Like it or not, businesses are being evaluated through social media by the public. Web searches show good, bad and even ugly evaluations.
But the electronic postings also offer businesses a big marketing opportunity, said Mike Byrnes, the local business advisor with the New Mexico Small Business Development Center.
"I've been performing what I call my Ruidoso Walk About," Byrnes said of the brainstorm that came to him early this year. "I'm dropping in on businesses and letting them know about these aspects of marketing. And explaining how they can leverage or make the most out of these without spending a lot of money or any money at all. They are in the public eye and there are people coming to town who are walking around with cell phones, smart phones, and they're making some decisions about where they're going to buy whatever based on these reviews and based on these listings."
"I guess it was in early January, it occurred to me that one of the opportunities for local businesses that exists and hasn't been fully exploited is the online free listings available from various companies like Google, and Yelp and Tripadvisor and Urban Table and a number of others," Byrnes said.
Over the last year or so Google has evolved its mapping to include the listing aspect, called review sites.
"And it's a means by which people who have used the services or eaten at the restaurant or spent a night at the hotel, can evaluate their experience. So it's both
an advertising and a review opportunity."
Byrnes noted Google purchased Zagat, a well established review website that primarily focused on restaurants.
"People for many years would go and eat dinner and then review. There would be public reviews of the restaurant. That's what's evolving online today."
Now take the online services to the smart phone.
"You can download the free app that says Tripadvisor or whatever and then based on your GPS, it knows you're in Ruidoso," Byrnes said. "It may in fact know you're on Mechem in the 2600 block and you might say, 'Where do I go for lunch?'"
The smart phones are sometimes used to come up with an answer.
"One of the things I ask when I drop in local businesses, 'Have you ever seen anyone standing out on the street with a cell phone not talking on the phone but looking intently at the cell phone?' And they say absolutely. If you drive up and down Sudderth on a weekend, I guarantee you will see someone with a cell phone and they're not talking into it, they're looking at it."
Byrnes said just about every business that has been in operation for a year or more is listed on one or more of the review websites. And what is there is not necessarily something that the business submitted. But once on a review site, businesses can claim the listing and make updates, something Byrnes recommends.
"They should tend to this listing. They should complete it -- fill it out with all the information about it. They should address reviews, good, bad or indifferent. Engage with and show that they are tending to that review. The more good reviews you get, the higher the ranking."
And use the reviews to improve the business.
"Steve Gomez at the Cornerstone Bakery is a very firm believer. He prints out reviews on a regular basis and he tapes them to the kitchen door as his service personnel are going out to serve the dining so that they'll be reminded about being reviewed."
Gomez said he has been paying attention to the reviews of his business for several years.
"And it really is amazing to me how many people have found us online," Gomez said. "They come into our restaurant because they found us online and we were ranked whatever our ranking was. And usually we're in the top rankings for 'The Most Recommended Restaurant in Ruidoso.' People notice that."
On the flip side of the coin, Gomez and his family were on vacation this week and have referred to TripAdvisor on a number of occasions while on the road.
"It certainly is the way people are traveling now," he said of the apps that connect to websites that provide reviews.
Byrnes at your call
"The first thing I do typically is I stop and take a picture (using his smart phone) of the outside of the building or the sign or whatever and I check in and tell Google that I'm at this place. And then I go in and I and to the extent that I can engage the owner or someone in conversation about this. I say, 'Look, I'm here, you tax dollars have already paid for my services, there's no charge for this. But I want to make you aware of this marketing aspect and it's up to you if you want to proceed.'"
Byrnes said the response is mixed.
"Half the people say, 'Yes, help me. I would be delighted to have you take a photograph and put it up on my free Google listing.'"
At the time, the listing of the business might be incomplete with just a template created by Google.
"And about half of the people say, 'I'm not into that, I'm not a computer person.'"
Not limited to restaurants
Byrnes said now is the time, before the summer tourism season arrives, to be ready to reach more customers. He said all businesses, if on a review site, should make a claim.
"This is free and it takes about 10 minutes to do." The first step, in the case of Google, is for a business to claim their listing.
"If you haven't claimed, you need to do so. And to claim it is to simply communicate with Google through the listing itself. There's a red bar that says, 'Is this your business?'" Then a confirmation process is done online and an automated return phone call provides a passcode. The passcode allows the business owner to update (called optimizing) the listing. Byrnes said key words should be used in the description of the business to help with online searches.
"For example, I was assisting Nancy Mitchell at Mitchell's. She could have been in the jewelry category but she preferred her primary category to be Native American goods. And then her secondary category was jewelry." A web address for Mitchell's also was added to the Google listing.
Nancy Mitchell said she believes younger visitors are the ones more likely to use smart phones to scout places to check out.
"That's all they do," she said of younger people. "But do they have the money to buy what I sell? Probably not."
Byrnes said businesses should at least try because the investment is so little.
"The point here is that with no cost and minimal time local businesses can claim and optimize their listings. And my purpose in doing this is simply to make everyone more successful, more prosperous."
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