By James Wirth

I can only imagine how busy you are. You juggle about a bazillion things every day and there’s never enough time to do it all or enough budget to bring in or outsource all the help you need to run efficiently.

And it’s only getting worse.

In fact, over the past 5 years we have experienced entirely new disciplines (ways to communicate; ways to market) added to our already over-loaded, er, workloads.

Adding insult to injury there has also been a dramatic ‘blurring of the lines’ between traditionally disconnected activities – many of which could be de-prioritized ad-hoc without negatively affecting your business (at least in the short-term).

But with new ‘technology mash-ups’ it’s increasingly difficult to segregate an activity with no directly impact on your business in other ways.

One example is social media and customer feedback. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to determine where one ends and the other begins.

If you still wonder whether being active on social media is required, SmallBizDaily’s own Rieva Lesonsky set us straight during a recent Google+ Hangout on Air. Here’s how she put it (30-second clip):

Rieva on Prioritizing Social Media

Clearly Rieva is passionate about the critical role social media plays in small business success today, compared with the ‘optional’ involvement of yester-year. Why such a dramatic change?

Consider where social media was 5 years ago:

  • CitySearch (not very social) was double the size of Yelp (very social) in terms of site traffic.
  • Only 2 million tweets sent/day (in contrast, there are 400 million snapchats every day today).
  • MySpace was still the largest social network in the U.S. in terms of active users.

Contrast that with social media today:

  • Yelp is a behemoth site, ranked #31 in the U.S. by Alexa with CitySearch nowhere in sight.
  • Twitter has 10X the number of users as it did in 2009, sending a billion tweets every 5 days.
  • Is MySpace even still around? Oh yeah – it’s JTspace now. Ok, J/K, but seriously.

So what’s the big deal, anyway?

Unsolicited Feedback

Customers now have a platform – actually many, MANY platforms – on which to provide feedback, whether you:

  1. Like it or not,
  2. Asked for feedback or not, and
  3. Even knew there was an issue.

And these sites all have social media baked right in. So if you don’t have a profile on a particular review site, ¡no problema! Your customer – or that person whose parking spot you unintentionally stole at the grocery store while you had your door magnet on your vehicle – can just set up the profile for you and then spank you with a snarky review. GRATIS.

What exactly does it mean then if you’re not active on social media?

For starters, you lose your voice and miss out on opportunities to engage with current and prospective customers. When someone then researches you or your company and you don’t have a reasonable online presence – especially on social and review sites – it’s like you don’t exist. And to millennials, you actually don’t.

In case there is any question, Yelp is a social media platform, FYI. It happens to have a strong focus on reviews, but at its core the site is about users engaging (a.k.a. being social) with other users and businesses, on their platform.

That is precisely why it’s critical you are part of the discussion. Customers are more likely to post a negative review online than they are to tell you face-to-face they had a bad experience.

A customer is more likely to go to a review site or post a message on a social media platform than they are to let you know directly that they had a less than favorable experience.

(intentionally repeated for emphasis)

Most small business owners are blind-sided by the 1-star Yelp review or the rude-bordering-on-insane snarky tweet by a customer that gets re-tweeted 17 times. OUCH. But it’s very easily avoidable. You just gotta do it.

So the 1st step is to GET ACTIVE ON SOCIAL MEDIA so you can lend your voice to the conversation.

The 2nd step: actively gather feedback so you can hopefully catch the bad experience before it becomes the 1-star review. This gives you an opportunity to correct any issues, save the customer relationship and avoid the social [media] scorn of negative online feedback – at least some of the time.

Let me be clear – online reviews are invaluable! We often visit a 3rd party social media or review platform to research a product, service or company before we visit the company’s own website. We’re using online reviews more and more and that will only accelerate.

But online reviews need to be balanced and people are more likely to post a negative review than a positive one – especially if there’s no opportunity to communicate with the company directly in a non-confrontational way (asking to ‘speak with the manager’ can be scary, especially when they might end up speaking with the owner).

The old adage:

Have a positive experience, you tell 1-2 people; have a negative one, you tell 20.

The new adage:

Have a positive experience, you may @mention them directly; have a negative experience, you post on every platform you can find, and search for, reply to and share posts from anyone else who posted about a bad experience. On every platform you can find.

“Ok, I get it. I need to be active on social media,” you say. And then you continue: “but as far as actively gathering feedback, when does that come in?”

I’m glad you asked: NOW.

One of the biggest benefits of gathering customer feedback is you find out there are issues before the complaint goes out publicly. Give your customer a voice, and you will effectively take away their ‘negaphone’ while also gathering valuable feedback and resolving their concerns. All in one fell swoop.

BTWs – that wasn’t a typo – I mashed up negative and megaphone. Yeah, you can use that.

It’s incredibly simple to gather customer feedback- in many cases it will only cost a little time. Most smallbiz-focused feedback platforms have a free account option and very low-cost upgraded licenses. Just:

  1. Pick a platform – I suggest QuestionPro, but for the love of all things hairy, just pick one;
  2. Create a customer feedback survey (we have templates, so do all of our competitors);
  3. Email it, share the link, print a short url or QR code on your receipts, on signs in your location, etc.;
  4. Promote the good reviews; proactively respond to the bad ones and fix them;
  5. Live happily ever after.

I may have skipped a few steps between 4 and 5, but you get the idea: join the conversation, get a grip on your ‘brand voice’ and engage with your audience. Oh, and gather and measure feedback.

Because after all, we’re talking about very blurred lines between social media and customer feedback. Twerking NOT included.

James Wirth is the Marketing Manager for QuestionPro, an online feedback software company serving the small business community. James is a skilled marketer with 20 years of experience working with entrepreneurs and small business owners & managers.