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Reviews are Social Media

HomestarsThis is a guest post by my friend Brian Sharwood of HomeStars. Brian is President of Canada’s leading home service review site, and quickly growing in the U.S. HomeStars provides a review and social platform where homeowners share their home improvement stories, helping other homeowners find the best contractors. 

I’m sure you’ve heard through this website and many more that marketing is turning more to social media. You have been told you need a Twitter account, a Facebook page and to have your company on LinkedIn. All this may be true, and you should be doing all this, but in the home service business, much of your business comes from word of mouth and reputation – and that means customer reviews. Those reviews can now be consolidated online on a third party site which gives homeowners more confidence in their credibility. (I hate to break it to you, but no one thinks those testimonials on your own site are real)

There are literally thousands of websites now where you can read and write reviews on anything from cell phones, to restaurants, to home improvement specialists. Home Improvement is a unique vertical in the world of reviews. It is a highly local business, and many jobs are very personal and can be heartfelt to both the homeowner and the contractor. As such, reviews in this space can elicit strong emotions. The homeowner can end up either very frustrated and angry, or, alternately, overjoyed by the work performed, and the contractor, who may have poured his heart into a job, only to find that the homeowner doesn’t appreciate his art. This is quite different from a restaurant or product review which can be more generic.

For some contractors, upon seeing a negative posting about them online their first response is to call their lawyer. You should think long and hard before taking this route. For one thing, defamation and libel are very hard cases to bring to court, and can be incredibly costly. The other danger is court cases become very public and you need to beware of the Streisand Effect – the negative consequences of bringing something to further public attention. The best route is to address the situation calmly and try to turn it into something positive. Respond to the review in a clear and concise way, either offering to rectify the situation or accepting responsibility and addressing that this was an unusual situation. We often see reviews change from bad to good when the company sees the review and reaches out to the homeowner.

If you haven’t been building reviews yet, and this is the only comment, it’s important then to reach out to your customers as soon as you can and politely request for them to review you. Do not try to write reviews on yourself. If those reviews get published they make your company look bad. If you get caught you can look even worse. Be very cautious about offering incentives for reviews; if a reviewer reveals the incentive your other reviews will look suspicious. Once you’ve got a number of reviews on your page a single bad review will actually add to the credibility of all your other reviews.

For contractors, reviews are increasingly becoming an indispensable marketing tool which demonstrates to consumers your experience, service, quality and professionalism. So knowing about review sites is important. Here are some features that your should look for:

  1. Claiming (and adding) your listing. Your presence online should be yours to edit or modify details on what you do. You should be able to take control of that listing and own it, ideally without charge. At HomeStars companies can alter most details on their company page, except for their company name.
  2. Responding to reviews. There are two sides to every story and when a company gets a bad review, that company should be able to respond to that review, offering their side of the story. There should not be a price to respond.
  3. Challenging a review. In home improvement there are a lot of companies with similar names. Homeowners sometimes post on the wrong company (what was the name of that Rooter company you hired? Mister, Roto, Master), so a good review site should allow you to challenge a review, not through an algorithm, but through a human being. On a side note, if the review site offers in any way to remove or hide a review in exchange for any sort of payment, you don’t want to deal with that company at all. Without trust of homeowners, (who, I guarantee, will notice disappearing reviews) a review site will never gain traction, and that review, bad or good, will not be valuable to the homeowner.
  4. Review notification. A good review site will send you an email when you get a new review, so you can promptly address any issues, and, of course, communicate online with those who give you positive reviews.

The world of online reviews is evolving, so more tools are being built, by us and others in the industry. Keep up to date on the developments, and use the reviews to your marketing advantage. Customers are reading, and so should you be.

At HomeStars we offer company numerous tools to build their online reputation. We have premium listings which greatly enhances visibility on our site and increases your SEO. Our site is highly homeowner focused. Good companies, with good reviews, will always get more visibility, because homeowners care most about finding good companies who perform quality work.

Feel free to get in touch and comment.


4 responses to “Reviews are Social Media”

  1. Mike Pierce Avatar
    Mike Pierce

    Brian, nice post and great to see this topic brought up. Side note: your link to HomeStars at the start of the article goes to live.apple.com.


    1. Darren Avatar

      Thanks Mike for commenting! Link fixed…thanks for the heads up!

  2. Tim Avatar

    Thanks for sharing this on Darren’s site, Brian.
    Wholly agree with the thoughts on – “Do not try to write reviews on yourself.”
    Two companies in my locality did just that. I was chasing their top positions for ages and couldn’t beat them with my legit reviews. Turns out they were self reviewing and got caught.
    They now have little yellow warning triangles next to dodgy reviews they show.
    Who’s top now :^)

    Points 1-4… spot on.

    Thanks again.

    1. Brian Sharwood Avatar
      Brian Sharwood

      We had a company just about to win our Toronto “Best of 11” awards, and our content team discovered some flags in their reviews and looked into it. Turns out they were gaming the systems. Unfortunately we had to take away their award and flag their listing. It’s what we need to do to build trust among our homeowners. Very dangerous to try writing your own reviews.