We'd like to tell you about a little research project we started on March 13, 2011 and concluded July 1, 2011. We'll explain what we did, give you our results, and then explain why this is important for jewelry stores.
Our goal was to determine how many small businesses are actually using online reviews, social media, Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook, etc. as part of their online strategy.
Our target market was Houston, Texas, where we chose the unofficial diamond district on Richmond Ave. as our test epicenter.
We don't actually have anyone physically in Houston. This test was purely via the internet by searching in Google Places where we randomly selected independent restaurants, hardware stores, toy stores, various boutiques, and many other types of retail businesses. We tried to get a completely random sampling of general data.
For each retail location found we scraped the internet for associated blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, Yelp reviews, Foursquare venues, Flickr accounts, and a whole lot more. In total, we searched for 25 online indicators, not including their website.
Our feeling was if we could find it through basic Google searches, then the average customer was also seeing it. In other words, the store owner took appropriate steps to make sure their online presence could be found. Regretfully, 11 of our 25 social media indicators were completely unfound in our sampling of stores. What we found most surprising was the lack of discoverable YouTube accounts.
Here are our findings for the small businesses indicators we did find:
98.1% had Google Places pages.
57.7% had reviews on InsiderPages
57.7% had reviews on Yahoo Local
57.7% had reviews on CitySearch
48.1% had Facebook Business Pages
46.1% had reviews on Yelp
28.8% had reviews on Kudzu
15.4% had reviews on MerchantCircle
9.6% had Twitter accounts
9.6% had reviews on Local.com
5.7% had blogs
5.7% had active Foursquare check-ins
1.9% were listed on LinkedIn
1.9% had photos published to a Flickr account
Disclaimer: These numbers should only be considered general estimations of what someone physically in Houston would see. The geographic targeting in Google SERPs prevent us from seeing exactly what a Houstonian would see. Our results would also be more accurate if we had a larger sampling of businesses.
Seven of the 14 indicators above are review sites where customers randomly posted reviews for the businesses. Review sites provide social validation for businesses and different people prefer one review site over another. You have no control over where your reviews appear, but once they do you can always takes steps to turn them off if you prefer.
The Facebook accounts were pretty easy to find. Most were directly named after the retail store. Although not all of them were active and most had only a few fans.
On the other hand, users of Twitter don't seem to have a clue how to correctly associate their retail store to their Twitter account. For example, if your store is Sam's Jewelry Shop you should have a Twitter account of @samsjewelry or @samjewelshop or something that makes sense instead of @jewelrycritic. You should also list your primary website in your Twitter profile.
The same naming convention is also true for your blog, assuming you have one. Also, if you host your blog separately from your website, make sure you frequently link your website and blog to each other. Also, link to your blog from your Facebook, Google+ and Twitter accounts. Without this linking your customers will never see your loving soapbox-type posts.
It's not surprising that small retail businesses are not using LinkedIn or Flickr since the general perception of LinkedIn is for professionals and Flickr is only good for sharing personal photos.
The 5.7% measurement of Foursquare makes sense to us. This would seem to correlate with the limited number of businesses actually listed in that system.
Your bottom line Gold Nugget for today is to realize that your customers are interacting with other independent retail businesses in various ways, and a lot is user-generated content.
Whether you want to admit it or not, people are becoming more technically savvy with review systems and check-in services. Your business listing on these services is initially out of your control and you need to monitor them to maintain your online reputation.
We'd like to help you manage your online reputation, so over the next few days we're going to explain how you can claim ownership of your accounts on the review sites and perhaps offer rebuttals to the negative feedback there.