Online Reputation Management for Restaurants

My favorite Thai restaurant is located a couple miles from my home tucked into one of those strip centers that disappears after you’ve driven by it a half-dozen times. It’s a nondescript strip mall anchored by a tired grocery store that doesn’t draw much traffic these days.

Clearly, the proprietor violated the first rule of restaurant marketing when he let the real estate deal drive the location decision. However, thanks to a little app calledAround Me, I discovered this little place. The very next thing I did was look it up on Yelp, and I was delighted to find a bunch of five-star ratings and rave reviews. Now, I’m a regular.

An astonishing 88% of us trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, according to a Loyal Customer Review study published in 2014. This is nothing short of astounding as, heretofore, the personal recommendation by a friend or trusted source was considered the very pinnacle of persuasion. Today, the anonymous online crowd is every bit as influential. And that’s why you need to pay very close attention to your brand’s online reputation.  Welcome to the world of online reputation management.

In a nutshell, online reputation management is all about keeping the shine on your restaurant’s hard-won reputation by monitoring, identifying and responding to negative content involving your brand name.

Monitor Your Restaurant Continuously

This may sound like a tall order – especially for small chains or independent operators – but it’s really not as daunting as it may sound. Using a few simple tools, you can stay on top of the chatter around your brand. It’s a practice called, social listening. And, it’s the foundation for effective online reputation management. If we’re going to manage our reputation, we need to start by figuring out what people are saying about us.

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Social Listening Tools

The first step for managing your online reputation is to listen. Here’s a list of the top social listening tools to help you stay on top of the chatter about your restaurant brand:

If This Then That (IFTTT) – This is Ground Zero for responding quickly to negative content about your restaurant brand. The tool allows you to easily set up rules (called “recipes”) centered on a trigger channel (“if this”) and action channel (“then that”), respectively.

Here’s how you can use this tool: Set up a recipe that scans RSS feeds on websites where your restaurant may be mentioned. This might be a local online paper, trade magazines, associations or any number of outlets where restaurants are discussed or reviewed. If your brand is mentioned on any of the sites you’re monitoring, you’ll be informed by an email alert.

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IceRocket – This service monitors blogs and social media for mentions of your brand. If a grumpy customer badmouths your restaurant on Twitter, for example, IceRocket will find the offensive tweet and alert you. If a troublemaking troll trashes your reputation on Facebook, this tool will identify that, too. Best of all, IceRocket is easy to use. Just type your search term into the over-sized search box and you’re good to go. Looking for a review authored by a person you know, for example? Just use the tool’s handy filter options to run a search for content on your brand that includes their name. There’s no hiding from IceRocket.

Topsy – Specifically designed for Twitter, this tool is more powerful than Twitter’s very own search feature. Just click on the “influencers” tab and run a search for your restaurant’s name, for example. Here, you’ll quickly learn what an influential food blogger, restaurant critic or your best customers have to say about your establishment. You can even monitor the sentiment score for your restaurant to see how your competitors’ online reputation benchmarks against yours.

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Get Engaged

The second step for managing your online reputation is engaging your customers. You need a well-managed presence on all the big social media sites—Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest—but that’s not enough. There are countless brand accounts languishing on the Internet. Don’t neglect your social effort! The best brand stewards use their social media channels to engage their followers with interesting posts and relevant content, such as promotions and contests. It’s an “always on” effort when it’s done right.

Beyond building your brand’s following, regular social media activity also creates content for organic search, which both improves your rankings and quickly buries any negative content should it exist. In other words, through regular social activity you can out-shout the voices you don’t want others to hear.

You can monitor your progress in this respect with tools such as Kred and Klout. These independent influence assessors can help you find out whether or not you’re achieving positive-influence growth with your restaurant brand.

Guard Prominent Names

Prominent names at your restaurant include those of the owner (particularly if he’s flamboyant and likes being the public face of the establishment), star chefs, investors and even a charismatic and popular general manager. All of these names need to be supported with a strong, consistent and credible online presence through social media and fan engagement. This is essential for creating and promoting positive content (Facebook posts, Tweets, blog articles, etc.) for your restaurant brand.

Dealing with Negative Comments and Feedback

Now you can begin addressing any problem content you discover. However, don’t dismiss critical commentary. The point of reputation management shouldn’t simply be to mask negative feedback. Critical content can provide important insight on operations, both clarifying both opportunities and illuminating problem areas. There can be great value in listening to critical feedback.

And, when necessary, apologize. Apologizing doesn’t compromise your brand in any way. On the contrary, it demonstrates you’re responsible, transparent and will go to great lengths for your customers.

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Finally, never commit the Cardinal Sin of being drawn into an online battle with disgruntled customers—ever! This is the worst possible mistake you can make because it will kill your credibility. Remember what we shared at the top of this post: your customers believe the reviews, not you. Ouch! This is true even when you’re technically right on a given matter, too. After all, the customer’s always right, so anything short of addressing your customers’ concerns—within reason—is always the way to win.

Having doubts about this approach? If so, check out the result of Amy’s Baking Company’s decision to brutalize disgruntled customers on its Facebook page. It wasn’t a winning strategy.

You Can’t Afford to Neglect Your Reputation

All we really have is our reputation. Once it’s tarnished, so is our credibility, and that’s never good for business. This is why you should put a premium on online reputation management. Invest the time and energy to figure it out yourself, or hire a pro to handle it for you. Either way, don’t leave your reputation in the hands of a hungry crowd.