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Last week, hopefully I helped to open your eyes to the importance of staying on top of reviews and posts about your products and services—as well as those about your competition. Here's how to use that information at various levels of your organization to create a better customer experience.

Product Managers and Executives

Use reviews to build a better mousetrap!

Have a plan in place to periodically check in and see what people are saying, positive or negative, about your competition. Did customers feel rushed on the phone? How are wait times for customer support? Are the people welcoming and friendly? How quickly do they respond to email? Are they willing to correct mistakes easily, or do they make the customer jump through hoops for resolution to issues?

The information is out there, you just have to roll up your sleeves and be committed to staying on top of what customers are saying about you and your competition, and have a plan to take action.

Keep a log of customer complaints/suggestions you find on forums and blogs; you'll find a litany of suggestions for improvements without paying a dime.

The next big or small product improvement is probably sitting in a blog or forum somewhere—just go find it!

Marketing and Sales Teams

Don't spend your entire budget on advertising on large sites only.

Marketers, your budgets are smaller, but your goals are increased... defies logic doesn't it? It happens too often. The company wants you to do more with less. Well, here is a great opportunity to do just that.

I once worked on the analytics portion of a major insurance firm's online marketing campaign. After spending tons of money on research, creative and distribution of online ads, the site that referred the most classic car insurance leads was an enthusiasts' forum about Mustangs that displayed none of the ads, just a thread about the company's service and a link.

Fortunately, very good things were being said about this client's offering by real customers. This "vouching" for the company by current customers resulted in quite the windfall: Existing customers speaking highly of the company lowered the skepticism of newcomers who then came to the site and requested insurance quotes. Talk about free advertising! These users converted at a higher rate than our paid ads, in part because some of the skepticism and perceived risk were decreased by their online colleagues' vouching for the service.

The bad news: The company didn't make total use of this opportunity; it made the mistake of not contacting the forum owner and offering a small sum per month to advertise, or signing it up for an affiliate program. Eventually, the thread about the company went cold, as did the high-quality, high-conversion leads. Taking action is an important step in this process.

Get Analytical!

Select either a consultant or someone within your organization who can analyze your Web data to determine who is linking to your site and the behavior of users coming from those links. (Do they only view one page and leave, or are they actually signing up for your newsletters and making purchases?) Assign a value to visitors coming from forums and blogs, just like you would for pay-per-click ads and banners. What is their value to you?

Customer Advocates

Face it, your branding online may be under new management.

Your customer advocates are your first line of defense; they are the people that truly represent your brand, much more than your CEO or some commercial you've run. I think my bank is a great bank, but not because of those corny "What does figure skating teach us about banking commercials." They are great because they deliver on their promise to put me as a customer first; when I need help, they are there.

Give your customer advocates the power to address problems; after all, a hot thread on a topic may last only for a few weeks.

Extra Advice

1. You can never please everyone.

Some people love to complain, and you have to know when to cut your losses. At some point we've all had to say, "I'm really sorry, I've tried to accommodate your issues but there is nothing else I can do. Thanks for your feedback!"

Know when it is time to fold and back out gracefully. If you decide to not address issues, keep documentation of complaints and analyze your complaint log to see whether any issues are reoccurring. Do not try to fix your site or product for each individual complaint or issue. Instead, look for a pattern before taking the time to make adjustments.

And sometimes you know what is best in your gut, so go with it.

2. Inflating your reviews is unethical. Don't do it.

The power of positive postings should be pretty obvious by now. Amazon recently implemented a "real names" program that certifies that persons reviewing items are who they say they are. It is very easy to see how easily you can undermine most review systems that do not require a real name or verification system. Just don't do it.

Remember, activities you take online are trackable. If you are exposed for positively reviewing your own products repeatedly... wow, talk about brand damage! Do not ever attempt to artificially inflate your rankings, or deflate the rankings of a competitor.

* * *

So now you have marching orders. By no means is everything here going to fit in your organization, but you should at least run a couple of searches on blogpulse.com and see if there is any chatter out there about your products, services and competition. It only takes a few minutes.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wil Reynolds is the founder and head marketing strategist of SEER Interactive (www.thinkseer.com), a search optimization and Web marketing firm located in Philadelphia.