Dealers: Don’t Count on “Fuel Additives” to Power Your Reputation Management
By now, we’ve all heard about the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’S) landmark smackdown: the FTC fined Legacy Learning Systems $250,000 for unethical review practices. For the Tennessee-based company, the unethical behavior consisted of putting some “fuel additives” into their sales process by hiring marketers, disguised as customers, to plaster consumer review sites with comments about “the best home-study DVD course for guitar I have ever seen.” What a fantastic idea (NOT!!!). Sales revenues rose up into the millions, the FTC smelled something fishy, investigated, and the rest is history. Now, companies everywhere are clutching their collective hats, hoping and praying their own reputation management process is above- board.
And really, who can blame them?
Dealership Reputation Management: The Race for Stars
After all, although Legacy Learning System’s methods were fishy, they are hardly the first to feel pressured by the “race for stars.” Reputation management is the hot new buzzword, and we car dealers are in the hot seat, charged with inspiring page after page of glowing reviews in record time, as well as silencing any “Negative Nellys” who have left an unflattering review.
As a “vintage auto old-timer” who has worked in the car business almost two weeks (or was it longer?), this reviews frenzy reminds me of the universal (automotive) marketing law; otherwise known as the TRUTH: No matter how urgent or desperate a marketing campaign might seem, it must always be tempered with ethics, honesty, and wise judgment. Take it from the VJnator (Did I mention you can follow me on Twitter @VJnator?): Fuel additives may offer an exhilarating extra edge for a short while, but you can’t rely on performance-enhancing gimmicks to power your review process in the long run. On that note, here are four tips for “grease-proofing” your dealership reputation management process. Follow these to keep your reputation marketing engine idling smoothly and steadily.
Five Ways to Keep Your Reputation Management Engine Idling Smoothly
- 1) Do not offer your customers gift cards, free oil changes, or any other compensation in exchange for them posting positive reviews on Merchantcircle, Yelp, etc. It may seem like a great and generous idea to reward your reviewing customers with gifts and perks, but this could be considered a black-hat behavior. As you know, the Google Reviews Help Page states “Do not offer or accept money or product to write positive reviews about a business, or to write negative reviews about a competitor.” Therefore, it is best to avoid the appearance of coercing your customers to write positive reviews, even with good intentions.
- 3) Learn to be patient when installing a “reputation management process” in your dealership. Remember, it IS a process. Decide which RM (reputation management) platform you will focus on, make it part of your salesperson’s delivery process, and emphasize to them the importance of politeness over pushiness. Ask your customer’s permission to send them a link to your review page, where they can grade their buying experience in the comfort of her home and on their own time. No rush, no follow-up call, no badgering questions of “Have you filled out the survey yet”?
- 4) Make it a company-wide effort. Without resorting to black-hat practices, encourage each and every team member to participate in the reputation management process. Ask for at least 3 reviews a month per sales person. Getting great review feedbacks? Share them with your staff during your sales meeting. Follow the old but ever-new universal public relations law: “Do good things and talk about it.”
- 5) Do not leave positive reviews of your product without disclosing your connection to the product. Lack of disclosure was the fatal flaw in Legacy Learning System’s plan, and their behavior was in direct opposition to the 2009 FTC regulation, which states: “Under the guidelines, a positive review by a person connected to the seller – or someone who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product or service – should disclose the material connection between the reviewer and the seller of the product or service.” Note: this policy applies not only to review sites such as Yelp, but also to bloggers who post reviews on their own sites, etc)
The Winning Mixture for a Premium Online Reputation Management Process
Because in the future, all dealerships will be considered “Internet stores,” meaning more than 90% of all consumers will “shop and observe” you before even coming to your brick and mortar store, the fuel mixture for driving your future success is already a known fact:
Octane 87 = Consistency
Octane 89 = Persistence
Octane 91 = Passion
Last but not least, remember there’s only two true ways to manage your reputation: Provide a spectacular customer experience, or provide a terrible one. Without having any gray zone, there will be only one white or black decision to do it right.
Volker Jaeckel works as a speaker, coach and educator in digital marketing. “VJ” is a frequent speaker at industry events like Digital Dealer Conference and NADA; he is also a fixture at NCM 20 Groups and OEM seminars. When he’s not dazzling others with his digital marketing know-how, VJ enjoys vintage Mercedes Benz cars and spending time with his wife and five kids.
The Cobalt Group