SAN FRANCISCOAlthough in some circles it's still a prominent form of advertising to get new customers as well as friends and family into a tire or automotive service shop, Word of Mouth is gradually being supplanted by social media.
The popularity of Facebook and other social media sites has allowed people to askthrough their friendsfor recommendations about what businesses to patronize. With the recent advent of Graph Search, consumers can see where their friends have been without having to ask them directly.
However, there are a few other ways that consumers are researching consumer feedback online, and one major site is Yelp.com.
Yelp Inc. was founded in 2004 and has continued to grow ever since. Darnell Holloway, senior manager of local business outreach, said that as of the second quarter of 2012, the site saw an average of 108 million monthly unique visitors, and the Yelp mobile app was accessed on a monthly average of 10.4 million unique devices.
Yelp users have written 42 million reviews, and the auto vertical currently represents about 4 percent of all reviewed businesses on the site, Mr. Holloway told Tire Business via an email interview.
Early adopters are, he said, getting a significant head start on their competitors in regards to new customer acquisition and deepening relationships with loyal customers.
Mr. Holloway said a recent Nielson Co. study found that four out of five Yelp users visit the site when preparing to spend money, so this represents a huge opportunity for independent tire dealers to get in front of potential customers when they're on the verge of making a buying decision.
Mr. Holloway heads up Yelp's business outreach team, along with hosting informational sessions with local businesses to help educate them on best practices for the site. He oversees Yelp's Small Business Advisory Council.
He said that a recent study conducted by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) said there is a direct financial incentive for small business owners to engage with their Yelp listing. BCG found that small businesses with a free business owner's account saw an average of $8,000 in annual revenue from Yelp....
Mr. Holloway gave a few general tips for tire dealers, noting that Yelp recommends businesses make the best out of your business listing on Yelp by unlocking their account at biz.yelp.com. This allows the business owner to complete the profile, such as adding photos, updating hours and other useful information.
Since potential customers are going on the site, giving them the pertinent information can only help their business.
Yelp offers a revenue estimate tool, according to Mr. Holloway, to quantify the amount of business that Yelp is already sending your way.
Other tips include creating promotional vehicles to help generate buzzsuch as a Yelp Deal or a mobile check-in offer.
There is an important difference between aggressively asking for reviews and driving awareness about your business on Yelp, Mr. Holloway said, adding: It may sound counterintuitive, but we actually recommend that you let your customers know about your Yelp presence, and stop short of asking for a review.
For example, if there is a sign telling every customer to review me on Yelp or even offering incentives for reviewswhich is against Yelp's terms of serviceit can make customers feel like they are being used.
This may leave some with a negative impression on your business, Mr. Holloway added.
He suggested instead a few different techniques to try to generate interest in the business' Yelp page.
Mr. Holloway said that posting a Check-in Offer is an alternative to asking specifically for reviews.
When mobile Yelpers check in, they can let their friends on Yelp see what business they're patronizing.
He said that Yelp users also can share their check-ins on Facebook and Twitter.
A check-in offer is a great way to encourage your current customers to use this feature more often.
It is not compelling a person to write a review to get a discounted service as other, more aggressive, campaigns could. Mr. Holloway said that when a person checks in at your business, Yelp prompts them to write a review when they log into www.yelp.com.
Using different word-age such as Find us on Yelp instead of Review us on Yelp can show people the business is present on the site, without making demands. Another way to make your Yelp presence visible is by posting a link on the company website, along with email signatures.
Mr. Holloway said about 79 percent of the reviews on Yelp are three stars or higher, but that it is likely that a business will receive negative feedback at some point because it is impossible to please everyone, all the time.
He advises not to lose your cool when that happens, but instead think about what customer service policies you have in place in the offline world and apply the same logic while online.
To be specific, consider implementing constructive feedback when appropriate, and get in the habit of addressing the concerns of critical reviewersdiplomatically of courseusing the private message or public comment feature on biz.yelp.com, Mr. Holloway advised.
He said some business owners like to be hands on and personally respond to each review, but if the owner is getting too emotional over reviews then you may not be the best person to respond.
Mr. Holloway suggested appointing an office manager or a trusted employee to be the point person if the owner gets too heated over customer feedback.
While word of mouth advertising is still an effective tool for getting a business' name out in public, today there are a few more methods that a business can use to bring in customers.
Since consumers already are going onto sites to get this kind of information, Mr. Holloway suggested that a business take ownership of the page.
Beyond Yelp, it's highly advisable to have a fully optimized and mobile-ready website for your business, he said.
However, if a business does not have one, he said a fully optimized Yelp listing can be a substitute that can give a business exposure to mobile consumers through the Yelp app.
To reach this reporter: [email protected]; 330-865-6143.