Adams Hudson HeadshotThroughout history, economies have been transformed by new developments: the industrial age, the technology age, and the information age. Somewhere in there was the age of Aquarius, but that was the ’70s and nobody knew anything.

Today, we are staring straight down the barrel of the opinion age. Not only does everyone have opinions, but now everyone can share them.

The thing about the opinion age is that it doesn’t keep secrets very well. Today, the very coveted but painfully slow word of mouth travels at the speed of “click to submit.” (Job applicants should take heed.)

Way back in the dark ages of restraint, we remarked, “If I could be a fly on the wall…” hoping to gain some coveted insight. No disrespect to the fly population, but the Internet has been a buzzkill for keeping opinions to oneself. Subtlety, secrecy, and savored gossip have given way to brashly bashing the happy-to-cash-in Kardashians.

We respeak the unspeakable for entertainment. We are what we share. And, in case you wondered, your business is in the crosshairs because you become what is shared. Taking heed becomes less of an option the longer you ignore it. When you ignore opinion marketing, your silence indicates there’s something to hide. Translation: guilty until proven otherwise.

In a mêlée of mangled messaging, the market has become the media.

Opinion Power

Word of mouth matters. There’s not a contractor alive who wouldn’t agree. Yet now those mouths are not in line at the grocery store or being called by inquisitive neighbors. They are posting in multiplicity to anyone and everyone in either their world or the world at large. Right now.

Yet just as we were getting used to defending social media’s occasional tirade about “Can you believe what my contractor did!?”, organized online reviews are amassing an arsenal of averages, rankings, and rantings. These are “opinions-at-a-glance” for all to see.

If that sends a chill up your spine, this may make it freeze over. Many “opinion” sites also accept rankings from non-customers. My opinion of such sites is not favorable, but that doesn’t matter. This is what matters: 72 percent of customers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. That’s according to BrightLocal’s 2012 Local Consumer Review Survey, which showed that online reviews matter more and more:

• 58 percent of consumers trust a business with positive online reviews (up from 55 percent in 2010);

• 52 percent of consumers said positive reviews make them more likely to use a local business; and

• 27 percent of consumers regularly use online reviews to determine which local business to use. (That’s up from 22 percent in 2010. Notice a trend here?).

But it doesn’t take a lot of reviews to make a decision: 65 percent of consumers read between two and 10 reviews (that’s up from 58 percent in 2010). And only 7 percent of consumers read more than 20 reviews.

Wondering where contractors rank in the world of opinion-seekers? You may be shocked to discover that just behind restaurants and doctors/dentists, you’ll see “tradesmen,” (i.e., contractors) ranking where reputation and revenue meet. Check it out:

1. food;

2. health; and

3. contractors.

Now do you think this is important?

Specifically, what is so darned important when selecting a local business?

• 64 percent of consumers said “reliability” is the most important trait (up from 47 percent in 2010);

• 44 percent said that “good value” is important (up from 35 percent in 2010); and

• Softer traits such as “localness” and “years in business” are of lesser concern.

Where Do You Start?

If you’ve already entered the online reviews arena, great. Keep at it. But if this is brand-new territory, start here:

• Find out what’s already out there. Enter your company name and the word “review” in search engine search fields. Conduct a search for your competitors as well. Make this a regular habit to keep on top of what people are saying;

• Respond to any negative comments; addressing a concern through quality customer service can often turn a negative into a positive. Again, make this a regular habit;

• Create an easy system for adding a review to your website. ReviewBuzz ( is a great place to start. They are professional opinion managers for contractors; and

• Develop strategies for acquiring reviews.

Review Strategy

Request customer reviews by asking, “Was our service today good enough to earn a positive review?” Then hand them a review form with the URL of your listing, plus short samples of positive comments. Of course, they can create their own. A great review matters because now they will appear and direct traffic to you … or away.

For an advanced strategy, add a QR (Quick Response) code to your invoice that they scan with a smartphone which takes them right to the reviews section on your online listing. This is faster, cooler, and more accessible. (We are huge fans of QR codes, putting them on virtually every printed piece for contractors.)

Provide detailed instructions for your customers to follow. For example, include a link in your email footer for “Write a Customer Review,” which takes visitors to a page with instructions and screenshots. You can also link to this page when encouraging customers to write reviews via email or Facebook.

You can also periodically send emails showing examples of great reviews and encouraging your audience to write one of their own. And it never hurts to share reviews on social networks. Tweet links to a good review from the company’s Twitter feed. You can also allow customers to click a checkbox on their review to have it sent to their Facebook profiles.

Allow your customers to rate service. Set up your reviews page so that customers can write a review and provide an overall rating, while visitors to the page can click yes or no to indicate whether a review is helpful. Watch for rating mistakes, however. If you see a rating that is especially low (a one star on a five-star scale), reach out to the customer and ask if the rating was accurate. It could have been a misunderstanding of the instructions.

But What Will They Say?

Yes, I know — unleashing the power of customer opinion can seem risky. You can’t control what people say, but you can influence the conversation. During those times when you don’t like what’s said, here’s an odd way to make bad reviews seem positive: They add credibility to the good reviews.

Customers can see that the process is not controlled but is freely done. Bad reviews also give you the opportunity to address a customer concern — first in the public forum, and second, as quickly as possible between you and the customer. That shows your responsiveness and willingness to take customer comments seriously.

You can get a free copy of the interview, “How to Build Reviews and Revenues,” plus the accompanying workbook and a subscription to the Sales & Marketing Insider by making a request via email to (include your company information) or by calling 800-489-9099.

Publication date: 1/21/2013