That One Bad Apple…

The old saying that “one bad apple spoils the bunch” is a truism, and remains surprisingly relevant in the age of online reputation management.

Even if your business has consistently good service, people’s negative experiences – however rare – have a way of bubbling up on review websites. Just a handful of one-star reviews can drag your review score down into the muck of average. And it can take dozens of five-star reviews just to bring you back to where you started.

The key, then, is to head off these negative reviews before they happen.

Vendasta’s Reputation Intelligence product uses trending cloud technology to track which words are coming up most frequently in online reviews about your business. For example, in the case of restaurants, the trending cloud can track which menu items are generating the most positive reviews. If people are raving about your lamb burger in five-star reviews, you might want to put it on special. If your kitchen just can’t seem to pull off that lobster bisque everyone is complaining about, you might want to drop it from the menu before it racks up any more one-star reviews.

In rare cases, the names of individual employees come up in the trending cloud. And when they do, you’d better pay attention.

Recently, I was checking in on a luxury car dealership we work with. I was surprised to see two names appearing in the trending cloud. Let’s call them Jim and Randy.

Jim is the service manager, and people just love this guy. He is mentioned in eight reviews, all of which are four and five star. Customers raved about his kind manners, eagerness to please and his expansive knowledge.

Randy, a salesman, is another story altogether. In 10 reviews he is slammed for using high pressure tactics, and making customers feel uncomfortable or downright offended. If these customers could give Randy less than one star, they would.

When you think about it from a reputation standpoint, you’d need five Jims to make up for one Randy.

The fact is that when people write reviews, it’s usually a rant or a rave. Ordinary, humdrum experiences rarely motivate people to take the time to write a review. This is why you don’t find a lot of three-star reviews online.

If a product (or person) in your business is generating a lot of bad reviews, it’s likely time to do some damage control.

Just like that rotten apple, unless you get it out of the mix, it will spoil the bunch.

 

Has Your Business Moved? Avoid These Common Mistakes

Moving your business is hard enough to begin with. Packing up inventory, doing leasehold improvements and spreading the word about your move can easily push your endurance to the brink.

In the shuffle, many small business owners make a handful of mistakes that can severely hamper their business’ online visibility. In fact, most don’t even realize they are making them.

It’s all got to do with something we call your digital shadow.

Sure you’ve moved, but after years in business at your original location, your old address and phone number is still listed on dozens or even hundreds of websites. This digital shadow of incorrect information can frustrate customers who turn up at your old location to find shuttered windows.

Back in the day, if your phone number got listed incorrectly in the local yellow pages one year, you’d find yourself in a spot of serious trouble. Your business could be lost to the world, along with your profits.

These days there are a handful of giant companies (with names like Acxiom and Infogroup) that collect and distribute listings data about businesses large and small. This data is pushed to websites like Yelp, Urbanspoon, 411.com and hundreds of other places you need to be seen (you can find out more about where listings come from here).

When moving your business, or starting a new one, it’s important to avoid these common mistakes:

Doing nothing: If you fail to take any corrective action, your old “zombie” listings could haunt you for years. Customers will be calling the old number, visiting the old address, and possibly concluding you have gone out of business.
Not alerting the major listings distributors: Since all the review and listings sites are getting your address from the same few major listings distributors, you’ve got to let these big boys know. This will help your listings be corrected and updated automatically, no muss no fuss.
Forgetting to update social media pages: Facebook is one of the largest search engine in the world, and many of your customers will go there first to find your address and phone number. This is an easy fix, but not to be overlooked.

Moving your business in the digital age is all about getting the drop on it, lest it get the drop on you.

This is why Vendasta offers a service called Listing Distribution. With this system we can alert the big four listings companies – Neustar/Localeze, Acxiom, Factual and Infogroup – that you’ve moved. From there you can sit back and watch your correct information trickle down to over 300 websites.

It’s a lot like hiring a crew of movers.

Avoiding these common mistakes can save you a lot of headaches, and make your move as easy and organized as possible. So mind your digital shadow, and protect your profits from phantom listings.

 

Vendasta Releases MAST 10X: New Marketing Automation and Sales Transformation Platform for Digital Agencies

SASKATOON, SK, Oct 1, 2014 – Vendasta Technologies, a leading provider of online reputation and presence management tools, today announces the release of a new Marketing Automation and Sales Transformation platform, MAST 10X. The platform is geared toward helping digital agencies sell their solutions to local business with automated marketing campaigns that target, identify and provide local business owners with personalized intel about their own businesses, backed by a suite of online presence solutions.

“The major problem facing digital agencies is their cost of customer acquisition,” says Brendan King, CEO of Vendasta. “We want to solve that problem and help them increase their market share and digital revenue tenfold while dramatically decreasing cost per lead.”

The new platform works hand-in-hand with Vendasta’s reputation and presence management tools, all of which are rebranded and sold by partners who serve the marketing needs of local businesses across North America. All partners need to do is upload their list of digital prospects and begin an automated email campaign to identify sales opportunities.

MAST 10X emails are unique, providing personalized information about a local business’s reputation, online listings, social media activity, website responsiveness and more. The system continues to follow up with information that educates the business owner on a variety of digital marketing topics with examples from their own businesses, and sales teams are then given alerts of anyone who indicates interest by interacting with the campaign. Furthermore, the agency can access deeper information about the business’s digital marketing efforts in order to have a meaningful conversation with the sales prospect.

What makes MAST 10X unique is its ability to send businesses detailed information about their online activity from a trusted source (in most cases, an agency and salesperson they’re familiar with). Research shows local businesses prefer email over other types of communication; however, MAST 10X is more than just an email marketing platform. It provides a complete sales tool management system to make sales teams more efficient.

“We’re helping partners discover which of their existing customers and prospects are ready to buy new digital solutions,” King says. “Just because a business has negative reviews and no social presence doesn’t mean they’re a good prospect for reputation management. And while many companies have tried marketing automation before, they often find it’s too complicated and spammy. Vendasta’s solution works out of the box with relevant content for every local business. All you need is a list of phone numbers and email addresses of your current customers, and you’re ready to go.”

Boasting impressive open and click through rates already, the MAST 10X solution is designed to streamline digital agency sales and marketing efforts, to help salespeople focus their energy on the most promising customers and to dramatically decrease cost per lead. For more information, visit www.vendasta.com

About the Company
Vendasta Technologies
 is a leader in digital marketing and brand management solutions for small to mid-sized local businesses, providing white label solutions directly to digital agencies, media companies, newspapers, broadcasters, SEO services, certified marketing representatives, web hosting providers and interactive agencies. Vendasta’s reputation and presence management platform includes Reputation Monitoring, Brand Analytics, Presence Builder, Social Marketing lead generation tools and a Concierge CRM platform to help manage and sell digital products. For more information, visit www.vendasta.com.

MAST 10X Overview Video: https://vendasta-1.wistia.com/medias/9ql8lkhqyp

Using Google Cloud Platform Frees Up Time for Product Development

Since we opened our doors, VendAsta has built its solutions on Google App Engine. What it’s given us over the years has been the ability to focus on the end user solutions without having to worry about the serving hardware infrastructure. It’s allowed us to provide a redundant, reliable and infinitely scaleable solutions that our biggest clients can count on. The following write-up appeared on the Google Cloud Platform Blog, and was drafted by Jason Collins, VendAsta’s chief technical officer.

 

When we founded VendAsta in 2008, we had great ideas about helping millions of small local businesses manage their brands and local reputation. At the same time, we knew that we didn’t want to go through the headache of building our own data center – some of us had done that before at a real estate startup and it was painful. With fortunate timing, Google App Engine launched at the same time we founded VendAsta, and it was an easy decision to use Google’s infrastructure for building and testing applications. As Google added even more features to App Engine and made it a better product, we knew we’d made the right decision.

In fact, our very first lines of code were written on App Engine. We liked not worrying about server redundancy, data replication, peering relationships, power backup, cooling systems, application scaling, or data backups. We could simply focus on the business logic of our applications and what we wanted to deliver to our end users. Focusing on the product got us where we are today – our platform monitors the web for any mention on over 200,000 local businesses, analyzes the social content, and helps them figure out what they need to respond to and take action on. Once a business understands its online reputation, it can take steps to improve it, attracting more customers and increasing revenue.

Large architectural strides can be made when you commit to a platform and align with the platform’s vision. VendAsta has made that decision, and we’re realizing the benefits of using the full Google Cloud Platform feature set. Today, we have about 75 applications running on App Engine and Google Cloud Datastore, including Social Marketing, a tool that helps businesses share content across social channels, and Reputation Management, which shows businesses what customers are saying about them online.

We’re leveraging several other parts of Cloud Platform as well: we use Google BigQuery for structured analysis to perform multi-location analyses for large brands. With BigQuery, we can build data analytics “hypercubes,” using data from thousands of local businesses – like a chain of thousands of car dealerships that wants to compare the reputations of East Coast locations against those on the West Coast. We use BigQuery to analyze the data, then we use Google Cloud SQL to generate the reports that clients need. Our large number of applications are able to communicate reliably with one another using Google Cloud Pub/Sub as an asynchronous messaging system.

Running our business on the cloud gives us the scalability we need to remain competitive. We have the freedom to seek out more partners who will buy our platform and bring it to their customers, without being concerned about our ability to handle customer requests to onboard thousands or tens of thousands of accounts. And all that time saved by not worrying about our infrastructure has helped us bring more and better product features to the small and medium businesses that rely on VendAsta.

Facebook has 4X the Number of Reviews as Yelp, Google+

VendAsta’s reputation software now pulls in business reviews from Facebook! Did that get you excited? It should have.

This is big news.

We are the first in the online reputation industry to pull in reviews from Facebook, alongside reviews from other top review sites like Yelp and Google+. Businesses can see what their customers (and potential customers) are saying about them all over the web from one central location. And as you can see from the headline, it is becoming increasingly important to manage Facebook reviews.

But Why Does This Matter?

 

In October of 2013, Facebook began quietly tiptoeing into Yelp and Google+ territory by adding reviews to their offering. Since they already have a massive user base — over 1.23 billion monthly active users — Facebook’s jump into reviews is likely to be a swan dive rather than a belly flop.

fbreviews

Business owners should be happy to see Facebook enter the game as well, since people are more likely to use their real identity to post reviews, meaning there will be less anonymous, conspicuous one-star ratings. And since the reviews are already posted on the social network, they are easier to share with friends and family, which people are more likely to trust than anonymous reviews.

With a Bright Local report confirming that over 85% of consumers read reviews for local businesses, up from 76% in 2012, it’s no wonder why Facebook would jump into the review game. While Google+ and Yelp have been battling it out for the marketshare, Facebook has slipped into the game and is quickly becoming a fierce competitor. Currently, Yelp exceeds Google+ on number of reviews and places reviewed, and Yelp tends to have nearly double the number of reviews than Google+ on places where they have the same business listings (PiperJaffray). While the talk of competition is mostly between Google+ and Yelp right now, Facebook has entered the game as a lively competitor, ready to let the others bicker while they take huge bites out of the growing market. In some business categories, Predict-it.com has found that there are four times more Facebook reviews than other sources.

fbreviews4x

Businesses and consumers are already on Facebook, so to use it as a consumer review platform seems intuitive. The average person spends about 15.5 hours a month on Facebook, and many consumers seek out current business information here rather than the company’s website. Consumers are more likely to get quick responses and meaningful interactions from a company’s Facebook page.

Counting is Hard and the (Pre Alpha) Solution

Jason Collins, our CTO, has been burdened with a problem: counting. And not just the kind Big Bird is constantly chirping about. Developers are often tasked with coding pages containing many data points, which can be a lot of information to get to a user quickly. Jason wants to find a way to get accurate data quickly.

In his example, Jason uses VendAsta’s Social Marketing software. The dashboard houses various data points, including the number of reviews a business receives. So we simply have to ask the database, right? When we input the simple command to store a review — review.put( ) — that information is stored in a datastore.

data store 1

The above, of course, is a simplified version. In the world of Google app Engine, that data will be stored in several different datastores, in various geographic locations:

review put various citites

The statement attempts to house the review in all locations, but only waits until it hears from a majority of the datastores in at least two geographic centers. This algorithm is called paxos.

review A

While all the data is not in one datastore, the information will be “eventually consistent.” Datastores are copying all this data trying to bring the system into consistency, so eventually all reviews will be in all data sets. In the case below, reviews A,B and C will ultimately be in each datastore. While it is frequently updating, it is often out of sync as new information is constantly added.

eventual consistency

 

The (pre-alpha) Solution

 

Accurately counting the information by scanning all the datastores is time-consuming and expensive. What Jason has done is found a way to capture a “snapshot” of the data using BigQuery. After the initial snapshot, which has information from all the datastores, then the system will track deltas — how much to add or subtract each hour.

data snapshotOccasionally, it will be necessary to apply a new Snapshot, as the information becomes out of sync. As logic follows, the more frequent the snapshots, the more likely the data is to be accurate.

snapshot 2

Click on the video to see VendAsta CTO Jason Collins presenting his theory to our office — the real thing is even better than the write up.

Counting is Hard

 

Show Some Skin: From A Negative Facebook Review to (Relative) Fame

Women are rarely surprised at the bombardment of sexist comments. It’s not shocking to read offensive words online posted by some dude (the YouTube comment section seems to deteriorate the fastest, with people nearly instantly and inexplicably jumping to statements about Hitler and the “she should be in the kitchen” types).

While not shocking, the comments are definitely harmful. When a reviewer casually mentioned that servers at Atomic Grill in Morgantown, West Virginia should “show more skin,” the owner agreed. Sort of.

“It was brutish. I was upset. I’m a father of a 12-year-old girl and I’ve got five sisters,” owner Daniel McCawley told ABC News. “The way that women are treated is pretty personal as far as I’m concerned.” Rather than engaging in a debate likely to go nowhere, McCawley took positive from the negative; lemonade from lemons; feminism from misogyny. This Memorial Day weekend, Atomic Grill be offering a special on their potato skins, and donating 100 per cent of the proceeds to the West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information Services.

The likes for Atomic Grill are pouring in on their Facebook page. Morgantown has a population of less than 30,000, so to have over 8,000 likes is a noteworthy feat. And reviewers are taking to their keyboards too. With over 1,000 reviews, Atomic Grill’s average rating is a lofty 4.8/5. Nearly 90 per cent of people who have reviewed the Grill gave them five out of five stars, and my guess is, not a lot of them have even eaten there.

Reviews_and_ratings

Many of the reviews talk about the locally sourced meat or the pulled pork, but a huge number of them pertain to the business’s stance on women’s rights. When McCawley posted his positive spin about the negative review on the company’s Facebook page, he could not begin to imagine the response. “When we come up with an idea like the ‘show us some skin,’ we never in our wildest dreams expected it to take off like this did,” McCawley posted on their Facebook page. “We are humbled and excited that everyone has responded to it so positively. We value our employees as much as our own families, and if we can turn something negative into a positive for our community, then all the better.” Social media is a great equalizer — any size of business can find success (or failure).

Atomic Grill Reviews

 

Reach for the Stars

Social media creates an avenue for customers to express appreciation for your business, or even something more abstract, like your business ethics. If you are passionate about something, take a stand. Don’t pretend to care about something you don’t, or worse yet, don’t care about something for publicity or marketing sake. Why did Atomic Grill gain so much traction so quickly? Because they came across as honest and concerned — their reaction never seemed like a publicity stunt.

The True Price of Online Reviews

“Recommendations can have more of an impact than brand or price. They can be more important than what your brand is and the price you’re charging.”
— ShareThis CEO Kurt Abrahamson

Think of the last time you went out for supper and all the decisions that it took you to get there. You likely chose a night that fit into your schedule (or realized there were no groceries in your fridge), picked an outfit and hit the town. And, if you’re like most people, you searched the restaurant online as well. According to Constant Contact, “restaurants are the most searched industry by consumers through both mobile applications and browsers.” Restaurants are frequently sought after online, and other industries are not far behind. One of the main pieces of information consumers are seeking is online reviews.

Yahoo! Tech recently reported on a study that illustrates the monetary value of online reviews. The study, conducted by ShareThis and The Paley Center of Media, puts dollar values on a phenomena all of us know (or at least have sensed) to be true: customers trust online reviews nearly as much (and sometimes more) than personal recommendations. The study revealed that consumers were willing to pay more for products if they received good reviews.

“We found that highly positive online shares can generate an almost 10 percent increase in purchase intent, and negative reviews can also have a correspondingly negative impact, [reducing purchase intent by] 11 percent,” explained ShareThis CEO Kurt Abrahamson to Yahoo! Tech.

The survey considered the responses of over 6000 participants to see if people would be willing to pay more or less for products based on reviews from strangers and friends, online or in person.

Their conclusion: people are definitely willing to pay more for a product if they are aware of positive reviews. When buying an iPad, respondents would pay $22.26 more based on a positive online review by a stranger, and $27.42 more with a good review from a friend. The table below shows how much more people are willing to pay for certain products — Apple iPad, Samsung Galaxy, Dell Venue and Google Nexus — based on positive reviews by strangers, acquaintances and friends.

Constant Contact

Bad reviews proved to be more influential than positive reviews, driving down the price people were willing to pay for a product. After reading a negative review by a stranger on the iPad, people were apt to pay $32.20 less for it.

What’s the Big Deal?

It is absolutely essential to monitor a business’ online reviews. The good ones can be harvested and used for promotion, and the negative ones need to be responded to quickly and efficiently. Even when the exact monetary value cannot be measured, it’s clear that reviews have a huge impact on the way consumers view products or services. Help business monitor their online presence and ensure their business listings are accurate. This is the best form of customer service for the digital age.

 

How a Rogue Employee Ruined the Reputation of a 40-Year-Old Business

George Leith, our VP of sales, is constantly traveling North America to help business owners understand the concept of the virtual doorway and their digital footprint. He emphasizes that a brand is no longer what you say it is, but what customers say it is. While in Iowa George heard a story that stuck with him — he detailed it here for us.

Don’t Let Mice Infest Your Company

Helping the small and medium business person is my daily quest. As I travel the country interpreting this crazy world of “the virtual doorway,” I have the privilege of hearing the day-to-day issues of business people. The couple I just met in Iowa has a look of dismay as they tell me the horror story of how an ex staff member ruined their 40-year-old business’s reputation. How easy it was for the staff member to do so sent chills down my spine.

The ex staff member had been working for the couple’s small town gas station for six months, and they suspected her of stealing. After installing a security camera, they indeed caught the young woman skimming money from the till. The couple fired her, choosing not to make a scene with local authorities. What happened in the next few weeks is astonishing, and speaks to how important it is for all businesses to listen to what is being said in today’s connected world.

The woman, upset that she had been fired, went online and created a Facebook page for the business. The gas station had yet to recognize the power of social media and did not have a page for themselves, so it was easy for the young lady to create a page using the correct business name, address and phone number. She then began posting images she had collected in her six months on the job. To the horror of the business owners, their dirty laundry was aired across the internet. The gas station had a rodent problem, one that they had identified and hired an exterminator to fix. However, before said fix occurred, the woman was able to gather a number of photos of mice in the potato chip display. They had eaten through some bags, and one even was kind enough to practically pose for the photos. There, in all their negative glory, were these images across the business’s virtual Facebook doorway for current and potential customers to see — a PR nightmare that the business could not control.

Mouse

It is vital for businesses to understand what is being said about their brand online. This chatter through review and social sites is constantly affecting brands. More than ever, business people need to be aware of what is being said online and understand how to deal with it. This particular story details an angry ex-employee purposefully spreading hurtful information via social media, but it is increasingly important for business owners to listen to what is being said online. Whether positive or negative, reviews are the best source of instant feedback, something business owners are constantly seeking out. Your brand is no longer what you say about yourself, but rather what your customers say about you.

In the coming weeks, we will investigate various online issues business people face and source some of the best solutions of the day. This is challenging to say the least, because this world is moving beneath our feet.

I have conducted online reputation seminars throughout North America over the past 18 months, and business people are clamoring to learn about this world and how to manage their virtual doorways. Business owners are demanding answers to these tough questions, and I’m here to help navigate this new world.


Geo LeithGeorge Leith is a digital media interpreter. Specializing in digital strategy and implementation, George illustrates the importance of online reputation management and brand presence. He helps organizations make their virtual doorways as inviting as their brick and mortar entrances. With nearly three decades of experience, George is always in high demand across North America. Last year alone, George traveled to numerous cities across America, including Las Vegas, Sarasota, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Miami, Toronto, Tampa, New Orleans and Fort Worth, reaching thousands of businesses. 

VendAsta Releases New Listing Distribution Service and Brings Transparency to Online Listing Management

VendAsta’s Presence Builder now distributes local business information to fix inaccurate listings, list businesses in more local search sites and provides detailed proof of performance.

Saskatoon, SK, Apr 24, 2014. VendAsta Technologies, a leader in online reputation and presence management platforms, is releasing a new listing distribution product to help partners improve and scale digital presence services for local businesses. VendAsta provides white label online reputation management and presence solutions to reseller partners who serve the marketing needs of local businesses.

In the US, four major data providers power the web — Neustar/Localeze, Acxiom, Infogroup and Factual. Over 300 major search sites query these providers for information, including search engines, online directories, navigation systems and more.   If these data providers have incorrect listing information — name, address, phone number or any other detail — those errors will be disseminated all over the web, causing poor search ranking, as well as a loss of customers and revenue.  Recent studies have shown that customers lose trust in a brand when their listing information is incorrect.

Trying to keep business listings accurate by manually entering information is prohibitively tedious and time consuming. Listing distribution is economical, easy to use and makes accurate listing data available to potentially hundreds of online directories and listing sites, which is key for a good local search rank and overall reach. Listing Distribution sends accurate data to all four data providers, helping correct business information on existing listings and create new listings where they don’t exist.

“Listing Distribution solutions today lack transparency to show businesses where their information has been sent, if that information was accepted and what the result is over time,” explains Brendan King, CEO of VendAsta.  “Our solution shows all of the results as this business data moves through the complex pipelines that ultimately determine how and where businesses are listed online. In the end, we want to be able to show local businesses the real value and proof of performance that these major data solution providers deliver.”

Listing Distribution is part of VendAsta’s Presence Builder, which also includes Location Pages — search optimized business pages with key business contact information like name, address, phone number and hours of operation — that are easily crawlable for search engines. With Listing Distribution, this provides a robust local SEO package.

Listing Distribution is revolutionary and innovative in scope, pioneering in the world of presence management.  With the reach and scale that VendAsta affords, channel partners can provide listing distribution at competitive rates that provide attractive margins.  For more information, visit www.VendAsta.com

About the Company

VendAsta Technologies is a leader in digital marketing and brand management solutions for small to mid-sized local businesses. VendAsta provides white label solutions to media companies that work directly with local businesses, including online directional media companies, newspapers, broadcasters, SEO services, certified marketing representatives, web hosting providers and interactive agencies. VendAsta’s reputation and presence management platform includes Reputation Monitoring, Brand Analytics, Presence Builder, Social Marketing lead generation tools and Concierge CRM platforms to help manage and sell digital products. For more information, visit www.VendAsta.com.

Press Contact

Jeff Tomlin, Vice President of Marketing
+1 (306) 220-2721 | jtomlin@vendasta.com

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