A sign outside Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Small business owners say business is booming now, with 59% anticipating their revenue to increase over the next year, 67% looking to expand and 24% planning to hire, according to the spring 2019 Bank of America Small Business Owner Report.

In San Diego, small businesses are one of the primary drivers of local economic growth, with 41% of the region’s small businesses intending to hire more employees in the next two years, according to a recent study by the San Diego Regional EDC.

According to the Bank of America survey, which explores the perspectives, aspirations and concerns of business owners across the country, a majority of owners believe technology is a key contributor to their growth. At the same time, good old-fashioned customer service and satisfaction still play an important role for business growth. For example, nearly two out of three entrepreneurs report that online reviews are important to the success of their business, and 80% say a positive online review has led to a new business opportunity.

Maria Anderson

But while more respondents say online reviews are helpful than not, there is also awareness of the damage a negative write-up can have. Of those who have had a negative online review, nearly one-third say it led to a loss of business.

In the digital era, customer compliments and criticisms — whether on social platforms or online review sites — hold tremendous sway. Here are a four tips for making the most of the positive reviews, as well as mitigating the impact of negative ones:

1. Remember that the process starts before a review is even written

Whether good or bad, online reviews stem from everyday customer interactions. As these occur, encourage your staff to keep notes about why an experience was either positive or negative. If a customer is complimentary, take advantage of the moment by asking them to share that feedback in a review or social post. If a customer recommends an improvement, write it down and make a point to follow up. By taking notes you’ll have a cheat sheet should a customer comment online, enabling you to respond accurately and quickly.

2. Have a response plan for negative reviews

According to the Bank of America survey, a majority of business owners who’ve had a negative online review believe responding as soon as possible is key to mitigating the impact. And the key to a timely response is having a plan. Think about the most likely comments you’d get and write sample responses to keep on file. While every comment scenario will be unique, you’ll at least have a head start on a response and can customize accordingly. To avoid getting into a back-and-forth, consider a response that addresses the issue and recommends moving the conversation offline.

3. Monitor platforms to track what’s said — and respond

A major benefit of online reviews is that, as a business owner, you can respond directly and in your own voice. Look to engage with comments of all kinds, showing appreciation for positive feedback and approaching negative reviews with humility and a resolution in mind.

4. Amplify the positive on social media

A rave review is a huge boon for your business. To extend the reach of these testimonials, create a template including the text of the review and a picture of the product or service to be shared for your social channels. If available, provide a link back to the product or service when posting the review on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or in your Instagram bio. This type of amplification is essentially free marketing.

Entrepreneurs must embrace the world of online reviews and learn to strategically use them to their advantage. As San Diego small business owners anticipate a year of steady growth, embracing online reviews as a tool in a marketing kit can be helpful in achieving these plans.

For more research findings on the small business landscape, please click here for the Bank of America’s spring 2019 report.

Maria Anderson is a senior vice president and small business banking manager at Bank of America in San Diego.

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