Importance of online reviews

Igniyte is a UK leader in online reputation management interested in following strategies which illustrate a brand’s online and offline reputation.

We are regularly looking at small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and their perspective on the importance of online reviews to business. Our 2014 Business of Reviews report, for example, highlighted the views of managers of smaller firms on how in particular customer reviews can affect them.

Following this up in 2016, we found that the number of managers who feel bad reviews have the power to make or break their business rose from 17 to 21 per cent in the last two years, with more than half affected by negative reviews in the last 12 months. Another 52 per cent experienced a commercial slump directly because of unfavourable comments.

Allowing a misalignment in online and offline reputation to develop may present significant problems

The issue here is that, in the main, once a customer or media title writes a disparaging review, there is almost no obligation for writers to remove them. Despite being commonly believed to be a saving grace, the Right to be Forgotten Act only applies to individual people and does not cover brands. It predominantly exists to remove information which is legally damaging – such as that which breaks the Data Protection Act – rather than negative comments.

Though SMEs often feel negative reviews very close to home, megabrands can distance themselves from this by posting regularly on social media and generating PR to highlight their brand’s positives. However, allowing a misalignment in online and offline reputation to develop may present significant problems in the future and is not an issue exclusive to SME firms.

Internationally successful technology giant Apple is good example of this. Loved by millions across the world, its famed Apple Events will trend globally and people will physically camp outside a store to purchase new products first.

On the surface, the brand is one of the world’s best due to an exceptionally loyal following and continuous (if not controversial) innovation. From a reputational point of view, however, Apple presents a far-from-perfect brand model because of significant inconsistencies between the performance of the company’s individual stores.

Googling “Apple” you see a wealth of positive press coverage, social media profiles and the firm’s own designer website appearing at the top of the page. Should you search a specific store, however, you’ll see customers have offered their thoughts through Google’s “local listing” feature to give their opinion on that particular outlet. Looking at a sample range of ten stores across the world, Apple’s Google review ratings alone strongly contradict the reputation of the wider brand:

  • Sanlitun, Beijing: 4.5
  • Vía Santa Fe, Mexico City: 4.4
  • Fifth Avenue, New York: 4.2
  • RomaEst, Rome: 4
  • Regent Street, London: 3.9
  • Ginza, Tokyo: 3.7
  • Dubai, UAE: 3.4
  • Fairview, Toronto: 3.2
  • Highpoint, Melbourne: 2.9
  • Oakridge, San Jose (US): 2

This snapshot illustrates the discrepancy as at the bottom of the table is the Oakridge store. In addition to being in California, where the brand boasts to be from, the store is located within five miles of Apple HQ.

For a brand like Apple to receive such poor customer feedback in its own neighbourhood is shocking and shows how its performance in-store is distorting its online reputation for individual outlets. It appears the company prioritises investor and shareholder relations over the customers who fuel the brand through purchase.

This issue is far from unique among brand groups as many car dealerships, restaurants and retailers also have varying online reviews and, therefore, reputations.

As reviews become increasingly important to pre-purchase research, it’s short sighted for companies of any size to ignore the impact these can have on overall brand reputation. It is certainly a factor we feel companies need to take on board far beyond the New Year.;