Everyone keeps telling you how important it is as a small business owner to dive head-first into social media, and they're right. Maybe you haven't been convinced yet or are waiting for something undefined to be your catalyst, like an "oh, no!" moment when you realize at the last second that you have messed up somehow. Some people need to be kicked in the head to progress and change, but I hope that's not you because this kick might really hurt.
Let me tell you why doing nothing could be the eventual end of your business, and why doing it halfway could be worse. The first thing you have to get through your head is that it's not just a bunch of marketing propaganda. Study after study continues to show that social media is growing more quickly than ever and that businesses are reaping big benefits from it. Not just online tech companies, but local retailers, service providers, and restaurants as well.
The next thing to grasp is the paradox that the larger the online world has become, the more local it has also become. In other words, the more ubiquitous the internet is, the more pervasive it is in everyday real-world life. To that end, local search has become the "next big thing" in marketing, and review sites are influencing business in a big way.
People Will Talk
The popularity of review sites is through the roof, but that's really only logical. Word of mouth has always been and will always be the most effect form of advertising, and people love to tell others about their experiences, both good and bad. Review sites have become the new word of mouth, and consumers are very much paying attention to what others say on them. Recent studies show that 72% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, and personal recommendations are the primary factor behind up to 50% of all purchases.
So let the reviews fall where they may, right? Wrong. Here's the thing. You can't directly control anything on these sites, but the information there will directly affect your business. The first thing you need to do is claim your business on the site so that you can control the business information there (hours, address, etc) and become an admin to reply to comments. Over 75% of consumers agree that when management responds to comments it makes them feel like they care more about them. That translates into more business, or at least loss prevention.
Negative reviews can really hurt your business, but no reviews are just as bad. Less than 5% of consumers are likely to buy from a business which has no reviews online. In this new internet economy, if you don't have any reviews then you are either brand new and unproven or not worth the time to look at. When you go to buy something on Amazon, don't you look at the reviews? Most people do. Companies with positive reviews online generally convert over 150% more new business than those with bad reviews or no reviews.
Once you understand the importance of this, the key is collecting the data to respond to and to analyze. Google alerts will give you general web results for mentions of your brand, but they don't crawl everything, including parts of Facebook. Most social sites have some sort of analytics for free, but there are a whole lot of sites that need monitoring. Monitoring them individually would take too much time and lower your ROI significantly.
There are also agencies which will handle your accounts for you, and many are very good. However, as social media and reviews become ever more commonplace, consumers are looking for personal involvement from the company to show they are sincere. The best option is to hire a social media manager and get a professional grade social media dashboard. There are lots of monitoring programs that will watch Facebook and Twitter to some limited degree, but you need something more comprehensive to be serious about it.
In addition to those two, Google+, Pinterest, and LinkedIn should represent your company as well. That's just the biggies. Depending on your business, other sites that should be monitored are Yelp, Foursquare, TripAdvisor, YellowPages, Urbanspoon, Citysearch, and many more. Good software will collect, sort, and analyze this data so that you can respond to the right things in a timely manner.
Taking your reputation management seriously is exponentially more important in the digital age than it was before, and it has always been very important. Creating a new position in the company and supplying them with good tools is a an expense, of course. Would a 150% improvement in new business conversion offset that expense? I'm guessing yes.