Tag Archives: Yelp

People ARE Talking. Are YOU Listening?

Infoweek Cover

Yes. They Are. You Need to be Paying Attention.

The title of this post used to be the tag line I put on my business card. It’s still on the vehicle sign that covers the rear window of my Honda Pilot, and it’s still in my Facebook Fan Page’s “about” section. The first paragraph of that section continues, “Your company – your brand – is being discussed publicly. Don’t you think you should join the conversation?”

Information Week made it the cover story of their June 25, 2012 edition and I pointed out the similarity in a graphic I created and posted on my Facebook Fan Page. In some respects, we weren’t quite talking about the same thing, though, but they’re closely related. Their article focuses on sentiment analysis and my thoughts were more directed toward overall engagement, which includes sentiment analysis. They are also far more attuned to the needs of larger brands, whereas my concern is for small businesses and the value they can get from what I see as the proper use of social media.

Today I was pointed to an article by Brian Solis of the Altimeter Group, entitled “Why Digital Influence is So Important“. Brian discusses the value of shared experiences, the building of trust, and the spread of influential content, pointing out the value of online recommendations from people we know and trust. He concludes with the following questions: “Do you know what’s being said about your business? And who’s saying it? How are you getting closer to your customer by examining your digital influence?”

Now the reason I bring this up is there are a number of people here in Simi Valley who have created Facebook groups designed to help us communicate or promote local businesses or both. One of the activities that’s taking place is what some call “Cash Mobs“. We are trying to pick out small, independently owned businesses that we might be able to help out (at least with their cash flow) by patronizing them.

As a result of this, one of the members suggested a location that might be able to use a small infusion of business and, consequently, cash. Since I have been trying to get locals to realize the value of using mostly free platforms, services, and apps to market and publicize their businesses, I’m always wondering how well certain ones are doing this. So I decided to check out this particular business with respect to a few things I think it could (or should) be doing.

I didn’t do extensive research, but I did find out some things I think are interesting in light of what Brian has to say about digital influence, as well as what I know about it from my research and experience. What I found was the following:

  • They have a Facebook fan page but do very little with it. The page has 45 likes and 10 people have gone to the trouble of checking in there.
  • They haven’t bothered to claim their venue on Foursquare (a very simple process) and, even though 30 people have checked in a total of 106 times (that’s an average of 3 times per person; an indication of some loyalty), they cannot create specials to reward that loyalty and, perhaps, entice more people to try them out.
  • They also have two listings in Yelp but have yet to claim either of them. Were they to do so, they would be able to correct one of the listings, as well as provide accurate information on what it is they do. What they do have is four (two for each listing) high quality, five-star reviews for their establishment. I say high-quality because all of the reviewers have numerous friends and have posted multiple reviews in Yelp.
  • I also checked Yahoo Local (basic minimum listing), Bing Local (basic listing w/two of the Yelp reviews), and they don’t show up at all in Google+ Local.

So what’s wrong with this picture? Here’s another quote from Brian:

“In the end, people are at the center of your business. And connections are the ties that bind in social media. Your next step is to see what people are saying or what they’re not saying about your business to learn how you can become part of the conversation and ultimately part of the decision making process.”

My contention is that by not taking the small amount of time required to at least claim venues and ensure they are completely populated with information about your business, you are showing you don’t really care what people are saying about you. Your absence from Yelp means you lose the ability to both thank people who take the time to say something nice about you, and to respond to those who take the time to report a problem they may have had. Without Foursquare you lose the ability to create specials designed to reward loyalty from current customers who are using the service and to entice new customers to try you out.

Even if you’re reading the reviews on Yelp and the tips on Foursquare (and it’s highly likely you aren’t) you have no possibility of “becoming part of the conversation and ultimately part of the decision making process.”

There’s another factor as well, which Brian discusses in his article. When people check in to your business on Facebook or Foursquare or Yelp, which they can do with their smart phones, tablets, and laptops there is always the chance some of their friends will see where they are or where they’ve been. Since the most trusted method of referral is that received from a friend, either online or in person, every business that doesn’t take advantage of these tools is shortchanging themselves. There are other issues having to do with gamification, peer response, and virality but we’ll leave them alone for now. They are important to fully understanding how to use each of these applications, but they don’t matter one bit if your business isn’t using them at even their most basic level.

In this economy I’m of the opinion not taking advantage of free marketing seems almost criminal and, while the tools may change as time goes by, the concepts aren’t going anywhere. What are you doing about it?


Are Marie Callender’s & Applebee’s Providing Us Object Lessons?

Recently, our local (here in Simi Valley, CA) Marie Callender’s restaurant – a staple of the community for at least a couple of decades – was shut down as part of the recently merged (with Memphis based Perkins) company’s bankruptcy. I belong to a business network that has met there for most of the time they’ve been in business, though I’ve only been a member for less than a year. Still, having to eat breakfast there once a week was a bit of a trying experience, as the food was a couple taste buds short of mediocre.

The business network has a system of points one can earn for providing “tips”, which can run the gamut from a couple thousand dollar repair to your vehicle or home or eating a meal at a member’s (which Marie Callenders was) establishment. It’s a system that just invites gaming (in the worst sense of the word), inasmuch as each tip carries the same weight or value. Needless to say, many of the members found themselves eating there a couple of times a week. I never could bring myself to do so.

As part of my membership, I offered to provide a couple of free hours of social media marketing coaching and to see to it that each member had access to those services that promised to help their business out. Very few of them took me up on it; probably because most of these guys are almost as old as I am :). Marie Callenders was one of those businesses I struggled valiantly to see the efficacy of at least paying attention to what was being said about them online, especially the reviews that were being written on Yelp. They wouldn’t pay attention. My research had shown they were getting some pretty uniformly horrible reviews and, clearly, no one was paying much attention to them. I’m not surprised they’re no longer in business.

Though I can no longer check the reviews of our local Applebee’s – you see, they’ve closed down as well, actually before MCs did. Yelp doesn’t retain reviews after a business closes its doors. I now wish they would, if only so I could make sure my understanding of what happened is close to the truth.

I’m bringing this up in large part because a friend of mine posted an interesting piece entitled “Applebee’s Review Explains Why Companies Should Care About Online Reviews” (link). I think Mark hits the head right on the nail (sic) and find myself wondering if the experiences we’re seeing with Marie Callenders and Applebee’s aren’t indicative of just how useful these growing online review services are to those of us who like to eat out.

For quite some time in the enterprise world, the questions those of us advocating for greater use of social media had to answer consistently was, “What’s the ROI (Return on Investment) of using these tools? Why should we spend the money unless you can show us there’s added value in it?” Frankly, for a long time I struggled with the answer. It seemed clear to me they provided the basis for greater collaboration, easier communication, faster innovation, etc., but these things were hard to quantify in a classical sense. The answer that has stuck in my mind, though, (and I can’t recall where I heard it) is “The ROI of using social media is you’ll still be in business in five years.” I know that was somewhat glib, but I’m wondering now if Marie Callenders and Applebee’s aren’t providing us object lessons on just how prescient that statement was.


Can I Add an Extra Leg on That Stool For You?

It used to be there were essentially three things a restaurant could do to attract, satisfy, and keep customers; three things they had virtually total control over, not counting advertising and marketing, which has almost always been about pricing (coupons, two-for-ones, etc.):

  1. The quality of food

  2. The quality and attentiveness of service

  3. Atmosphere or ambience

These three things can be broken down into lots of sub-areas, e.g. type of food, number of choices, speed of preparation, cleanliness (or decor) of the bathrooms, etc., but just about everything restaurant owners and their staff have control over comes down to these three choices. Much like the mantra heard in large, project focussed organizations says, “Quality – Price – Speed. You May Choose Two“,  people might overlook one of these if the other two met or exceeded their expectations, but provide them with only one and it better be extraordinary if you want to survive for very long.

If your patrons are dissatisfied with any of these, they might decide sacrificing one for the other two is worthwhile. They might even think it’s a good bargain. On the other hand, they might not be happy about it and not only refuse to return, but also tell their friends if the subject happens to come up. If they had a particularly bad experience – say, a surly or inattentive waiter or a dish that wasn’t prepared properly – they could tell you and, if you cared at all, you could comp their meal or offer them a refund, etc. Unfortunately for many, a lot of people will not say a word; they just won’t come back.

Well, things have changed; dramatically, in my opinion. Thanks to the ever-growing popularity of location-based applications for smart phones, as well as the addition to those applications of review-writing and gaming aspects, this is no longer the case. People who are dissatisfied – I mean truly dissatisfied for good reason – have a bully pulpit from which to share their grief, and it’s no longer confined to just their friends and acquaintances.

The two services I am most familiar with inhabit two similar, yet distinct niches in this expanding field. They are Foursquare and Yelp. If you own a restaurant, or a retail shop, or even a service-based business and you don’t participate in these two applications, you are really missing out on a great bargain and, perhaps, even hurting your ability to compete. Here’s what you need to do.

  1. Go to both of these services and claim your venue. Upon doing so, you will have access to tools designed specifically to help you take advantage of their offering
  2. Complete as much information as they provide space for, e.g. business name, address, phone number, hours of service, general pricing, photos (especially good for pictures of food creations and other products), etc.
  3. On Yelp, create an offer (much like a coupon, but free!)
  4. On Foursqaure, create a special and, once you understand how it works and you have lots of foot traffic, a Mayor’s special as well
  5. Encourage your patrons to share their experiences or to provide tips (in Yelp and Foursquare, respectively)

Doing these reasonably simple things will give you access to the basic tools you need to start taking advantage of these powerful location-based services. Remember, if your marketing and advertising are only reaching people who read papers and their junk mail, or who only use the Internet, you’re addressing a shrinking part of the population. Young people are all carrying smart phones, and they’re talking to each other or, in the case of those who use Foursquare and Yelp, they’re actually playing games with one another as they use them. Why not have them spend their time at your place?

I will be writing more about some of the specific ways in which you can take advantage of these two services and truly engage with your customers/clients/patients, as well as explaining the value of other, similar services like Urban Spoon, Groupon, and local listing services you can take advantage of.

There is such as thing as bad publicity. Maybe not for someone who can thrive on notoriety, but most small business owners would soon be looking for a job if they were unfortunate enough to receive it. However, you can’t have enough good publicity, even if it’s only getting your name out in as many places as possible. Caveat here: You don’t want to spread yourself too thin, as each of these services may be free, but they require some time and energy to use properly.


The Wisdom of Engagement

Foursquare and Yelp Logos

Two "Big Hitters" for Retail

I just came across a couple of quotes that rather succinctly state the issue anyone using Social Media for marketing needs to keep in mind with respect to engagement with their customers. I think it comes from some of the activity surrounding a virtual Enterprise 2.0 Conference event. I picked them up in my tweet stream. I wasn’t able to attend, but found them because I have a continuing search on the hashtag #e2conf, which keeps me in the loop.

These two quotes appear to be traceable to Sameer Patel, a man I admire for his business savvy and knowledge of social media engagement. I have been using the tag line “People are talking. Are you listening?” His quotes are a bit longer than my tag line, but I think they state the issue rather well:

Part of the problem is trying to “control the message”. The conversation will happen with or without you.

This is one of the things that I’m trying to get across to some of the small businesses (I’m beginning with restaurants) I’ve been working with. The other line is even more important:

Your brand perception is now in the hands of strangers. Isn’t it time you got to know them?

This is so important for small retail establishments to understand. With the advent of services like Foursquare and Yelp, the conversations about their businesses are already taking place. They need to, at the very least, claim their venues in each of these and get involved in the conversation. If a customer has a bad experience, don’t you want to know about it? Don’t you want to have the opportunity to make it right . . . publicly?

It’s true and it’s only going to get “worse”. People ARE talking. Shouldn’t you at least be listening? Better yet, why not engage with them. I’m convinced the process will strengthen your relationships with your customers and do wonders to make you more accessible and easy to do business with.


Small Business and Social Media Marketing

Where I came from

I Was a Cubesicle Denizen

Yesterday (February 14th) marked the nine-month anniversary of my leaving Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. In this time I have slowly transformed from an employee of a large, multi-national corporation to a self-employed entrepreneur. In so doing I have changed my mindset from that of a community member and manager, responsible for greasing the skids of social interaction amongst workers with similar goals, to that of a marketer, responsible for understanding how social creates a different kind of community amongst people with a symbiotic, but not so insular connection.

I can’t remember where I read it, but I try to always keep in mind what someone said about marketing, which I can directly apply to my work – You can learn marketing, but you can’t be taught what is learned in over forty years of experience. So I’m busily studying marketing and, especially, how to utilize social media to provide a new level of engagement never before possible between a business and its customers.

In making this change I have joined the local Chamber of Commerce and a business network. I have also, since I am old and experienced enough, volunteered my services to my local SCORE chapter. My knowledge of social media was in great demand and I ended up helping a few people out even before I was officially a member.

As a result of my Chamber membership, I decided to do a little study of the restaurants in the Chamber and their use of four avenues often used for marketing and public relations, e.g. Foursquare, Yelp, Facebook, and Twitter. I looked at each channel a bit differently. For instance, for both Yelp and Foursquare I was most interested not in whether or not the business was listed or had either tips or reviews of it, but whether or not the businesses in question had claimed their venue so they would have some level of engagement available to them. What I discovered was surprising.

Despite the fact these services are all free to use (I’m not factoring in the expense in time necessary to wring the most out of using them), usage of all is abysmally low. The numbers are as follows:

  • Foursquare – 11% have claimed their venue (most all have been entered into the db)
  • Yelp – 26% have claimed their venue (most all exist in the db)
  • Facebook – 26% have business pages (many venues had close to 100 check-ins via Places)
  • Twitter – 26% have Twitter accounts (very few know how to use it, IMO)

I haven’t looked at all the other restaurants in the area. Nor have I considered bars, pubs, retail establishments that could benefit from the use of these four services (as well as other methods of marketing considered social, e.g. blogs), or professional services that could do the same. This does indicate to me a huge market for my services, although my experience tells me it will be a bit tough to crack, as these kinds of business owners are notoriously frugal and suspicious.

Nevertheless, I think the clear direction is for greater and greater use of social media to market small business and, especially, to engage with customers in a transformation of  how business relates to, and learns from, them. I think there’s a place for me and others like me to provide them with a bit of knowledge, some organizational help, and strategic direction.

One thing’s for certain. I am really enjoying connecting with my business roots, as I was in small business for over two decades before joining Rocketdyne prior to my 40th birthday – much of it actually in the food business. As I gain experience and knowledge in my new field, I hope to share it here on my blog. Stay tuned!


Please Help!

Please help

Hello. My name is Rick and . . . well . . . I’m a bit of a Social Media addict. I’ve been able to resist Farmville, but I still check in frequently to see what’s up on Facebook. I follow amazingly fascinating and informing people on Twitter and have connected with them on Facebook as well. Many of them are in far away locations on the planet, so there’s almost always a conversation going on; at any time of day or night. Today it became clear to me just how much of a problem this is for me.

I have an iMac, an iPad, and (I know this probably seems heretical, but what can I say?) an HTC Hero running Google Android. I use or have used Twitter’s web app, Nambu, Osfoora, Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, Twitter for iPad, and maybe some services I can’t even remember using. I ran my iPad’s battery down by about 3:00 pm PST today and had to switch over to my phone exclusively while it’s recharging. The process has me twitching a little bit. The alternative is to sit in my home office, tethered to my Mac, but the weather is gorgeous and at least I can be somewhat ambulatory with either of my other devices.

It’s not that I’m on Twitter all the time; it’s just that I feel compelled to at least pay attention. I also find myself checking in using Foursquare or Facebook Places, and writing reviews on Yelp. I’m fascinated with the quality of information available via Twitter or, lately, Quora.

I can’t seem to disengage, and I don’t even work in Tech or a large enterprise (at least not anymore). What can I do? My children are begging me to help them be less bored. I should get them their own smart phones I suppose, but they’re only 7 and 9. Still . . . the temptation is strong.

My name is Rick. I’m 63 years old, semi-retired, and wondering what to do with this addiction. Please help!


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