Review sites such as Citysearch and Yelp have faced complaints from business owners who argue they are vulnerable to unfair attacks from anonymous posters. But small business owners are actually among these sites' most avid users, according to a recent survey commissioned by LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell.
Among the 100 small-business owners who participated in the survey, 87 percent had written comments on review sites, while only 63 percent of consumers had done so. The small-business owners also held review sites in higher esteem: 57 percent said they found them useful in making purchasing decisions, compared to 41 percent of consumers.
Although some sites, including Yelp, have introduced tools specifically for business owners, the survey indicates that business owners find features geared toward consumers equally useful. Alfredo Sciascia, LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell's vice-president of ratings business transformation, believes the findings reflect business owners' greater purchasing savvy, a result of having to control costs related to their companies. "They certainly buy things for themselves, just like any other consumer," he says. "At the same time, they have certain needs for running their own businesses."
Comparing profiles on review sites may help with managerial decisions as well. "Any business owner would be wise to register their own profile and use the site from the perspective of a consumer," says Andy Beal, author of Radically Transparent and CEO of Trackur, which makes software that helps businesses monitor their online reputations. "It's quite OK to keep an eye on competitors' reviews and complaints from their customers. That can give you insights into improvements you can make to your own products."
While most of the surveyed business owners believed review sites hold businesses more accountable, they remain concerned about the potential for bias from false, extremely positive, or extremely negative reviews. A majority of the owners stated that they found independent third-party reviews from sources such as J.D. Power & Associates to be more authoritative than review sites.
Rick Roberts, owner of Atlanta dog-walking business happypa.ws, once encountered a false review from someone who had never used his service. Although he has used sites such as Angie's List and Yahoo! Local to attract customers and to find service providers, he feels that they would be more trustworthy if they included tools for business owners to rebut false claims. Roberts, however, appreciates that the sites encourage unvarnished opinions. "I understand the Wild West nature of the Internet," he says. "Occasionally, someone will write something unfair, but I trust the sites."