Responding to Google Reviews — The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

While the first phase of Google review traffic success is getting them, taking your Google review strategy to the next level is most certainly responding to Google reviews. Setting and managing buyers’ expectations is tough when you control little abou…

While the first phase of Google review traffic success is getting them, taking your Google review strategy to the next level is most certainly responding to Google reviews. Setting and managing buyers’ expectations is tough when you control little about

Who Are Your Customers? Where are They From?

This blogpost was written by Vito Fiore, Director of Marketing and Research for Visit Alexandria.  It provides some very valuable marketing research information for Alexandria’s small business community. As the tourism marketing agency for the City of Alexandria, we at Visit Alexandria are always trying to better understand questions such as: “Who is visiting Alexandria?”… Read more »

The post Who Are Your Customers? Where are They From? appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

This blogpost was written by Vito Fiore, Director of Marketing and Research for Visit Alexandria.  It provides some very valuable marketing research information for Alexandria’s small business community.

As the tourism marketing agency for the City of Alexandria, we at Visit Alexandria are always trying to better understand questions such as: “Who is visiting Alexandria?” “How much money are they spending?” “On what are they spending their money?” and “How important is visitor spending to the Alexandria economy?”. In the past, we answered these questions by relying on data sources like website analytics, advertising tracking pixels, visitor center traffic, and survey data.

Out of all these methods, survey data provides the most detail on how money is spent, but it is imprecise and reliant on human recall. Let’s say we ask someone if they’ve visited Alexandria in the past year. They respond, “Yes, I visited 8 months ago.”  We can ask them what they spent on lodging, restaurants, shopping, etc., and they almost certainly won’t be able to do better than a rough estimate. Furthermore, this method is subject to sampling error.

For several years, Visit Alexandria has been looking at ways to gather more reliable information.  We discovered that the nation’s largest credit card provider, Visa, has a “big data” product known as VisaVue. This product provides spending data for a given location in 24 different merchant categories. Perhaps most interestingly, the spending is broken down by the cardholder’s source location (at the metropolitan statistical area level). By partnering with Virginia Tourism Corporation and Visit Virginia Beach, Visit Alexandria was able to purchase the VisaVue product recently at an affordable price.

Visit Alexandria breaks its marketing campaign into two broad categories: 1) Destination, targeting those overnight guests from outside of the DC region, and 2) Regional, targeting those daytrippers that live outside of Alexandria but within the DC region. Our destination campaign is by far the larger effort, as our primary mission is to drive overnight stays in Alexandria and increase visitor spending. According to a 2014 survey-based study conducted by Destination Analysts, on a per person basis, overnight visitors to Alexandria spend about 3 times as much per trip as day visitors. That said, we were excited because the VisaVue data could give us a better understanding of how big the spending (and thereby tax revenue) impact is in key sectors from locals, regional visitors, and destination visitors.

The VisaVue data represents all domestic Visa credit and debit transactions, which were over $1 billion in City of Alexandria spending in calendar year 2016. This represents about 1/3 of all spending in lodging, restaurant, and retail categories.  Because Visa is widely used for both business and consumer spending at many income levels, we feel that this data is generally reflective of spending in Alexandria as a whole. And, because it is an accounting of ACTUAL consumer spending, it does not have the limitations discussed earlier that relate to self-reported data from surveys.

By determining Visa spending patterns according to source location, we can then extrapolate these patterns out to all spending (under the assumption that Visa spending in Alexandria is generally reflective of all spending behavior). Then we can apply these patterns to tax collection data from the City of Alexandria in order to determine the estimated share of local taxes that are paid by Destination visitors (from outside the region), Regional visitors (people from the DC region but outside of Alexandria), and those local to Alexandria. The results are below:

The headline here is that 71% of consumption taxes (restaurant, lodging, and sales) paid to the City of Alexandria come directly from people who are non-residents.  That $44 million translates to a savings of about $590 per Alexandria household. The revenue generated by visitor spending reduces the pressure on other taxes on residents like property taxes. You’ll notice that the consumption spending by destination visitors is roughly the same as that by all Alexandria residents.  And perhaps most surprisingly, spending from regional visitors have the largest impact, with 43% of all spending in these categories.

As you might expect, when it comes to lodging, destination visitors do the vast majority of the spending. However, there is still a share of spending that comes from within the region, presumably for staycations, business travel booked by companies within the region for those travelling to Alexandria, or locals booking a hotel for friends and relatives staying in Alexandria.

For the meals tax, which includes spending at both full-service restaurants and quick-service establishments, half is paid by regional visitors and 19% is paid by those visiting from outside the DC region.  Remember that this data is citywide; we would expect that the share of destination visitor spending would likely be much greater than the chart above in Old Town, and smaller than the chart above in locally-driven neighborhoods (e.g., Potomac Yard, West End).

The story is similar when it comes to the sales tax. Since the sales tax is applied to a wide range of spending, we combined VisaVue data from a whole host of retail and restaurant categories for this calculation.  This chart shows us that while retail is a bit more locally driven than lodging and dining, it still owes the majority of economic activity to non-Alexandrians.  That’s remarkable given that a huge portion of this tax is paid at places like supermarkets where spending is predominantly locally-driven.

There’s much more to learn from this rich data set. In the coming months, we’ll be doing a more detailed analysis at the metropolitan area level to inform our advertising marketing selection for the upcoming year.  Does Norfolk provide more visitor spending per capita than Philadelphia? Once they arrive, do people from New York City spend more per trip than people from Atlanta?  How much of our visitation comes from a closer, smaller city like Richmond versus a more distant, large metropolis like Chicago? We’ll be using the VisaVue data, among other sources, to better understand the answers to these questions.

What we already have learned, however, is significant. Marketing to destination visitors will always be our primary task, but given the scale of the impact on our tax revenue from regional visitors we are looking for opportunities to increase our efforts there as well. And the broader finding that 71% of retail, restaurant, and lodging spending comes from non-residents tells us that Alexandria’s economy is dependent on being welcoming to all, whether they are from Arlington, Virginia or Arlington, Texas.

Vito Fiore is the Director of Marketing and Research at Visit Alexandria. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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Getting (Mostly Good) Google Reviews

Google commands nearly 80% of Web and 90% of mobile search traffic on the planet. With global search leaders such as Yahoo, Bing (Microsoft), and Baidu (in China) still commanding between 5 and 15 percent each, they are forces not

Getting Mostly Good Google Reviews - Web and BeyondGoogle commands nearly 80% of Web and 90% of mobile search traffic on the planet. With global search leaders such as Yahoo, Bing (Microsoft), and Baidu (in China) still commanding between 5 and 15 percent each, they are forces not to be ignored, but we know the clear winner of this battle in the war for consumers’ attention. People google things. And, they’re googling your business’ products or services to see Google reviews.

So Google has decided that these local reviews of your products or services are important to the decision-making process for consumers. And, if the search juggernaut thinks this is important, it’s best to take advantage of the opportunity that Google’s review platform provides (which is built within Google Maps and is managed with the Google My Business dashboard).

Often, local businesses don’t understand how to gain traction with Google reviews. Or, they don’t understand Google’s review policy. So, here I’d like to outline how to take your business to the next level with getting (mostly good) Google reviews.

Note: If you have a bad product, service, location, staff or customer service, this methodology won’t help you, unless you decide to fix these management/operations issues. I can’t also help you remove Google reviews. If the problem is deeper than that and not working, I’d head over to the Google My Business community to learn how to handle spam, fraudulent, and other wrongful review issues.

Get Your Google My Business Listing Completed Fully | Getting Google Reviews

To start, get your business listing claimed and verified. Not everyone can have a business listing on Google My Business; I don’t make the rules, but you do need to follow them. You will need a Google account (or G Suite account), so create one or sign in using yours to Google My Business, then follow the “get your business listing claimed and verified” support article. While you can do this on a mobile device, I recommend doing so from your desktop Web browser so you have all functionality available to you.

Set Your Review Capture System Up | Getting Google Reviews

Now that you have your business listing claimed and verified, you can watching the Google reviews pour in, right? Uhm, no. Sorry. There’s still quite a bit of work ahead. But, that’s an important milestone on your way to getting (mostly good) Google reviews! To really start getting the reviews flowing, follow my three-step process for soliciting and capturing customers’ reviews on Google.

Step One

Get your Google Review link. I don’t know them, but (for creating such a great tool and being Canadian, I can’t help but think they’re good and nice people) the folks over at White Spark agency have provided the free Google Review Link Generator.

Step Two

Create a special customer service email address that is handled by someone dedicated to handling negative feedback, preferably you or someone high enough to make substantive, timely decisions and actions to turn unsatisfied customers into raving brand advocates.

A happy customer who buys and leaves your business and says nothing about you to anyone is of no really value in the world of reviews. An unhappy customer that you’ve helped fix their issue is one that will tell many more people about his or her experience and has a great value to you for review purposes! Seize opportunities of unhappy customers turned happy ones, and the meat of how to do this is in Step Three.

Step Three

Send your customers either upon purchase, delivery or at their highest satisfaction peak in your relationship, a review request. Turn this into a system that is executed precisely and consistently throughout your business operations.

This review request communication will read something like this:

Hi, [Customer’s Name],

We appreciate your business! As part of our process to continually make good on our [product/service] and our customer service promises, we would really appreciate your feedback. This also helps new customers evaluate our [product/service/business] and helps us grow our business to continue living up to our standards. Could you take a few minutes to review us?

Yes, I love our [product/service]!              No, I had a bad experience.

Thank you,

[Name]

[Business Name]

Now, the “Yes, I love your [product/service]!” is hyperlinked to your Google Review link that you generated in Step One. And, your “No, I had a bad experience.” link is to your special customer service email address. Mostly good reviews go to Google, while bad feedback primarily gets sent to someone who can deal with it.

Your responsibility is now to handle the negative feedback with “white glove” treatment. That’s a topic we cover in our next blog post. But, it is imperative to solicit these Google reviews well and consistently. Train your staff (and yourself ) to identify appropriate times and places for asking for Google reviews from your clients, including but not limited to:

  • by email,
  • printed on receipts,
  • by phone,
  • In-person, or
  • on your website after purchase.

Once you’ve managed to get this three-step process in place and tweaked it so that you can see it working consistently in your business, you will start to reap the rewards of mostly good Google reviews while having a pipeline of new reviews coming in regular. And, in doing so, hopefully that will start to bring meaningful, profitable traffic to your Google My business listing and to your business.

Facebook Dislike Button Debate Rears Its Ugly Head Again

The Facebook Dislike button has been debated for years, requested by many users, and confused Small Business owners on what they should do about it all. As any changes are tested, here is how you should approach your marketing. Let’s

Facebook Dislike Button Debate Rears Its Ugly Head Again - Web and BeyondThe Facebook Dislike button has been debated for years, requested by many users, and confused Small Business owners on what they should do about it all. As any changes are tested, here is how you should approach your marketing.

Let’s start with the facts:

So, what’s a business owner to do about marketing in light of these changes? As I noted in my last article, Is Facebook Really Implementing a Dislike Button?, back in September 2015, about the Facebook Dislike button:

One thing I am sure about and that I’ve counseled all my Small Business clients about is, do not use the feature as a business. This is for a couple of reasons:

1. you don’t know yet how people will come to like or dislike (pun intended) the new feature;

2. unless you really are in a business where showing empathy and invading someone’s personal life makes sense, it’s likely inappropriate for your business (and just plain creepy) to be offering condolences about, say, a family’s loved one passing away; and,

3. if you (again) really are in a business where you have that kind of relationship with your customers or clients, you should be writing a comment to show genuine concern or sending a personalized, private message to your customers or clients. If you’ve lost a loved one or something powerful has negatively impacted your life, how dismissed would you feel to get a click-of-a-button response from your favorite business? I thought so.

A community’s culture changes slowly and any release of a major feature can become an animal of its own kind. There’s no sense in getting caught up in a feature that the media will likely report on only the salacious, shocking and negative. Of course, if there’s a legitimate argument for using these tools (see nos. 2 and 3 above, or if reporting spam/abuse), go for it.

My general recommendation is to do nothing with any Dislike features. Ignore the hype and focus on creating positive, useful content with a coordinated sales strategy.

Workshop Recap: Marketing Trends for 2018

Small business owners packed the room at the Alexandria SBDC last week for Maurisa Potts’ annual update of the latest trends in marketing.  As always, content is king, and the focus is on how to connect with customers in a way that the “big box stores” and online sales cannot. The first step, of course,… Read more »

The post Workshop Recap: Marketing Trends for 2018 appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Small business owners packed the room at the Alexandria SBDC last week for Maurisa Potts’ annual update of the latest trends in marketing.  As always, content is king, and the focus is on how to connect with customers in a way that the “big box stores” and online sales cannot.

The first step, of course, is to really know your customer.  This includes, but goes way beyond their age, gender, and whether they are a tourist or local.  What are their desires, their expectations?  What life-changing events are happening in their lives?  You get to know this by going back to basics – talk to them!  If someone knows that you have taken the time to get to know them and what they are looking for in a shopping experience then your place becomes their place.  In addition, repeat customers talk with their friends, and they will bring in more customers to show off their special place.  Integrated social messaging is enhancing engagement and the customer experience.  There are messaging apps and tools that can help you to communicate one-on-one with customers in real time and specific to that customer.  These tools, such as WeChat, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp can be both scalable and cost effective for small business owners.

Once you have established who your target customer is, it is important to develop a content strategy, and establish a budget to carry out that strategy.  More and more this will be by way of visuals – video, infographics, photos, charts, etc.  Make it authentic to your target audience – what do they want to see?  One of the hottest new platforms for this is virtual and augmented reality.  Customers would love to be able to use their computer screen to see what the fashion piece on the hanger would look like on their body, even if they are not in the store to try it on. While this is not mainstream yet, Maurisa sees it as the next big thing.  She urges those who are already allocating resources to developing more live video (a big trend) to continue to experiment with different formats – including virtual reality – to see which audiences respond best to.

One platform that is increasingly popular is Instagram.  In 2017 the platform had 800 million users, who found that it offers better engagement and advertising controls than other platforms.  Maurisa told the story of a beer keg tap maker with a small manufacturing operation.  A short time on Instagram and he was getting orders from breweries all over the country.  Local real estate broker Mike Porterfield said that he has seen the value of Instagram in just a short time using it, and expressed the following:

I have been hearing people talk about its potential in the business world and since I started actively in Jan. of this year I have already received one prospect call from a space user and have been solicited by a possible service provider that I might consider using.  The only cost to Instagram is your time and imagination.  Until I learn otherwise I am going to keep promote my business interests and interacting with other Instagram users.  If that’s where the people are that’s where we need to be.

Continuing the trend to more engagement with customers, the attendees at the workshop discussed ways to create curated special events and experiences – this is what can set small independent businesses apart from the big chains and online shopping.  Partner with complimentary community businesses and nonprofits to expand the reach of all of the organizations.  Think ahead and establish a calendar-year budget for these events, and keep track of the most effective methods of transferring events and experiences into customers goodwill and eventually, sales.  Keep track of who showed up, and whether they became a repeat customer.

With all of these tools it is crucial to keep data on what you have tried, and what worked.  Most tools have analytics built in to their software – learn how to use them!  It is often important to try something a few times to see the patterns of your audience response. Measuring the impact allows you to set targeted goals and measure success. Metrics can take time, but they are important!

On a final note, Maurisa revisited a prediction that she made at the beginning of 2017 – that Twitter was losing its usefulness as an effective tool for small business marketing.  While certainly popular among politicians and journalists, the platform was unable to grow users in 2017. She again predicted its inevitable demise.

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How to Make Your Digital Business Life Safer Today on Safer Internet Day

Safer Internet Day is today. But, your digital personal and professional world are under attack every day. So, it’s with this in mind, here is the advice I give to loved ones and clients alike when asked about how to

How to Make Your Digital Business Life Safer Today on Safer Internet DaySafer Internet Day is today. But, your digital personal and professional world are under attack every day. So, it’s with this in mind, here is the advice I give to loved ones and clients alike when asked about how to protect themselves online.

User Account Management

First and most important is to start with the basic security of your user accounts on your desktop computers, laptops, smartphones and mobile tablets. Actually, anything with a username and password should have it enabled.

It’s convenient to have your devices simply have no password or passcode login, but this compromises your security if or when someone covertly accesses your device or snatches it off your table at a café or restaurant when you least expect it. On Windows, you want to make sure your Windows user account settings are activated and updated with a strong password (see below) and, on Mac OS X, walk yourself through each tab within your Security & Privacy settings in System Preferences (especially File Vault).

Password Managers Are Your Friend

Next, with so much of our world being digital today, passwords have become the banes of our existence. We have passwords upon passwords. And, we simply cannot remember them all. So, we cheat and create a password that we can remember, that’s simple, and we use it for all our online accounts. (In case you can’t tell, I’m metaphorically slapping my forehead.) Let’s change this practice through a simple set of security principles.

One, your username is a kind of password, too. When you enter a username into the field on a website, then another, then another, you get to be known by the username across many services. If your password on one site is compromised on one of these sites, hackers know to start checking other sites for that username. If you use different usernames one each site, you create a far smaller digital persona for hackers to track when the inevitable password hacks happen at Target, Equifax, Yahoo, or otherwise.

N.B. This is tough to avoid when your username is your business email address. But, where you’re required to use your email address as your username, you can use multiple business email accounts across the Web; create one for your important accounts, another for public marketing communications (e.g., those on flyers, postcards and business cards), and perhaps a tertiary one for less secure environments (e.g., Social Media accounts).

Two, the complexity of the password doesn’t make it a strong password as much as the length of the password; choose one that is the maximum length allowed by the service.

Third, you can no longer comfortably rely on your memory now to remember your usernames and passwords if you’re making them different on every site you use. The simple solution is a password manager. Now, you can even use randomized usernames and strong passwords without the need to remember any of them! I recommend LastPass (my preferred password manager) and 1Password to all of my clients, because they are available across all major mobile and desktop operating systems, and they have Web browser extensions.

User Two-Factor Authentication, When Possible

Password hacks happen every day in far more frequency than I believe any analysts and journalists are reporting. The main reason is that these hacks are too small in the eyes of the media to warrant grabbing audience attention. But, make no mistake, your passwords are being reaped from sources without your knowledge and you need to take precautions.

A simple way to do this is use what’s known in the cybersecurity industry as multi-factor authentication (MFA) or two-factor authentication (TFA/2FA). In short, you install a software such as Google Authenticator, Authy or LastPass Authenticator (separate app from LastPass) on your smartphone and/or mobile tablet; there are also physical 2FA devices available if you feel the need for that kind of security. Then, go to Google, Apple, Facebook, WordPress.com, Evernote, and any other online services you use that allow it, and enable two-factor authentication. (Text messaging (SMS) is not a second factor. Phone-based text messages can be easily spoofed or intercepted, so it cannot trusted as two-factor authentication.)

N.B. If you use two-factor authentication, make sure you print (yes, physically print on paper) the backup codes each service will provide to you. Then, secure those in a very safe place (from theft, fire and water damage). If you lose access to your 2FA app and can’t get back into a service, you will need those backup codes.

Enable Your Routers’ Firewalls

One of the most potent ways to stop hackers is to stop them from ever seeing your devices connected to your Internet. The way to do that is through the use of software called firewalls. So, go ahead, enable your routers’ firewalls and browse more securely.

Secure Your Web Browsing on Public Networks

Your next line of defense when you leave the safety of your private office or home network, is browsing and connecting to public Internet connections securely. Start with a virtual private network (VPN), a tool that creates a secure connection between your computer/device and whatever online services you’re connecting to. (My current favorite service is TunnelBear. They have a free monthly plan for light browsing at cafés, and have reasonably priced plans for those who work at coworking spaces and on public networks often.)

Following on the heels of any VPN, that doesn’t fully protect you. You need to actively protect yourself while Web browsing. Simply clicking on anything on the Web is a surefire way to download malicious content and software. Pay attention to every link you click on while browsing when on public networks.

Backup Your Devices (Cloud & External Drive)

Last but not least, you should backup your devices. It’s been discussed ad nauseum on the Web about best cloud backup solutions, external backup hard drives, and strategies for backing up your data. Sadly, small business owners especially are not listening well. Please, please, please backup your data. When you’re on the frontline, I can assure you it’s tough to answer each and every call or email from a business owner who has lost access to data because of ransomware or some other kind of cybercrime. Please don’t become another statistic.

So, that’s it. Six tactics for Safer Internet Day to help you be more secure on a daily basis. Here’s to keeping your digital identity and data safe!

Do you have a question about something discussed in this article about your cybersecurity? Leave a comment below (or click on Contact Us if you’d like to private message us) and we’ll be happy to see if we can help you out.

Diversity is a Process, Not a Word

Here’s the scene: a conference room full of hiring managers and HR professionals, all intently listening to a presentation, taking notes, and earnestly nodding. The topic? Fostering diversity in the workplace. Everyone present solemnly agrees that they…

Here’s the scene: a conference room full of hiring managers and HR professionals, all intently listening to a presentation, taking notes, and earnestly nodding. The topic? Fostering diversity in the workplace. Everyone present solemnly agrees that they should, in fact, seek out diverse candidates for open positions. Somebody makes a note to let the talent acquisition team know, and then ...