Over the last couple of months, I've been researching reputation management companies in and out of the automotive industry. On one hand, I found a couple of shining stars that stood out from the competition. On the other hand, they were only the best but were still missing the boat when it comes to the true potential of what reputation "management" should be.
I've been told that my posts are too long, particularly when I'm in rant-mode, so I'll keep this as brief as possible. Car dealers deserve better. The industry started getting flooded with reputation management services a few years ago and they all migrated to the same basic premise: solicit reviews through emails. While this in itself isn't a bad thing (and I'd debate anyone who thinks it is a bad thing, including anyone at Yelp), it's only a small piece of the puzzle. For a true reputation management solution to work, it needs to have an holistic understanding of how to utilize the components of online reputation as well as a grasp of how to turn a quality reputation into an amazing marketing tool.
Again, I'll try to keep this brief. It will be challenging.
More than Defensive
We've learned that defense wins championships. However, the concept that reputation management is about keeping your review star-ratings high is like saying that a car is about having a place to sit while you travel. Your reputation can do so much more for you than a star-rating just as a car can do so much more for the owner than just act as a moving seat.
The concept of reputation marketing is completely underutilized at best and butchered by some at worst. The first step, getting your star-ratings higher, is good to keep people from dismissing you altogether when searching for you. That part's fine. However, those who click through to the review sites are most likely looking for dirt. They want to know what you've done wrong. They're scanning beyond the good reviews and going straight to the bad ones.
A strong reputation management solution should go on the offensive. Expose the great reviews. When someone is out there talking about how they just bought their fifth vehicle in the last decade from your dealership, your reputation management company should be getting that out to as many people as possible. No, that doesn't mean an automated feed from the review site to your Facebook page that will end up getting seen by 50 people in their news feed and actually read by somewhere between zero and one of them. It takes more effort than that and I haven't seen anyone doing it properly yet at the vendor level.
The Search Component
How in the world has nearly every reputation management firm in the automotive industry missed the tremendous benefits (and potential pitfalls) of utilizing reputation for search engine optimization? When I was at the SXSW convention last year, Google pretty much declared that online reputation and review sites would play a role in organic rankings as well as PPC exposure, yet I haven't heard a peep about it other than a mention on another site noting that Google had taken down an Adwords account because the dealership had a bad reputation.
The two companies that had the best solution that I reviewed both touched on the benefits of reputation from a search perspective but neither have taken the appropriate actions to put together a working strategy, yet. Hopefully, that will be coming, but most in the industry haven't even made the connection despite the clear message from Google.
Botching Social Media
I'm going to keep this part extremely short because I'll start spitting and foaming at the mouth if I talk about it too long. The absolute butchering of dealership social media pages and profiles by reputation management companies and their 2008 social media strategies makes me insane. I want to grab them by the shoulders and force them to listen to reason.
Just because reputation management and social media have a connection doesn't make a RepMan consultant a social media expert. Cars and planes are similar - they're vehicles that get people from point A to point B - but that doesn't mean that having a driver's license gives you the skills to fly a 747. The potential synergies between social media marketing and reputation management are clear, but so far I've seen nothing that even remotely approaches a cohesive and intelligent plan of attack to make them sing in harmony. It's like they took peanut butter, jelly, and bread, tossed them all in a blender and said, "Look, I made a PBJ!"
(wiping foam from mouth now)
Sorry for the Rant
Okay. I'm done. It's been bugging me since NADA and after seeing what I saw last night I had to get it out there. At the end of the day, it's the responsibility of a dealership to train employees on the art of treating customers well. Those of us who have been on the retail side of the car business know that you'll have customers who will burn you no matter how hard you try to please them, but their frequency can be minimized by an appropriate company culture and a well-trained staff.
That's the onus of the dealer. On the vendor side, I'm making it a personal mission to educate reputation management companies on the proper way to position this potentially powerful marketing tool. We deserve better. You deserve better.