7 Keys To Successful B2B Influencer Marketing #MPB2B

Businessman looking intently at computer image.

Businessman looking intently at computer image.

MarketingProfs educational content director Kerry O’Shea Gorgone kicked off an insightful #MPB2B Forum 2020 session with our CEO Lee Odden exploring B2B influencer marketing, “New Research: How to be Successful With Influencer Marketing.”

Lee began by explaining that when it comes to B2B influencer marketing, to create and maintain a successful program you’ve got to do the hard work and be smart about it, and set about to demystify some of the lesser-known aspects of B2B influencer marketing by sharing what he’s learned from having been deeply involved with the practice for the past eight years.

Let’s take a look at the new B2B influencer marketing research Lee explored in his insightful MarketingProfs B2B Forum #MPB2B 2020 session.

1 — Utilize Influencers to Rise Above Pandemic Uncertainties

Kerry & Lee Odden #MPB2B

The pandemic has given rise to many new challenges that B2B marketers have had to deal with, including budgets that are often on hold while at the same time sales goals are not, leading to high levels of uncertainty.

B2B influencer marketing offers a powerful solution for rising above these uncertainties, by unleashing the power of collaboration with experts, Lee noted.

While we’ve been used to buyers actively looking for solutions, there’s a greater reliance on content today, making the trustworthiness of content sources more important than ever, Lee pointed out.

To help address the issue of trustworthiness and how B2B influencer marketing can help marketers now more than ever, Lee explained how TopRank Marketing produced the industry’s first 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report, with groundbreaking insights from 20 top B2B brands.

Lee shared how the report’s data makes it clear that B2B influencer marketing:

  • Improves customer experience (CX)
  • Positively impacts marketing overall
  • Increases brand awareness
  • Improves lead generation
  • Builds brand reputation and advocacy

“Partnering with well-matched influencers is a handy way to infuse your brand with creative energy and inspiration,” #MPB2B’s Ann Handley, who is among the top B2B marketing experts included in the report, observed.

Ann Handley Report Image

[bctt tweet=”“Partnering with well-matched influencers is a handy way to infuse your brand with creative energy and inspiration.” — Ann Handley @MarketingProfs” username=”toprank”]

2 — What Will Effective B2B Influencer Marketing Look Like in 2021?

Using remote work company monday.com* as an example, Lee shared how B2B influencer marketing had helped the platform achieve social reach from influencer shares of brand content that reached 1,790 percent above the target goal.

Lee also explained how monday.com successfully utilized B2B influencer marketing to partner with remote work experts and to drive discussions via live-stream that resulted in exposure to thousands of potential customers.

monday.com Image

In another example, Lee showed how IT service management software firm Cherwell Software* used B2B influencer marketing to achieve 342 percent better click-through-rate (CTR) on influencer content, and how the firm was successfully able to use influencers to build trust around a topic they hadn’t previously been known for, resulting in some 90 percent entirely new people in their database.

Cherwell Image

LinkedIn* served as another powerful example shared by Lee, who explained how the professional social media platform created a strong community of 75 influencers — recognizing the importance of investing in influencer relationships, and also the growing need for always-on B2B influencer marketing programs.

Lee shared how LinkedIn had partnered and developed relationships with influencers, how it was able to create a community of respected voices that became an ongoing voice of the brand, and how doing so allowed LinkedIn to be the best answer for its customers.

3 — What Makes B2B Influencer Marketing Content So Special?

B2B influencer marketing adds invaluable third-party credibility and trust to content, Lee said, also noting that it helps to extend content creation and expertise and to infuse the voice of the customer in your brand content, creating powerful trusted voices.

It also offers the added benefit of creating the type of inspiring promotion that traditional advertising may not be nearly as successful in doing, Lee suggested.

Lee then focused on steps B2B marketers can take to achieve success with an influencer marketing program.

4 — Scaling With Strategy

Scaling with strategy begins with finding the topics most relevant to your business, and Lee used an example from SAP*’s Tech Unknown podcast.

The podcast came about as a way to serve both internal customers and multiple external audiences, using an industry influencer — in this case technology futurist Tamara McCleary — as the podcast’s host.

SAP Image

Lee shared how influencers serve multiple uses for the SAP Tech Unknown podcast series, now in its third season, and how by following best-practices the podcast’s content has also been successfully repurposed into eBook and other content formats.

5 — Understand Topical Demand Using Specialized Software

Lee shared how using tools including SEMrush and BuzzSumo can play an important role in  helping to answer customer questions from third-party experts, and also explained how using the right software makes it possible to validate ideas with relevant data.

Lee recommended data-driven influencer marketing platform Traackr to help qualify and validate potential influencers and discover whether they have the right tone of voice, cadence, and other relevant criteria.

When it comes time for publishing B2B influencer marketing content co-created with influencers, it’s important to incorporate blog content as a part of your organization’s overall content publishing strategy, Lee noted, as it’s a vital part of the diverse array of content publishing formats that should be utilized when sharing co-created influencer content.

6 — Use an Always-On Engagement Strategy

Lee stressed the growing importance of an always-on engagement strategy, citing research from the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report showing its effectiveness, and sharing a quote from Garnor Morantes, group marketing manager at LinkedIn: “Being ‘always-on’ has allowed our team to build meaningful relationships with influencers,” Garnor said.

Garnor Morantes Always-On Influence Quote

[bctt tweet=”“Being ‘always-on’ has allowed our team to build meaningful relationships with influencers.” — Garnor Morantes of @LinkedIn” username=”toprank”]

An always-on approach that’s centered around creating relationships helps build community and advocacy, Lee explained, noting the importance of playing the long game.

Lee presented a case study showing the effectiveness of B2B influencer marketing, from Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise (ALE), which created a successful IT Vanguard Awards program using IT industry influencers  as judges.

The awards program shared the advice and insight of honorees and helped to make them into influencers, Lee noted of the program, which went on to win an award at the 2020 Content Marketing Awards.

IT Vangards

Lee explained how TopRank Marketing has a proven process of working with influencers for many of the top brands on the planet such as Adobe, LinkedIn, Dell, 3M and others, and he urged those considering a B2B influencer marketing program to look closely at who really influences your buyers.

Only then can you move forward with investing in and executing a successful influencer program, Lee observed, which could start with outside help in the form of a pilot B2B influencer marketing program.

By using the insight gained from a pilot influencer program, B2B marketers can further build an influencer strategy, grow a content community of influencers, and activate return on investment (ROI), Lee noted as he concluded his #MPB2B presentation.

7 — Bonus #MPB2B B2B Influencer Marketing Insight

During the post-session question and answer period, Lee was asked for advice writing about non-marketing-related content, and he urged marketers to always strive to empathize with the audience, and to make content meaningful to them.

Using an example of a shareable social media message, Lee noted that tweets created for influencers won’t work nearly as well when an organization’s entire team shares these same messages, and instead recommended the messaging be changed to better suit those sharing the content in a more general way.

Lee was also asked whether B2B influencer marketing can also work for smaller firms, and he shared several examples of TopRank Marketing’s work with small-to-medium size businesses (SMBs), utilizing locally influential people, for firms such as Welter Heating and Prophix Software.

Welter Heating was able to utilize local celebrity influencers to poll and gather feedback, giving them something fun, easy, and interesting to do, which was then made into round-up posts for the company’s website, Lee noted.

Lee explained how despite the fact that financial management software solution provider Prophix Software was centered around a fairly niche topic, they were able to find relevant specialized influencers that fit and worked well.

Prophix Influencer Marketing Example

Asked to provide a quick tip for getting started in B2B influencer marketing, Lee suggested making and publishing a list of the people who are influential in your particular industry, as a way to honor them and then also to use as an opportunity to follow up with each person with a brief and easy-to-fulfill request for a future co-collaboration project such as an interview or eBook.

While B2B influencer marketing had previously been roughly 80-90 percent of the unpaid variety, that number is now up to around 25 percent paid, Lee said, noting that there are now more B2B professionals who bring to the table the type of influencer skills worth paying for, such as much more robust and relevant content from brandividuals.

When asked about budgeting, Lee suggested that B2B influencer marketing can be budgeted as with any other advertisement expenditure, and explained how using paid influencers can be a great way to find and recruit lesser-known influencers.

Lee suggested that it’s helpful to have a long runway for building influencer relationships, and explained how TopRank Marketing was able to find remote work experts for client monday.com by  using Traackr and a variety of other criteria to those most influential around the topic, along with those who have a community of followers that will respond to that topic. These join other metrics including network size, publishing cadence and format, along with the influencer’s particular values, Lee noted, before they are ultimately approved by the client.

Another question Lee fielded was who within an organization should run a B2B influencer marketing program, and he noted that in the early days of influencer marketing it was likely to be the director of marketing or people in social media roles — all community-oriented professionals.

As time has passed, Lee explained, with B2B influencer marketing having grown in both success and sophistication, new dedicated roles are being created, such as those held by people including Rani Mani, head of global employee advocacy at Adobe*, and Ursula Ringham, head of global influencer marketing at SAP, and there has also been more integration with other departments at organizations.

Lee’s final question was whether B2B influencer marketing could be used to test new markets, and Lee shared how it can be successfully used to find new marketing topics by conducting tests with various content formats to see how each resonates, before ultimately deciding whether to scale or bail, Lee noted.

Learn more about B2B influencer marketing from Lee by watching our #InsideInfluence series, including the latest episode “Inside Influence EP06: Amisha Gandhi from SAP on the Power of Mutual Value in B2B Influencer Marketing.”

Be sure to check out our additional #MPB2B 2020 coverage listed below:

Want further help? Contact us and find out why brands from SAP, LinkedIn, AT&T Business, and Adobe to IBM, Dell, Cherwell Software, monday.com and more have chosen TopRank Marketing.

* monday.com, Cherwell Software, LinkedIn, SAP, Welter Heating, Prophix Software, and Adobe are TopRank Marketing clients.

 

The post 7 Keys To Successful B2B Influencer Marketing #MPB2B appeared first on B2B Marketing Blog – TopRank®.


Source: SEO blog

7 Keys To Successful B2B Influencer Marketing #MPB2B

Businessman looking intently at computer image.

MarketingProfs educational content director Kerry O’Shea Gorgone kicked off an insightful #MPB2B Forum 2020 session with our CEO Lee Odden exploring B2B influencer marketing, “New Research: How to be Successful With Influencer Marketing.”

Lee began by explaining that when it comes to B2B influencer marketing, to create and maintain a successful program you’ve got to do the hard work and be smart about it, and set about to demystify some of the lesser-known aspects of B2B influencer marketing by sharing what he’s learned from having been deeply involved with the practice for the past eight years.

Let’s take a look at the new B2B influencer marketing research Lee explored in his insightful MarketingProfs B2B Forum #MPB2B 2020 session.

1 — Utilize Influencers to Rise Above Pandemic Uncertainties

Kerry & Lee Odden #MPB2B

The pandemic has given rise to many new challenges that B2B marketers have had to deal with, including budgets that are often on hold while at the same time sales goals are not, leading to high levels of uncertainty.

B2B influencer marketing offers a powerful solution for rising above these uncertainties, by unleashing the power of collaboration with experts, Lee noted.

While we’ve been used to buyers actively looking for solutions, there’s a greater reliance on content today, making the trustworthiness of content sources more important than ever, Lee pointed out.

To help address the issue of trustworthiness and how B2B influencer marketing can help marketers now more than ever, Lee explained how TopRank Marketing produced the industry’s first 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report, with groundbreaking insights from 20 top B2B brands.

Lee shared how the report’s data makes it clear that B2B influencer marketing:

  • Improves customer experience (CX)
  • Positively impacts marketing overall
  • Increases brand awareness
  • Improves lead generation
  • Builds brand reputation and advocacy

“Partnering with well-matched influencers is a handy way to infuse your brand with creative energy and inspiration,” #MPB2B’s Ann Handley, who is among the top B2B marketing experts included in the report, observed.

Ann Handley Report Image

“Partnering with well-matched influencers is a handy way to infuse your brand with creative energy and inspiration.” — Ann Handley @MarketingProfs Click To Tweet

2 — What Will Effective B2B Influencer Marketing Look Like in 2021?

Using remote work company monday.com* as an example, Lee shared how B2B influencer marketing had helped the platform achieve social reach from influencer shares of brand content that reached 1,790 percent above the target goal.

Lee also explained how monday.com successfully utilized B2B influencer marketing to partner with remote work experts and to drive discussions via live-stream that resulted in exposure to thousands of potential customers.

monday.com Image

In another example, Lee showed how IT service management software firm Cherwell Software* used B2B influencer marketing to achieve 342 percent better click-through-rate (CTR) on influencer content, and how the firm was successfully able to use influencers to build trust around a topic they hadn’t previously been known for, resulting in some 90 percent entirely new people in their database.

Cherwell Image

LinkedIn* served as another powerful example shared by Lee, who explained how the professional social media platform created a strong community of 75 influencers — recognizing the importance of investing in influencer relationships, and also the growing need for always-on B2B influencer marketing programs.

Lee shared how LinkedIn had partnered and developed relationships with influencers, how it was able to create a community of respected voices that became an ongoing voice of the brand, and how doing so allowed LinkedIn to be the best answer for its customers.

3 — What Makes B2B Influencer Marketing Content So Special?

B2B influencer marketing adds invaluable third-party credibility and trust to content, Lee said, also noting that it helps to extend content creation and expertise and to infuse the voice of the customer in your brand content, creating powerful trusted voices.

It also offers the added benefit of creating the type of inspiring promotion that traditional advertising may not be nearly as successful in doing, Lee suggested.

Lee then focused on steps B2B marketers can take to achieve success with an influencer marketing program.

4 — Scaling With Strategy

Scaling with strategy begins with finding the topics most relevant to your business, and Lee used an example from SAP*’s Tech Unknown podcast.

The podcast came about as a way to serve both internal customers and multiple external audiences, using an industry influencer — in this case technology futurist Tamara McCleary — as the podcast’s host.

SAP Image

Lee shared how influencers serve multiple uses for the SAP Tech Unknown podcast series, now in its third season, and how by following best-practices the podcast’s content has also been successfully repurposed into eBook and other content formats.

5 — Understand Topical Demand Using Specialized Software

Lee shared how using tools including SEMrush and BuzzSumo can play an important role in  helping to answer customer questions from third-party experts, and also explained how using the right software makes it possible to validate ideas with relevant data.

Lee recommended data-driven influencer marketing platform Traackr to help qualify and validate potential influencers and discover whether they have the right tone of voice, cadence, and other relevant criteria.

When it comes time for publishing B2B influencer marketing content co-created with influencers, it’s important to incorporate blog content as a part of your organization’s overall content publishing strategy, Lee noted, as it’s a vital part of the diverse array of content publishing formats that should be utilized when sharing co-created influencer content.

6 — Use an Always-On Engagement Strategy

Lee stressed the growing importance of an always-on engagement strategy, citing research from the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report showing its effectiveness, and sharing a quote from Garnor Morantes, group marketing manager at LinkedIn: “Being ‘always-on’ has allowed our team to build meaningful relationships with influencers,” Garnor said.

Garnor Morantes Always-On Influence Quote

“Being ‘always-on’ has allowed our team to build meaningful relationships with influencers.” — Garnor Morantes of @LinkedIn Click To Tweet

An always-on approach that’s centered around creating relationships helps build community and advocacy, Lee explained, noting the importance of playing the long game.

Lee presented a case study showing the effectiveness of B2B influencer marketing, from Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise (ALE), which created a successful IT Vanguard Awards program using IT industry influencers  as judges.

The awards program shared the advice and insight of honorees and helped to make them into influencers, Lee noted of the program, which went on to win an award at the 2020 Content Marketing Awards.

IT Vangards

Lee explained how TopRank Marketing has a proven process of working with influencers for many of the top brands on the planet such as Adobe, LinkedIn, Dell, 3M and others, and he urged those considering a B2B influencer marketing program to look closely at who really influences your buyers.

Only then can you move forward with investing in and executing a successful influencer program, Lee observed, which could start with outside help in the form of a pilot B2B influencer marketing program.

By using the insight gained from a pilot influencer program, B2B marketers can further build an influencer strategy, grow a content community of influencers, and activate return on investment (ROI), Lee noted as he concluded his #MPB2B presentation.

7 — Bonus #MPB2B B2B Influencer Marketing Insight

During the post-session question and answer period, Lee was asked for advice writing about non-marketing-related content, and he urged marketers to always strive to empathize with the audience, and to make content meaningful to them.

Using an example of a shareable social media message, Lee noted that tweets created for influencers won’t work nearly as well when an organization’s entire team shares these same messages, and instead recommended the messaging be changed to better suit those sharing the content in a more general way.

Lee was also asked whether B2B influencer marketing can also work for smaller firms, and he shared several examples of TopRank Marketing’s work with small-to-medium size businesses (SMBs), utilizing locally influential people, for firms such as Welter Heating and Prophix Software.

Welter Heating was able to utilize local celebrity influencers to poll and gather feedback, giving them something fun, easy, and interesting to do, which was then made into round-up posts for the company’s website, Lee noted.

Lee explained how despite the fact that financial management software solution provider Prophix Software was centered around a fairly niche topic, they were able to find relevant specialized influencers that fit and worked well.

Prophix Influencer Marketing Example

Asked to provide a quick tip for getting started in B2B influencer marketing, Lee suggested making and publishing a list of the people who are influential in your particular industry, as a way to honor them and then also to use as an opportunity to follow up with each person with a brief and easy-to-fulfill request for a future co-collaboration project such as an interview or eBook.

While B2B influencer marketing had previously been roughly 80-90 percent of the unpaid variety, that number is now up to around 25 percent paid, Lee said, noting that there are now more B2B professionals who bring to the table the type of influencer skills worth paying for, such as much more robust and relevant content from brandividuals.

When asked about budgeting, Lee suggested that B2B influencer marketing can be budgeted as with any other advertisement expenditure, and explained how using paid influencers can be a great way to find and recruit lesser-known influencers.

Lee suggested that it’s helpful to have a long runway for building influencer relationships, and explained how TopRank Marketing was able to find remote work experts for client monday.com by  using Traackr and a variety of other criteria to those most influential around the topic, along with those who have a community of followers that will respond to that topic. These join other metrics including network size, publishing cadence and format, along with the influencer’s particular values, Lee noted, before they are ultimately approved by the client.

Another question Lee fielded was who within an organization should run a B2B influencer marketing program, and he noted that in the early days of influencer marketing it was likely to be the director of marketing or people in social media roles — all community-oriented professionals.

As time has passed, Lee explained, with B2B influencer marketing having grown in both success and sophistication, new dedicated roles are being created, such as those held by people including Rani Mani, head of global employee advocacy at Adobe*, and Ursula Ringham, head of global influencer marketing at SAP, and there has also been more integration with other departments at organizations.

Lee’s final question was whether B2B influencer marketing could be used to test new markets, and Lee shared how it can be successfully used to find new marketing topics by conducting tests with various content formats to see how each resonates, before ultimately deciding whether to scale or bail, Lee noted.

Learn more about B2B influencer marketing from Lee by watching our #InsideInfluence series, including the latest episode “Inside Influence EP06: Amisha Gandhi from SAP on the Power of Mutual Value in B2B Influencer Marketing.”

Be sure to check out our additional #MPB2B 2020 coverage listed below:

Want further help? Contact us and find out why brands from SAP, LinkedIn, AT&T Business, and Adobe to IBM, Dell, Cherwell Software, monday.com and more have chosen TopRank Marketing.

* monday.com, Cherwell Software, LinkedIn, SAP, Welter Heating, Prophix Software, and Adobe are TopRank Marketing clients.

Location Data + Reviews: The 1–2 Punch of Local SEO (Updated for 2020)

localseocombo.jpg

Get found. Get chosen.

It’s the local SEO two-step at the heart of every campaign. It’s the 1-2 punch combo that hinges on a balance of visible, accurate contact data, and a volunteer salesforce of consumer reviewers who are supporting your rise to local prominence.

But here’s the thing: while managed location data and reviews may be of equal and complementary power, they shouldn’t require an equal share of your time.

Automation of basic business data distribution is the key to freeing you up to focus on the elements of listings that require human ingenuity — namely, reviews and other listings-based content like posts and Q&A.

It’s my hope that sharing this article with your team or your boss will help you get the financial allocations you need for automated listings management, plus generous resources for creative reputation management.

Location data + reviews = the big picture

When Google lists a business, it gives good space to the business name, and a varying degree of space to the address and phone number. But look at the real estate occupied by the various aspects associated with reputation:

If Google cares this much about ratings, review text, responses, and emerging elements like place topics and attributes, any local brand you’re marketing should see these factors as a priority. In this article, I’ll strive to codify your actionable perspective on managing both location data and the many aspects of reviews.

Ratings: The most powerful local filter of them all

In the local SEO industry, we talk a lot about Google’s filters, like the Possum filter that’s supposed to strain local businesses through a sort of sieve so that a greater diversity of mapped results is shown to the searcher. But searchers have an even more powerful filter than this — the human-driven filter of ratings that helps people intuitively sort local brands by perceived quality.

Whether they’re stars or circles, the majority of rating icons send a 1–5 point signal to consumers that can be instantly understood. This symbol system has been around since at least the 1820s; it’s deeply ingrained in all our brains as a judgement of value.

This useful, rapid form of shorthand lets a searcher needing to do something like grab a quick taco see that the food truck with five Yelp stars is likely a better bet than the one with only two. Meanwhile, searchers with more complex needs can comb through the ratings of many listings at leisure, carefully weighing one option against another for major purchases. In Google’s local results, ratings are the most powerful human-created filter that influences the major goal of being chosen.

But before a local brand can be chosen on the basis of its high ratings, it has to rank well enough to be found. The good news is that, over the past three years, expert local SEOs have become increasingly convinced of the impact of Google ratings on Google local pack rankings. In 2017, when I wrote the original version of this post, contributors to the Local Search Ranking Factors survey placed Google star ratings down at #24 in terms of local rankings influence. In 2020, this metric has jumped up to spot #8 — a leap of 16 spots in just three years.

In the interim, Google has been experimenting with different ratings-related displays. In 2017, they were testing the application of a “highly rated” snippet on hotel rankings in the local packs. Today, their complex hotel results let the user opt to see only 4+ star results. Meanwhile, local SEOs have noticed patterns over the years like searches with the format of “best X in city” (e.g. best burrito in Dallas) appearing to default to local results made up of businesses that have earned a minimum average of four stars. Doubtless, observations like these have strengthened experts’ convictions that Google cares a lot about ratings and allows them to influence rank.

Heading into 2021, any local brand with goals of being found and chosen must view low ratings as an impediment to reaching full growth potential.

Consumer sentiment: The local business story your customers are writing for you

Here’s a randomly chosen Google 3-pack result when searching just for “tacos” in a small city in the San Francisco Bay Area:

taco3pack.jpg

We’ve just covered the topic of ratings, and you can look at a result like this to get that instant gut feeling about the 4-star-rated eateries vs. the 2-star place. Now, let’s open the book on business #3 and see precisely what kind of brand story its consumers are writing, as you would in conducting a professional review audit for a local business, excerpting dominant sentiment:

tacoaudit.jpg

It’s easy to ding fast food chains. Their business model isn’t commonly associated with fine dining or the kind of high wages that tend to promote employee excellence. In some ways, I think of them as extreme examples. Yet, they serve as good teaching models for how even the most modest-quality offerings create certain expectations in the minds of consumers, and when those basic expectations aren’t met, it’s enough of a story for consumers to share in the form of reviews.

This particular restaurant location has an obvious problem with slow service, orders being filled incorrectly, and employees who have been denied the training they need to represent the brand in a knowledgeable, friendly, or accessible manner. If you audited a different business, its pain points might surround outdated fixtures or low standards of cleanliness.

Whatever the case, when the incoming consumer turns to the review world, their eyes scan the story as it scrolls down their screen. Repeat mentions of a particular negative issue can create enough of a theme to turn the potential customer away. One survey says only up to 11% of consumers will do business with a brand that’s wound up with a 2-star rating based on poor reviews. Who can afford to let the other 91% of consumers go elsewhere?

The central goal of being chosen hinges on recognizing that your reviewer base is a massive, unpaid salesforce that tells your brand story. Survey after survey consistently finds that people trust reviews — in fact, they may trust them more than any claim your brand can make about itself.

Going into 2021, the writing is on the wall that Google cares a great deal about themes surfacing in your reviews. The ongoing development and display of place topics and attributes signifies Google’s increasing interest in parsing sentiment, and doubtless, using such data to determine relevance.

Fully embracing review management and the total local customer service ecosystem is key to giving customers a positive tale to tell, enabling the business you’re marketing to be trusted and chosen for the maximum number of transactions.

Velocity/recency/count: Just enough of a timely good thing to be competitive

This is one of the easiest aspects of review management to convey. You can sum it up in one sentence: don’t get too many reviews at once on any given platform but do get enough reviews on an ongoing basis to avoid looking like you’ve gone out of business.

For a little more background on the first part of that statement, watch Mary Bowling describing in this LocalU video how she audited a law firm that went from zero to thirty 5-star reviews within a single month. Sudden gluts of reviews like this not only look odd to alert customers, but they can trip review platform filters, resulting in removal. Remember, reviews are a business lifetime effort, not a race. Get a few this month, a few next month, and a few the month after that. Keep going.

The second half of the review timing paradigm relates to not running out of steam in your acquisition campaigns. Multiple surveys indicate that the largest percentage of review readers consider content from the past month to be most relevant. Despite this, Google’s index is filled with local brands that haven’t been reviewed in over a year, leaving searchers to wonder if a place is still in business, or if it’s so unimpressive that no one is bothering to review it.

While I’d argue that review recency may be more important in review-oriented industries (like restaurants) vs. those that aren’t quite as actively reviewed (like septic system servicing), the idea here is similar to that of velocity, in that you want to keep things going. Don’t run a big review acquisition campaign in January and then forget about outreach for the rest of the year. A moderate, steady pace of acquisition is ideal.

And finally, a local SEO FAQ comes from business owners who want to know how many reviews they need to earn. There’s no magic number, but the rule of thumb is that you need to earn more reviews than the top competitor you are trying to outrank for each of your search terms. This varies from keyword phrase, to keyword phrase, from city to city, from vertical to vertical. The best approach is steady growth of reviews to surpass whatever number the top competitor has earned.

Authenticity: Honesty is the only honest policy

For me, this is one of the most prickly and interesting aspects of the review world. Three opposing forces meet on this playing field: business ethics, business education, and the temptations engendered by the obvious limitations of review platforms to police themselves.

I often recall a basic review audit I did for a family-owned restaurant belonging to a friend of a friend. Within minutes, I realized that the family had been reviewing their own restaurant on Yelp (a glaring violation of Yelp’s policy). I felt sorry to see this, but being acquainted with the people involved (and knowing them to be quite nice!), I highly doubted they had done this out of some dark impulse to deceive the public.

Rather, my guess was that they may have thought they were “getting the ball rolling” for their new business, hoping to inspire real reviews. My gut feeling was that they simply lacked the necessary education to understand that they were being dishonest with their community and how this could lead to them being publicly shamed by Yelp, or even subjected to a lawsuit, if caught.

In such a scenario, there’s definitely an opportunity for the marketer to offer the necessary education to describe the risks involved in tying a brand to misleading practices, highlighting how vital it is to build trust within the local community. Fake positive reviews aren’t building anything real on which a company can stake its future. Ethical business owners will catch on when you explain this in honest terms and can then begin marketing themselves in smarter ways.

But then there’s the other side. Mike Blumenthal’s reporting on this has set a high bar in the industry, with coverage of developments like the largest review spam network he’d ever encountered. There’s simply no way to confuse organized, global review spam with a busy small business making a wrong, novice move. Real temptation resides in this scenario, because, as Blumenthal states:

“Review spam at this scale, unencumbered by any Google enforcement, calls into question every review that Google has. Fake business listings are bad, but businesses with 20, or 50, or 150 fake reviews are worse. They deceive the searcher and the buying public and they stain every real review, every honest business, and Google.”

When a platform like Google makes it easy to “get away with” deception, companies lacking ethics will take advantage of the opportunity. Beyond reporting review spam, one of the best things we can do as marketers is to offer ethical clients the education that helps them make honest choices. We can simply pose the question:

Is it better to fake your business’ success or to actually achieve success?

Local brands that choose to take the high road must avoid:

  • Any form of review incentives or spam
  • Review gating that filters consumers so that only happy ones leave reviews
  • Violations of the review guidelines specific to each review platform

Owner responses: creatively turning reviews into two-way conversations

Over the years, I’ve devoted abundant space in my column here at Moz to the fascinating topic of owner responses. I’ve highlighted the five types of Google My Business reviews and how to respond to them, I’ve diagrammed a real-world example of how a terrible owner response can make a bad situation even worse, and I’ve studied basic reputation management for better customer service and how to get unhappy customers to edit their negative reviews.

My key learnings from nearly two decades of examining reviews and responses are these:

  • Review responses are a critical form of customer service that can’t be ignored any more than business staff should ignore in-person customers asking for face-to-face help. Many reviewers expect responses.
  • The number of local business listings in every industry with zero owner responses on them is totally shocking.
  • Negative reviews, when fairly given, are a priceless form of free quality control for the brand. Customers directly tell the brand which problems need to be fixed to make them happy.
  • Many reviewers think of their reviews as living documents, and update them to reflect subsequent experiences.
  • Many reviewers are more than happy to give brands a second chance when a problem is resolved.
  • Positive reviews are conversations starters warmly inviting a response that further engages the customer and can convince them that the brand deserves repeat business.

Local brands and agencies can use software to automate updating a phone number or hours of operation. Software like Moz Local can be of real help in alerting you to new, incoming reviews across multiple platforms, or surfacing the top sentiment themes within your review corpus.

Tools free up resources to manage what can’t be automated: human creativity. It takes serious creative resources to spend time with review sentiment and respond to customers in a way that makes a brand stand out as responsive and worthy. It takes time to fully utilize the opportunities owner responses represent to impact goals all the way from the top to the bottom of the sales funnel.

I’ve never forgotten a piece Florian Huebner wrote for StreetFight documenting the neglected reviews of a major fast food chain and its subsequent increase in location closures and decrease in profits. No one was taking the time to sit down with the reviews, listen, fix problems customers were citing, or offer proofs of caring resolution via owner responses.

And all too often, when brands large and small do respond to reviews, they take a corporate-speak stance equivalent to “whistling past the graveyard” when addressing complaints. To keep the customer and to signal to the public that the brand deserves to be chosen, creative resources must be allocated to providing gutsy, honest owner responses. It’s easy to spot the difference:

whistlinggutsy.jpg

The response in yellow signals that the brand simply isn’t invested in customer retention. By contrast, the response in blue is a sample of what it takes to have a real conversation with a real person on the other side of the review text, in hopes of transforming one bad initial experience into a second chance, and hopefully, a lifetime of loyalty.

NAP and reviews: The 1–2 punch combo every local business must practice

Right now, there’s an employee at a local business or a staffer at an agency who is looking at the review corpus of a brand that’s struggling for rankings and profits. The set of reviews contains mixed sentiment, and no one is responding to either positive or negative customer experiences.

Maybe this is an issue that’s been brought up from time to time in company meetings, but it’s never made it to priority status. Decision-makers have felt that time and budget are better spent elsewhere.

Meanwhile, customers are quietly trickling away for lack of attention, leads are being missed, structural issues are being ignored…

If the employee or staffer I’m describing is you, my best advice is to make 2021 the year you make your strongest case for automating listing distribution and management with software so that creative resources can be dedicated to full reputation management.

Local SEO experts, your customers and clients, and Google, itself, are all indicating that location data + reviews are highly impactful and here to stay. In fact, history proves that this combination is deeply embedded in our entire approach to local commerce.

When traveling salesman Duncan Hines first published his 1935 review guide Adventures in Good Eating, he was developing what we think of today as local SEO. Here is my color-coded version of his review of the business that would one day become KFC. It should look strangely familiar to anyone who has ever tackled local business listings management:

duncanhines.jpg

No phone number on this “citation,” of course, but telephones were quite a luxury in 1935. Barring that element, this simple and historic review has the core earmarks of a modern local business listing. It has location data and review data; it’s the 1–2 punch combo every local business still needs to get right today. Without the NAP, the business can’t be found. Without the sentiment, the business gives little reason to be chosen.

From Duncan Hines to the digital age, there may be nothing new under the sun in marketing, but striking the right pose between listings and reputation management may be new news to your CEO, your teammates, or clients. So go for it — communicate this stuff, and good luck at your next big meeting!

Check out the new Moz Local plans that let you take care of location data distribution in seconds so that the balance of your focus can be on creatively caring for the customer.

New Moz Local Plans