Online Reviews a Coming ‘Crisis’ For SMBs

Riva Richmond in the WSJ (sub req’d) covers the growing phenomenon of online reviews and their impact on small businesses (SMBs). This is a huge emerging issue for SMBs and they’re only vaguely aware of it now. The challenge of monitoring, let along responding to, online consumer reviews (especially in certain categories) is a herculean proposition — especially as scores of new local search sites launch.

Yelp has started to think about that for its reviewed businesses. MerchantCircle has also tried to transform itself into an “online reputation management” system for SMBs.

Of course the best way for SMBs to deal with this issue is to offer great service and/or a great product. But beyond that it’s a very difficult issue, even more difficult and challenging than the question of where to advertising online.

Once somebody figures out how to help “manage” — as opposed to just monitor — online reviews and combine that with online marketing . . . now that will be a service worth paying for.


10 Responses to “Online Reviews a Coming ‘Crisis’ For SMBs”

  1. Stephan Uhrenbacher Says:

    this observation is correct. At Qype (leading local review site in Europe), we discover similar effects.
    Stephan Uhrenbacher (Founder Qype)

  2. Russ Says:


    I can’t see how its possible to help “manage” the online review and combined with online marketing for SMB.

    Maybe you shade more lights about this? Anytime you try to manage the user generated reviews it would be easily backfire.

  3. cohn Says:

    The best defense is a strong offense.

  4. WSJ Pursuing Reprint Rights Revenue Stream « Screenwerk Says:

    […] Pursuing Reprint Rights Revenue Stream I was quoted in the WSJ today in the article I reference below by Riva Richmond. Literally a few hours after that article published I received an email and later […]

  5. cohn Says:


    I saw the article in my hard copy of today’s WSJ Small Business, The Journal Report section page R4 Managing Technology column.

    Selling reprints of interviews and authored pieces has been a standard practice in the Business to Business print / Trade magazine market for some time.

    I would expect the Wall Street Journal to perfect the online equivalent and it sounds like they have by the level of annoyance their sales pitch created.

    No need to delay your gratification…

    Its all for sale online now!

  6. Erron Says:


    I think that lots of user generated content (reviews, ratings, photos) are actually a great potential source of business for SMBs but more of a problem for sales channels in local search, vertical aggregator and IYPs.

    The problem is that most locations have the plaintive “be the first to review!” note next to their listing. Too few users (1-2% review, most of them write too few reviews and too few locations have any user generated content at all.) SMBs would love it if their customers could be freelance ad agencies telling their friends about what a wonderful time that they had. However, if this works, it might put a damper on the need for local online advertising.

    SMBs want effective online advertising, but users of local search websites want accurate information from somebody they can trust. Often, a bad review that looks more like an outlier confirms the generally good reviews on a SME when a user reads them. The tension of delivering good advertising value when you let your users potentially frag an advertiser for a bad experience generally causes the dreaded “default sort” to appear on most local guides once the Sales Department has it out with Product and/or Tech. Essentially, if you bury the bad reviews then the problem goes away, right?

    You are right that the best way to handle this is for SMBs to a superior job, but there are some who rely on advertising to compensate if they can’t. The potential for SMBs to grow their businesses by self-provisioning both their message and content to consumers is great, but we are really just getting started in my opinion.

  7. Hal Rucker Says:

    Smalltown ( has a feature called ReplyBack that does two things: (1) whenever a review is written, or a business is mentioned in a discussion, the service automatically sends the merchant an email containing the user generated review and (2) enables the business owner to write a public reply to the person who wrote the review or discussion comment. ReplyBack makes it easy for merchants to monitor their “online reputation” at Smalltown, and turn a negative review into a positive experience.

    I was eating at Jeffrey’s Hamburgers the other night and the owner, Serge, came over to chat. He wanted to tell me that ReplyBack was an incredibly useful feature because it allowed him to monitor his customers’ satisfaction and be proactive about making improvements. If one of his customers gets bad service, he wants to know about it. Without ReplyBack, an unhappy customer will simply leave and tell his/her friends and Serge won’t know. With ReplyBack, he will know, and he can respond by writing something like “I’m very sorry to hear you were not satisfied with the service you received. Let me buy you a cheeseburger and we can talk about how to improve our dining experience.”

    Smalltown ReplyBack turns user generated content into a two-way conversation. The amazing thing is that we’re finding ReplyBack alerts are becoming a simple but profound type of CRM for local merchants. They get feedback from their customers about their products and services, AND they have a way to respond to the feedback in positive ways that benefit their business and the community they serve.

    Some of our customers now use reviews and ReplyBack alerts as a way to monitor the quality of the service their customers receive. Others are using them as a way to get quick and inexpensive feedback about their products. Most importantly, though, is that now local merchants aren’t judged just by a review by a random user, but also by how they respond to the review.

  8. Mary Bowling Says:

    The public has gotten so accustomed to shoddy workmanship, barely civil service workers and loopholes in guarantees, that they crave advice from other consumers about anyone who stands above the crowd. People are clamoring to know about the quick and honest car mechanic, the friendly doctor that doesn’t keep you waiting for an hour and the restaurant where you always overtip the waitress.

    As stated in your article, the best way to manage your reputation -online and in the brick and mortar world – is to provide great products and stellar customer service backed up by an honored guarantee.

    Those unwilling to work steadfastly towards this goal are the ones destined to suffer at the hands of online reviewers. Perhaps they deserve it.

  9. Local and Social Media Are Joined at the Hip « Screenwerk Says:

    […] rapid proliferation of online word of mouth creates a profound challenge for local businesses, which can’t possibility monitor and manage all the online ratings and reviews about them. […]

  10. The Debate Over User Reviews « Screenwerk Says:

    […] a previous post that merely flags the issue of managing all the reviews content online for SMBs. However, in […]

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