometimes finding that many sites can be difficult, however. First, make sure you check your competitors.

Where are they listed? Check their inbound links to check for business directories you can add yourself to. Also, make sure your business has been added to Google Maps, using the Local Business Center.  Take the time to include all the information you can and update any old news. For many consumers, this will be their first interaction with the business.

Example: Bella Napoli in New York

Bella Napoli is a small pizzeria in New York that has done a great job of making sure they appear in as many local searches as possible.

Strategy 5: Contests and Discounts

Building a community is only the first part of social marketing. Using that community to drive sales, propagate marketing, or crowdsource operations is the true power of social media. One way to excite the community is to collectively do something to create a contest or offer an exclusive discount (i.e., the contest can create competition between users). Not only does a contest build buzz organically but if contestants need to, for example, publish an article that gets the most comments in order to win, the contest itself becomes viral.

A good social media contest should include some sort of sharing or virality as a requirement for winning.  Discounts are also a great way to connect with your community. By giving exclusive coupons to your social community, you’re rewarding and reminding them that you are not only a brand to engage with, but also to buy from.

Example: NetFirms.com

NetFirms.com decided to make it easier to register a domain by allowing people to do it via Twitter. Those who participated or spread the word by tweeting, were also entered into a prize drawing.

Conclusion

Creating a basic social media presence is easy enough, getting your community to actually do something is more difficult. Taking advantage of these strategies can help you build your community, make your marketing more effective, and incentivize buying.

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Samir Balwani is an emerging technology strategist at Morpheus Media, a firm specializing in Social Marketing, SEM, and SEO. 

You can follow him on Twitter @leftthebox and get his newsletter.