As social media evolves, the business/consumer relationship becomes less linear, more interactive, and draws in participants from unlikely places. “How did you hear about us?” takes on new meaning. Like a modern day Hansel and Gretel, online rating sites can leave a virtual bread trail to your business. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Yahoo, Citysearch, and Angie’s List have created a social melting pot for engaged businesses where citizen journalism meets supply and demand.
For salons, managing your brand becomes a key component of the marketing plan. Yelp sits squarely on the shortlist of sites a business should be monitoring.
Why, you ask? Why should I spend time on a consumer-dominated site? Why waste time reading reviews? What’s in it for me?
First of all, it’s totally up to you to decide to participate in the Yelp community. However, choosing not to participate won’t keep your salon off the site. It won’t keep people from relating their experiences (on or offline), and it won’t shine a light on that truly awesome pedicure you just invented.
A BIT OF HISTORY
Yelp has been on the scene since 2004. In the early days, its goal was to connect the residents of San Francisco with local businesses. They had growing pains on the first leg of their journey to help consumers find businesses that were a good fit. Several years into the venture, the folks at Yelp launched a trust filter algorithm to help weed out misleading (fake) or inappropriate reviews. Since then, the response from consumers has been meteoric — more than 71 million unique monthly visitors. Like most social networking sites, Yelp is monetized through advertising dollars. For $300+ a month, an ad aims to increase a salon’s exposure on searches in its geographic area.
OK, so assuming you have decided to play along, the next step is to check if your salon is already listed. Wow, imagine that. The world may have already found you. Is that good or bad? Oh no, what are they saying? Well, we’ll talk about that later.
If you are already listed, you will need to claim your business, be verified by phone, and then update your listing with a photo and some basic information. Now would be a good time to read the FAQ, the business resources, and take a tour of the site. You can find the links at the bottom of the Yelp homepage. Read it now, before you start reading the reviews of your salon. So you couldn’t resist? It’s understandable. We are all curious about what people think of our salons. Whether it’s a glowing report from a devoted fan or a dismal account from a trollish reviewer, you will need to be prepared to deal with it graciously.
If your business isn’t listed, it’s time to get it registered. Simple, fill out the form and verify your e-mail address using the link they send you, upload a photo, and you are on your way. The more information the system has, the better job it can do in linking you to potential clients. For instance: A future client is having an off night and decides she will cheer herself up with a manicure. She goes to Yelp and searches using the “open now” option and “$$.” Your salon has no hours or fees listed so she never even sees you in the search. Sad, because she could have really used your services. Let your customers know where to find you in social media. You probably already have them Facebooking and Tweeting — get them to let out a Yelp in your favor.
Before we get to how to deal with reviews, let’s address that spiffy filter used to sort reviews. The algorithm subscribes to some generally accepted principles. The first is that active members using their real name are more likely to be honest since they have built a reputation on the site. Also, the algorithm places less weight on reviews by reviewers who only author a single review and then disappear. This cuts down on fake accounts. It can be disheartening to see legitimate positive reviews hidden by the filter, but it can be a real bonus when the system hides that inaccurate review by that mystery client. So, while the system is constantly evolving, we hope it all evens out in the end. It’s not perfect but it only improves if more honest people participate.
Great, those glowing reviews are starting to roll in. Bragging rights are yours! By all means, thank the reviewer when you see them or dash off a note now. Everyone loves to be recognized for good deeds. If these reviewers are active Yelpers, everyone is likely to see it. If not, don’t be discouraged. The mix of featured reviews changes frequently. Add to your success by snagging a “People Love Us on Yelp!” sticker and placing it on your front door. Then place an ad, “Clients rated this pedicure five stars, but today you can try it out at a three-star price (or free with another service).” You get the idea.
LESS THAN STERLING REVIEWS
There is always going to be that one client you just can’t make happy. Hopefully she doesn’t know about Yelp yet. In case she does, remain calm and work your plan for dealing with dissatisfied clients. No one likes to deal with difficult situations. However, unhappy clients pose the most threat and the most opportunity to your business.
A successful component in dealing with complaints is to always thank the reviewer for her valuable input. To engage the client in a positive way helps to develop a relationship. Yelp offers some advice to business owners. “Private messaging is often the best way to resolve a dispute,” according to the guidelines.
Sometimes just asking a client how she would correct the situation and then listening is enough to prompt the reviewer to remove or change the post. It’s not about defending the salon or the employees at this point. It’s about changing a client’s perception. “Give us another chance,” is another favorite. Part of what makes a salon great is the hospitality. We make people feel special. Turning around a complaint may hinge on a simple act of comfort.
How you choose to deal with complaints may depend on the atmosphere in the salon. A quirky, trendy salon may choose to poke fun at the only awful review. A conservative spa may deal with the review more quietly. Whatever plan you choose should be respectful and honest (even if just a wee bit irreverent). How do you deal with in-salon complaints? How has the system worked? Instead of seeing a negative review as punishment, leaving you on the defensive, choose to see it as an opportunity to move forward. Legitimate complaints are usually rooted in a (sometimes) tiny truth. Things go wrong. Even salon pros have an off day. Whatever the case, identifying the real cause for the complaint may offer up an opportunity for improvement.
So what happens when the obviously fake review shows up on your Yelp account? If it is threatening or contains offensive language report it to Yelp. If the account is later flagged by the system or closed, the review will disappear altogether. Thank the reviewer for her input and invite her to discuss the matter privately. In time the negative review will be sifted in with all the rest. Social media is growing quickly and new reviews will surely take its place. Keep calm and carry on.
Every salon needs a designated brand manager. In small salons, the owner may wear this hat as well as work at the table. The brand manager is responsible for periodically scanning review sites, running searches to locate good and bad public relations issues, and interacting in the social media world on behalf of the salon.
Hang in there. Interact regularly and let your salon’s light shine. A little birdie told me that they send out those coveted “People Love Us on Yelp!” stickers to qualifying businesses every quarter.
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