Beyond the Stars: How to Get Effective Reviews from Customers

Beyond the Stars: How to Get Effective Reviews from Customers

You’ve heard it said that consumers are the new marketing channel. When they talk, others listen. You should listen, too, so you know how to get effective reviews from customers.

Here’s what we mean.

There are 5-star reviews and there are effective reviews. Unfortunately, getting the former doesn’t guarantee the latter.

” ‘Good’ is not always positive. Remember, a ‘good’ review is the type of review that’s useful to the people who come along behind you.” – Alan Henry

Put another way, most businesses see 5-star reviews as the ticket to success, while most customers just want the insights that come along with those stars.

Of course, star ratings do matter. But if there’s no substance to the actual reviews, customers may look elsewhere.

The following example is instructive:

vague online review

Image Source: TrustPilot

If most of your five-star reviews look like this one, don’t expect prospective customers to be overly wowed.

It’s About Quality, Not Just Stars

We’re betting when you research service providers or products online, you pay more attention to detailed reviews and recommendations than the generic star ratings.

In fact, the more detailed the review, the more likely you are to visit a business’s website and enter the conversion funnel.

What Effective Reviews Look Like

You probably already encourage customers to review your business. But how can you nudge them to leave truly effective reviews?

Mad Dog Cycles review, Yelp

Image Source: Yelp Reviews

Before we talk strategy, let’s look closer at the benefits of effective reviews:

  • Effective reviews motivate businesses to continually refine their products and services.
  • An effective review also helps prospective customers make good decisions
  • This kind of authentic feedback restores consumer trust in online reviews as a whole.

Now, take a look at these tips from Trustpilot:

Customer Reviews tips

Image Source: Trustpilot

In a perfect world, every customer would follow these tips. But real-world customers require a little encouragement.

Attributes that Drive Action

No surprises; there are lots of review platforms are out there—with Yelp, Facebook, and Google firmly in the lead. And don’t forget niche reviewing sites like Healthgrades, TripAdvisor, Zillow, SeniorAdvisor, and … well, you get the idea.

If customers are reviewing you, they can do so on virtually any review platform. Why not guide them to the most helpful review options?

First off, a few basic rules:

  1. Determine which niche review sites are most critical to your industry.
  2. Direct customers towards a specific (non-Yelp) review platform where you want to see more reviews.
  3. With help from Banyan, customize your review invitation message to make the process easy.
  4. Carefully follow review policies to ensure your reviews stay secure and visible.
  5. Respond promptly to all incoming reviews.

Banyan reviews, customized review request mockup

Unsurprisingly, it takes consistent, daily effort to get effective reviews. So, get in the habit of asking.

How to Get Effective Reviews, Not Just Stars

What else can you do to get effective reviews?

Bottom line, incredible customer service is the most important key. And when things don’t go well, a prompt response is also critical.

“Although it can be difficult to swallow at times, you want your customers to leave honest reviews of their experience. If you do your part in providing what you promise, (rest) assured that the majority of your reviews (will be) positive.” – Fresh Lime

One more thing. Every positive experience can be turned into an effective review if you remember to ask while customers are with you.

Be Realistic

Of course, no one business has a perfect track record. And that’s okay.

According to Amy Osmond Cook (Forbes contributor), when online reviews average an A-minus, conversion rates tend to be higher.

Studies appear to support Cook’s claim. On average, star ratings between 4.2 and 4.5 hit the sweet spot and help customers convert. Such reviews also look more authentic and build trust.

So you don’t need all five-star reviews to win new customers. But you do need effective reviews and responses:

TripAdvisor review

Image Source: TripAdvisor

Be Respectful

As the above example shows, it pays to be respectful and responsive to every review. Your goodwill and prompt response will go a long way toward protecting your online reputation.

As needed, take conversations offline for customers who appear to be in attack mode.

In short, keep it classy.

How to Get Effective Reviews, SeniorAdvisor review

Image Source: SeniorAdvisor

Specific vs. Generic Information

So, what is it that makes some customers go into detail in their reviews while other reviewers say next to nothing?

Here’s exhibit A, a review from EMI Health:

Patient review for EMI Health

Image Source: Google Reviews

Not only did the reviewer share specific details about her experience, but she also strengthened a B2B relationship.

Even better, EMI responded promptly and respectfully.

Now, for exhibit B, a dermatology review:

Example of patient review, generic comments

Image Source: Vitals.com

While both examples are positive, the first includes more meaningful details about the reviewer’s experience.

Why the differences?

Some of it has to do with customer personality (not something you can change). But time crunches and vague requests can also lead to ineffective reviews.

Ask On Site

You can safely assume that most customers are in a hurry. If so, they’ll probably leave a star rating but not make specific comments.

To counter this tendency, ask customers for a review while they’re still with you. As needed, walk them through the basics and give them time to complete the review.

Here’s another easy idea you can try:

 

Rephrase Your Request

What do you ask customers before you text or email them the review link?

More often than not, comments like, “We’d love to know how your experience was today. Would you be willing to write a review and share the specifics with us?” are most effective.

The word “specifics” basically plants a seed in your customer’s mind that may blossom into a more detailed review.

You could also lead with, “You are one of our favorite customers. Would you be willing to share a little of your history with us in an online review? We know that would be valuable to other customers.”

The trick is to ask for reviews in a way that motivates customers to get specific.

Post Helpful Reviews

To encourage more insightful reviews, it also helps to post some of the best on your website in the form of testimonials.

This strategy puts effective reviews front and center for your website visitors.

Testimonial page from Marschall Road Animal Hospital

Image Source: marschallroadvet.com

Also, when customers get specific, don’t be short on the praise! Tell them how much their words mean to you and how helpful their comments will be to others.

Customized Review Requests

As mentioned above, it matters how you ask customers to review you.

Generally, a simple “How was your experience?” will prompt a more detailed response than “Can you rate us?”

If you’re a Banyan reviews customer, you can also customize the invitation you text to customers.

Let’s say you’d like more helpful reviews on Google and Healthgrades. After connecting to your Google My Business page and Healthgrades in the Banyan app, you pull up a review template similar to this one:

Customized review invitation message, BirdEye

With a flexible template, you can customize your message to motivate effective reviews.

For example, you can change your default image and adjust your message to something like, “Hi Garrett, we’d love you to share the details of your visit today! Just click this link.”

Likewise, you can enable Facebook Recommendations on your Facebook Page so that customers can use specific tags to describe their experience.

Read more about Facebook Recommendations

Where to Go from Here

The world of online reviews grows every day, fed by the average consumer’s appetite for information:

“Today’s consumers consult an average of 10.4 sources of information before making a purchase. Voracious information seeking has become deeply ingrained … and we can envision no scenario in which they will see traditional marketing as a better provider of product information.” – Harvard Business Review

Well, there you have it. Online reviews are here to stay, and they’re much more than just star ratings.

As you work to provide your customers with a great experience, they’ll want to tell others. The easier you make the process, the more effective those reviews will be.

 

Need help with your reviews strategy? Check out our Banyan Reviews page.

 

nicholas-green-324622-unsplash1-1

User-Generated Content: Why You Need It—and How to Get It

What do YouTube, Wikipedia, Instagram, and Quora have in common? They all depend on user-generated content to exist.

“User-generated content, or UGC, is any contribution to a site or campaign that an individual outside the company has created.” – Jeff Bullas

For businesses, user-generated content could be anything from a website video testimonial to a customer’s photo on Facebook.

Most people associate UGC with social media. But there’s more to the story.

Why User-Generated Content Matters

Ask any social marketing expert why user-generated content is a big deal for businesses. Without fail, the word authenticity is mentioned.

Truth is, most consumers are bored by heavy-handed sales pitches and glossy product photos. Overall, they care less about production values and more about credible content.

Surprised? Think about your own consumer behavior for a minute.

How often do you read Amazon reviews before purchasing a product? Or talk about a service provider on Facebook?

Facebook product review example

If you’ve done either of these things, you’ve engaged with (or created) user-generated content.

UGC Is Everywhere

The genesis of user-generated content goes back to the dawn of the Internet and the decentralization of traditional media.

Remember when blogs—the ultimate UGC—first started popping up back in the day? Then, MySpace became a thing. And as more people purchased cell phones, anyone could share a newsworthy photo.

Soon, user-generated news articles were the norm and traditional news outlets had to adapt. Along with everyone else.

Now, user-generated content is so pervasive, it’s hard to imagine an online experience without it.

User-generated content, consumer influencers, Crowdtap infographic 2015

Image source: Crowdtap

Business as Usual?

Why do consumers love businesses that share user-generated content? Again, it’s about ‘authenticity.’ We tend to trust businesses that celebrate customer input.

“61 percent of people would be more likely to engage with an advertisement if it contained user-generated content.” – Reevoo

Content strategists at Curata list additional benefits of user-generated content:

  • Cost effective timesaver – UGC can boost your marketing effectiveness when your budget is tight and staff members are busy.
  • Greater social reach – The more user-generated content you post, the better your social following and reach will be.
  • Boosted brand awareness – As your UGC brings in more likes and shares, your brand message will spread.
  • Effective SEO – Every time you create a new user-generated campaign or get new reviews, your SEO ranking climbs.
  • Audience feedback – As you pay attention to the most-shared UGC, you can make changes and drive more conversions.
  • Unique viewpoints – Customers’ UGC provides different points of view, which helps your followers stay engaged.
  • Personalized campaigns – Effective UGC campaigns will show you the way to targeting smaller segments of your audience.
  • Improved customer relationships – This may well be the most important benefit that keeps customers with you for life.

Banyan Facebook contest, Facebook post, UGC

Clearly, the benefits of user-generated content are compelling. The trick is getting your customers to participate.

How to Inspire More User-Generated Content

It’s one thing for a big company to spend lots of money on creative UGC campaigns. But what if you’re a small business with a modest budget?

As we mentioned earlier, user-generated content can actually save you time and money. But you still have to be creative to make UGC work.

The ALS Association is proof that creativity doesn’t have to be expensive to pay big dividends. Remember the #icebucketchallenge?

Wiki Commons photo, ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, User-generated content

More about that epic challenge:

In 2014, Jeannette Senerchia’s cousin Chris introduced her to an ice-bucket challenge unrelated to ALS.

Coincidentally, the ice water stimulus mimicked the rigid muscle response so common to ALS sufferers like Jeannette’s husband Anthony.

And just like that, the ice bucket challenge became a cause for ALS research. The rest is history.

Creativity Is Key

As you can see, creative ideas often come about accidentally.

To jumpstart your creative approach to UGC, hold a brainstorming session with your team. Talk about your values and your unique sales proposition.

Next, determine your primary goals for user-generated content. Do you want better brand recognition? More social interaction and shares? Better customer reviews?

Pursue your goals one at a time with a targeted UGC campaign.

Applewhite Dental Partners, Facebook post, contest

Social Proof

It’s a given that your business wants great reviews and customer recommendations. So, why not turn those opportunities into events?

Maybe you offer discounts to customers who volunteer with you at a Habitat for Humanity building project.

At the event, you take loads of photos and videos. Then, you email the best photos out to customers on the spot so they can tag you on social media.

Or, you invite customers to a Fall carnival where a professional videographer is present.

Customers take home visual mementos; you get customer testimonials for your website or social pages.

Jordan Rowland photo, Unsplash, cotton candy, social event

Product Publicity

Getting ready to launch a new product or service? User-generated campaigns can be a fun way to create some buzz.

To tap into UGC, ask customers to guess what the new product is. Share a mysterious photo that hints at the product without showing it completely.

Several days before the big reveal, invite followers to enter a contest or giveaway by submitting some form of UGC—possibly a video showing how they’ll use the product.

Aaron Agius of the Content Marketing Institute puts it this way: “A (customer) given something of value will feel a subconscious urge to repay the favor.”

In other words, don’t be afraid to offer incentives for user-generated content.

Invisalign Instagram post, incentive for user-generated content

Brand Recognition

What if your following is still pretty modest? You can still recognize customers individually and grow your brand.

Charity events and sponsorships can also stimulate brand recognition and customer participation, especially if they’re part of a long-term strategy.

Also, if your business sponsors an organization, you’re already one step closer to great user-generated content. Encourage photo and video sharing that includes your branded hashtag.

“When your brand shares something a customer or fan created, that external recognition not only strengthens the customer or fan’s affinity with the brand, it encourages that person to share the content further with his or her friends (and your brand benefits vicariously).” – Aaron Agius, CMI

Starbucks has no trouble with brand recognition. But could part of its ongoing success come from creative UGC campaigns? Judge for yourself.

Starbucks, #redcupcontest, user-generated content

This contest is an especially effective UGC campaign: it’s simple (fans do something creative with Starbucks’ red cup and share a photo), it’s seasonal, and it offers the chance at a gift card. Win-win.

Customer Trust

What about customers who aren’t yet following you on social media? They can still offer UGC in the form of reviews. After a great experience with you is a great time to ask them to review your business.

You can also build customer trust by responding quickly to reviews when they come in (Banyan users can do this via their user dashboard).

Banyan reviews dashboard

If there are complaints about an issue, address them and/or invite your customer to contact you directly.

If someone comments on one of your social posts, start a conversation. Send an emoji. Show followers that their input matters.

And of course, if a customer raves about you on Facebook, thank them right away. Want to go above and beyond? Send them a freebie or a discount to show your thanks.

“According to research by Halfords and Bazaarvoice, people (who) read and/or take part in the writing of reviews wind up converting at a rate that’s 82% higher than users that don’t participate in this actions.” – Jeff Bullas

The fact is, customers want businesses to notice them and reward their content. How will you do this?

 

We’d love to see your best UGC campaigns. Tag us @banyansocial so we can help spread the word about your business.

 

2018OCT_Blog_Shining-1440x721

Scary Review Policies Straight Out of ‘The Shining’

Just in time for Halloween, a tale of review policies gone amok. What could be scarier?

Picture this: It’s late October at the imposing Overlook Hotel in Colorado. Enter Jack Torrance (off-season caretaker), his wife Wendy, and their young son Danny. As an aspiring writer, Jack plans to devote all his downtime to writing a novel in the empty hotel.

But the hotel has other plans.

So begins Stanley Kubrick’s cult classic film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining. As viewers discover, Jack and Co. will face a lot more problems than just writer’s block.

The Ghosts of Past Reviews

Like the hotel in The Shining, online reputation management can sometimes look intimidating, if not plain scary.

Are negative reviews hiding in the shadows, never to be completely banished? What about all the conflicting review policies trotted out by Google, Facebook, and Yelp?

When it comes to customer reviews, you’re told to do this, but never that. And erratic policy updates can leave you as confused as a bat-wielding Wendy Torrance.

Never fear. Like Danny Torrance, we’re ‘shining’ a light on the hidden hazards of online review policies. All while keeping your business safe and reputable.

The A-maze-ing World of Online Reputation Management

Yes, the Overlook Hotel is big and creepy. But what about the maze—a labyrinth of tall hedges that leads to dead ends at virtually every turn?

(You’re thinking of Jack chasing Danny right now, aren’t you. Yeah—we are too).

Jack Torrance and the maze in 'The Shining' (graphic by Gavin Gunther for Banyan), Oct. 2018

Well, that gigantic maze is the perfect metaphor for the world of online reputation management, which also has more than its share of twists and turns.

Let’s go back in time to illustrate this.

The Wild West, aka the Beginnings of Online Reviews

Way, wayy back in 1999, online reviews started to be a thing. Remember rateitall.com? As Matt Jones of WebPunch puts it, this was also a time for bashing competitors.

Think of this era as the Wild West where official review policies were slim and none.

Back then, positive reviews came quid pro quo from partner businesses. And you better believe that many businesses hacked their competitors’ reputations just like Jack with his axe.

Luckily, Amazon arrived on the scene and set the gold standard for authenticity and reliability in reviews. Sadly, that trend lasted about as long as Jack’s sanity.

"Here's Johnny" illustration by Gavin Gunther for Banyan blog, The Shining

Flash forward to a day when online reviews—and review policies—are as plentiful as skeletons in the Overlook Hotel ballroom.

Online Review Policies and Dick Hallorann

Yep, online reviews platforms are everywhere now. Think of the big players: Google, Bing, Yelp, and social platforms like Facebook. These are supplemented by multiple niche review sites like TripAdvisor or Doctor.com.

For every reviews site, there are dozens of review policies that pop out of doorways without warning: The no-gating policy. The no-bulk-solicitation policy. And a host of others.

In theory, these policies are designed to protect both businesses and customers. Much like the Overlook’s head cook, Dick Hallorann, tries to protect Wendy and Danny.

But sometimes, review policies unwittingly make things worse.

Fans of The Shining know that Hallorann warns Danny against entering Room 237 and later tries to warn Wendy after he sees a horrific psychic vision.

The forest rangers also try to check in via radio transmission, but to no avail.

Why do all these warnings go unheeded? In a phrase: communication failure, something that also afflicts a lot of review policies.

When Review Policies Interrupt Your Message

In the case of The Shining, a massive snowstorm knocks out phone lines while Jack purposely disables the radio.

And in the case of online review policies, complex algorithms often knock out reviews that don’t comply with the rules.

Take Yelp, the reviews platform whose policies sometimes penalize even innocent businesses. Or Google, whose policies now forbid review gating (i.e., approaching only customers who will give positive feedback).

The fact is, multiple review policies contain loopholes and restrictions that may appear more foe than friend to local businesses.

Let’s consider a few of the top platforms’ policies.

Google Review Policies That Live in the Dark

Not long after viewers suspect Jack Torrance is off his rocker, a mysterious character named Delbert Grady shows up. It’s Delbert, of course, who went similarly nuts in an earlier decade at the Overlook Hotel.

Whenever Delbert Grady appears, he’s sharing advice—couched as sly innuendo—with Jack. Basically, Delbert fuels Jack’s madness and murderous tendencies.

The Google/Delbert analogy may seem like a stretch—but there are a few similarities.

Delbert Grady ('The Shining'), illustration by Gavin Gunther for Banyan blog

First, Google hides its review policies so deeply in its support pages that most humans have a tough time seeing them (at least, not quickly or easily). Delbert also stays hidden most of the time.

Protecting Your Reviews from Google’s Algorithm

Like Delbert Grady, Google is a powerful motivator. If Google deletes customer reviews and you don’t know why, ask yourself:

  1. Are you soliciting only positive reviews? That’s considered “gating” your review for positive sentiment. Instead, use Banyan Reviews to ask customers a neutral question: “Would you leave a Google review?”
  2. Too many reviews showing up within a short period? Google’s algorithm may flag them—and possibly delete them. Luckily, Banyan can help keep reviews consistent.
  3. Do legitimate reviews get deleted because they look ‘spammy’? Google usually deletes reviews from the same IP address, so turn off your free WiFi and let your customers use their own data plan.
  4. Are employee reviews flagged by Google? Encourage employees to review your business via Glassdoor, Indeed, or another appropriate platform—not Google.
  5. Google taking down anonymous reviews of your business? Concentrate on providing such great service that your customers are willing to log into Google and use their real name when reviewing you.
  6. Getting more than one review by a customer? Google may flag these reviews. Instead, limit how often you ask the same customers for reviews.
  7. Can’t see any reviews after your address changes? You probably forgot to update your Google My Business page. Let Banyan Listings help update your NAP so you don’t lose valuable reviews.

Jack's typewriter from 'The Shining,' illustration by Gavin Gunther for Banyan blog

Too many review policies may make Google a dull platform, but—like the thoughts in Jack’s head—those policies are persuasive and powerful. Best pay attention.

The Two Faces of Yelp Review Policies

Ah, Yelp. Customers trust you, but you can be a tough taskmaster.

Back in 2004, the creators of Yelp recognized the need for an online review platform that sorted out the trustworthy businesses from the shady ones. The rest is history.

Still, for most businesses, Yelp’s review policies can seem pretty daunting.

Remember the lovely lady in Room 237 who tries to seduce Jack, only to turn into a hideous hag that laughs maniacally as she chases Jack down the hotel corridor?

What a nightmare!

Room 237, succubus in bathtub, 'The Shining,' illustration by Gavin Gunther for Banyan blog

We get it—Yelp is a useful platform that many businesses still rely on. But its review policies are plenty tough.

As Yelp itself says:

  • First, don’t ask others to review your business.
  • Likewise, don’t ask staff members to collect reviews.
  • Don’t run surveys or contests that ask for positive reviews.

Gulp. So, is there an ‘indirect’ way to encourage customer reviews on Yelp without violating these policies?

The Only Safe Yelp Strategy

According to marketing and SEO expert Jayson DeMers, your safest bet is to display Yelp’s free marketing materials at your business and refer to Yelp on your website.

True, this method takes longer than directly asking customers for reviews. But do you really want Yelp to chase you down the corridor?

Forbes contributor Ryan Erskine offers a different view:

It’s not clear how Yelp hopes to catch business owners who solicit reviews. If the main goal is to improve review credibility, then why not make it harder to leave an anonymous review by requiring some sort of verification? Or why not follow in Google’s footsteps and fight spammers with a more sophisticated filter algorithm?Yelp’s algorithm already takes a hard stance on suspicious reviews, filtering out 25% of reviews (often including real ones) and preventing them from affecting businesses’ scores. Not only is Yelp’s Don’t Ask policy bad for consumers and business owners, but it’s also bad for Yelp. – Ryan Erskine for Forbes

If your business still relies on Yelp reviews, make sure to display Yelp badges and stickers prominently on all your materials. It’s the safest bet.

Even better—treat your customers so well that they’ll automatically want to rave about you on every review platform.

Playing With Facebook Recommendations

Fans of The Shining can’t get enough of Jack and Wendy’s psychic son, Danny, and his alter-ego Tony.

In fact, it’s Danny (via Tony) who immediately senses that something is wrong in the Overlook Hotel. Later, it’s Tony who reveals just how bad things really are.

REDRUM, door in 'The Shining,' Danny Torrance, illustration by Gavin Gunther for Banyan Blog

Like Danny, Facebook knows what it’s like to be in a tough, even dangerous, spot (Cambridge Analytica, anyone?). The good news is, both Danny and Facebook are determined to overcome their problems.

So, why did Facebook recently roll out Facebook Recommendations? Were Facebook reviews a problem?

The answer is, probably not. But as Facebook continues its quest for greater privacy (along with less fake news and more user-friendly content), its review policies also face scrutiny.

“People use Recommendations to ask their communities where to go, where to eat, or where to shop. We’re making those Recommendations more prominent on Pages.” – Facebook

The Rules of the Game

According to Facebook, only Pages that allow for Recommendations will show a rating. Also, Recommendations have to be shared publicly in order to be included.

Some businesses feel nervous about Facebook’s decision to kill off reviews, partly because Recommendations uses a scoring system that looks different from the familiar star ratings. Here’s how it works:

In a nutshell, Facebook assigns businesses a five-point score based on how many people recommend their Facebook Page. Happily, past reviews and ratings also factor into the total score.

Not half bad. In this way, the new score looks a lot like the old star ratings.

Most social marketers are optimistic about the benefits of Facebook Recommendations, which encourages more user-generated content while increasing a business’s overall reach.

Like the ghostly Grady twins who appear to Danny, Facebook clearly wants to ‘play’ with its users ‘forever and ever and ever.’

Danny Torrance from 'The Shining,' Grady Twins in hallway, illustration by Gavin Gunther for Banyan blog

Just make sure you educate yourself about Facebook Recommendations so your business can stay ahead of the game.

The Last Word in Niche Review Policies

We mentioned some niche reviewing platforms earlier. Could any of these platforms’ policies come back to haunt you?

In The Shining, viewers learn that Jack’s history goes back more than a few years at the Overlook Hotel. In a similar way, your reviews can stay online for ages. Maybe even forever.

What’s more, reviews can show up on niche review sites unexpectedly.

By paying exclusive attention to Facebook Recommendations or Google and Yelp reviews, you might miss an outlier review on another platform.

Be a Good Caretaker

Let’s say you’re a healthcare provider who regularly encourages patient reviews on Google and Facebook. What if someone reviews you on Healthgrades, Vitals, or ZocDoc?

Luckily, Banyan Reviews makes it easy to include industry-specific reviews in your overall strategy.

You can also automate your choice of reviews platforms in your reviews requests and consolidate all your incoming reviews to one dashboard so it’s easy to respond.

With a little help from Banyan, you can handle just about any reviews policy you come across.

And remember: when it comes to online reviews, “YOU are the caretaker. You’ve always been the caretaker.”

 

Need help with online reviews? Stop the horror show and contact Banyan today.

 

 

 

 

Instagram logo art, Lalo Hernandez

Instagram for Business: FAQs You Need to Know

“Should I use Instagram for business, or is my Facebook business page enough?”

If you’ve ever asked yourself this question, you’re not alone. Most business owners wonder if Instagram is an effective way to share their brand stories.

Consider this: Over 25 million businesses currently use Instagram—and that number keeps growing. Likewise, a solid third of Instagram’s most viewed stories come from businesses.

But just like any other social platform, Instagram will only be as effective as the business using it.

Instagram logo

The ‘Why’ of Instagram for Business

Why do so many companies choose Instagram for business?

That depends on the business. Some brands are inherently visual, so they like to show off their products on Instagram. Others find a way to talk about their services in a visual way.

In other words, smart businesses tap into the passions of their Instagram followers by telling visual stories.

“60 percent of people say they discover new products on Instagram. And over 200 million Instagrammers visit at least one Business Profile daily.” – Instagram

Instagram also rewards users who post quality photos and videos. For businesses, this means that popular content is more likely to be discovered by new customers.

Of course, some businesses (particularly service-based ones) may struggle to stand out. Luckily, even a ‘non-visual’ business can succeed on Instagram, as the FAQs will show.

The FAQs of Instagram for Business

If you already use Instagram for business, you understand its unique features. If not, let’s review the most common questions about Instagram.

How is Instagram different from Facebook?

While Instagram is owned by Facebook, it does do a few things differently than its parent company.

For one thing, the search feature in Instagram makes it easy to find photos and videos by category. In this way, Instagrammers can quickly connect to content that’s relevant to them.

Engagement with brands on Instagram is 10 times higher than Facebook, 54 times higher than Pinterest, and 84 times higher than Twitter. – Brandwatch

It’s also a snap to search hashtags on Instagram.

For example, a patient could search #dentalimplants to quickly view related photos and videos. Someone looking for Star Wars memorabilia could search even a narrow niche like #starwarslamp and receive hundreds of results.

Basically, if you search for it, Instagrammers have probably posted about it.

Chiropractic adjustment hashtag search on Instagram

Instagram also edges out Facebook in terms of interactivity. While Facebook now offers ‘Facebook Stories,’ the Instagram Stories interface is hipper and cooler. Also, Instagram tends to roll out fun new features more frequently than Facebook.

Finally, Instagram’s settings make automated sharing to Twitter and Facebook easy. Just like that—click and share.

Pro tip: If you’re trying to reach a younger demographic, Instagram is a better bet than Facebook. Instagram is also cleaner, easier to navigate, and more engaging overall.

Is it better to use a personal profile or a business profile on Instagram?

The answer to this question depends on two things: the size of your business and your familiarity with Instagram. With a business profile, you can:

  • Be instantly visible as a business
  • View Instagram insights for everything you post
  • See how Instagrammers are interacting with your content
  • Display pertinent business information on your profile

Instagram for business, sample business profile, The Blue Cross

Most businesses need an Instagram business profile. That said, marketing guru Neil Patel suggests starting with a personal profile if you’re inexperienced with Instagram.

This approach helps you learn from successful businesses on Instagram. As you browse your feed, screenshot your favorite posts for inspiration. Then, test-drive your own content and fully familiarize yourself with the Instagram app.

After you’re more confident on Instagram, switch to a business profile.

No matter what profile you use, be intentional by setting clear goals (e.g., brand awareness, showing off products, etc.). And post content that matches your goals.

hashtag, Instagram goals

Pro tip: Banyan clients can use either a personal or a business profile when posting to Instagram from the Banyan mobile app.

How do I sign up for an Instagram business account?

Simple! Just follow the four steps outlined on Instagram’s getting started page. Be thoughtful about your business profile so it engages interest from the get-go (see “Pro tip” below).

Here’s a sample business profile from Jasper’s Market in the Bay Area:

Instagram for business profile

Pro tip: Upload a business logo as your Instagram profile photo and @businessname (no spaces) as your username. You should also include a working link to your business website, as well as a unique business description (possibly a tagline) in your bio.

What’s the best practice for following other Instagram accounts?

New to Instagram? Connect with business profiles related to your industry. CoSchedule recommends following brands and people that your customers follow.

Next, reach out and comment on influencers’ posts. And when you post relevant content, tag influencers whose interests match yours—or collaborate with them in some way.

Pro tip: To jumpstart your search for successful influencers, search for popular hashtags in your industry.

That’s great—but whom should I follow?

Start by following your partner brands (companies you work with regularly). Add other brands that inspire you. And yes—follow your competitors.

Notice what engages your interest. Which posts are winners—and why? Note how often influencers post, and any thematic elements they use. Also, pay attention to what you dislike.

Want to shake things up? Plan an Instagram “takeover” by asking a partner business to post on your Instagram profile for a day. You can do the same thing for them on another day.

Instagram takeover, photo of man holding iPhone, Instagram screenshot

Pro tip: Follow influencers in your industry at least weekly. If you regram their content on your Instagram feed, always tag them using their @profilename. 

Do I need to use a professional camera for Instagram posts?

It depends on your goals. If you want your product photos to look really (really) good, nothing beats a professional camera.

On the other hand, your smartphone and tablet are fine for most Instagram content, especially Instagram Stories (more on this topic below). Not all posts have to be air-brushed perfection. Use an app like Canva to create on-brand quotes, memes, or other graphic posts.

If you have a really specific social campaign in mind, you can always use a fancier camera.

Think of it this way: any camera can capture your brand story. But it’s up to you to be consistent, which means following your company’s style guide and using your font and brand colors whenever possible.

Oreo’s Instagram page is a great example of brand consistency:

brand consistency, Oreo's Instagram page, blue colors

Pro tip: If you’re a Banyan client, take advantage of watermarks and stickers in the Banyan Social app. These help you establish a consistent brand story, as do Banyan’s social signs.

Anything I shouldn’t post on my business profile?

Watch out for random posts that don’t match your brand. We’ve already underlined the importance of brand consistency, which is just one part of your overall content strategy.

Think, for a moment, about your personal Instagram profile. Do you have a  content strategy there? We’re betting the answer is ‘no.’

On a personal profile, it’s no biggie to overgram photos of your child’s birthday party or like a few of your friends’ posts. Unsurprisingly, these tactics won’t work for businesses.

So, what’s a good content strategy?

According to Hootsuite, your business should follow these basic strategies on Instagram:

  1. Post at varying times, track your results to see what worked and plan for future posts via a content calendar.
  2. Keep your content fresh by using themes (contests, customer stories, motivating thoughts, etc.)—and rotate those themes regularly.
  3. Follow brand-specific style guidelines (types of photos, visual cues, emoji use, branded hashtags, etc.)
  4. Decide ahead how you will interact with other Instagram accounts (liking, commenting, responding to incoming comments).

Instagram for business, Intermountain Healthcare post

Pro tip: Sell a lifestyle, not a product. Don’t just convince followers that your services are good; show them how they can’t do without you. Above all else, celebrate what’s unique about your business so that you’re not just a pale copy of your competitors.

How do Instagram Stories and IGTV work—and should my business use them?

As you use Instagram for business, you may wonder about newer features like Instagram Stories or IGTV. But wonder no more; we’ll break it all down below.

Instagram Stories

We’ve all seen those circular profile photos at the top of every Instagram feed. By clicking those profile icons, you can view Instagram Stories (photos or 15-second videos) that stay on your feed for 24 hours.

So—why would businesses want to post content that only stays around for 24 hours?24-hours, photo of a clock

Two reasons: According to Later, Instagram’s algorithm rewards those who use all its features. Plus, Instagram Stories puts your business top of mind in the here and now, even if followers miss one of your regular posts.

With Instagram Stories, you can create a poll, post an engaging GIF, or build anticipation for a live event. And don’t forget about the ‘Boomerang’ tool, emojis, visual elements like arrows, and hashtags.

Stay active and post consistently on Instagram Stories for best results.

Instagram for business, Instagram Stories capture

The takeaway? Instagram Stories lets you go bold with less risk since stories disappear after 24 hours. And it keeps your business in the eye of your followers.

IGTV

You now understand how to create 15-second videos via Instagram Stories (or 60-second videos on your Instagram feed). But what if you want to share longer videos?

Recently, Instagram introduced a new feature called IGTV. Think of it as a vertical-screen version of YouTube.

Let’s say your business wants to share a special “how-to” video or a preview of a new service. Just open your Instagram app and click the IGTV icon at the top of your screen.

IGTV glyph

Next, choose from various IGTV categories (“popular, continue watching”). Or, search for something specific, like “Dr. Who.” Most importantly, click your profile icon to create your own IGTV channel and record longer videos on Instagram.

To learn more about IGTV, read this Instagram article.

Pro tip: Use both Instagram Stories and IGTV to differentiate your business and tell your story. As always, remember to include engaging captions for all your Instagram posts.

How do I create Instagram ads?

Because Facebook owns Instagram, you must use Facebook Ads Manager to create and run Instagram ads. Not currently using Ads Manager? Here’s how to sign up:

  1. Click https://www.facebook.com/ads/manager/creation/.
  2. Log in to your Facebook Page using your administrator login credentials.
  3. You should now see a screen that allows you to choose your campaign objective.
  4. Go to Instagram’s advertising page to set up Instagram-specific objectives.
  5. Now you’re ready to start advertising on Instagram!

Take a look at this sponsored ad from DuckFeet USA:

Duckfeet sponsored ad on Instagram

It’s okay to start out small by promoting one of your more popular Instagram posts. Track your results and keep trying new strategies. Before long, you’ll find your momentum—and even more new followers.

Pro tip: Plan to spend at least $10 per day on your Instagram ad. This will help you learn the ropes of advertising on Instagram without breaking your budget.

 

Ready to get started with Instagram for business? Tag us @banyansocial so we can see your progress!

2018OCT_Blog_GreatCaption-1-1440x720

How to Ditch Your Boring Caption and Write a Better One

We’ve all seen them—those social media captions that are more annoying than engaging.

Case in point: the ‘vaguebook’ caption. The humble brag. The never-ending travelogue description. Not to mention the truly boring caption that was copied and pasted from someone else’s feed.

On the business side, hard-sell captions seem to be everywhere, along with trite anecdotes and captions that contain way too many hashtags.

What’s to be done?

In this post, we’ll show you how to ditch the boring captions and write something a whole lot better.

What Makes a Boring Caption

The list of ‘groaner’ captions is a long one.

How about the inside jokes that customers don’t understand? Or, a caption that doesn’t relate to your photo?

Sometimes, even well-meaning businesses are guilty of writing captions that beg customers to like their post. If you’re smart, you’ll avoid that approach—just as you’ll steer clear of the ubiquitous click-bait caption.

We could go on, but you get the idea.

Meanwhile, let’s consider the top three captioning sins:

Captions that are too long

It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to explain all. the. things. in a caption. But take our advice and resist the urge. Don’t write more than a couple of lines unless you’re telling an incredibly interesting story.

Case in point—this Instagram biography:

 

Boring caption, Instagram bio, long caption, bad social media practices

This caption is so long that it can’t be fully shown in this photo. Not shown is a long list of hashtags, links, and more details about the author.

Here’s the problem – Because Instagram fans tend to skim quickly through their feed, they’re less inclined to read an extensive biopic like this one.

Short and engaging captions are always a better goal.

Captions that are too literal

We get it—sometimes when you’re busy or not feeling creative, your caption repeats key information from your photo:

Boring caption, literal caption, social media, Banyan blog

What’s going on – This caption was probably created at the last second, which can happen to anyone. Our suggestion? Riff off the ad’s wording with something like, “Feeling hairy? Call us to smooth out the situation.”

Also, if your business is likely to post similar ads each month, compile a list of possible captions ahead of time when you’re feeling less rushed.

Captions that are too spammy

What makes a caption spammy? How about tons of hashtags, salesy content, and misspelled words?

Here’s a sample advertisement that mimics what you might see in a spammy caption:

Spammy ad text

Why it’s bad – For starters, notice the spelling and grammar mistakes (e.g., “your” in place of “you’re”—and “get” instead of “getting”).

What’s more, there’s a whole raft of exclamation points and words in ALL CAPS. Another spammy detail? The invitation to pay $3.99 for supposedly “free” stuff.

In short, tactics like these can turn a boring caption into an offensive one.

If we wanted to make the whole thing worse, we’d add 20 hashtags, a string of random emoji, and several more misspelled words (in which case, maybe it’s time for Grammarly or another grammar/spelling checker).

No one wants to see a caption—or a post—like this.

What Makes a Great Social Media Caption

So, what does a non-boring caption look like? That partly depends on the social platform you’re using. But in general, your caption should do three basic things:

  1. Add insight (context) to the story within the photo.
  2. Show personality in a unique way (hook).
  3. Motivate followers to do something (call to action).

Here’s an example of a caption that does all three of these things:

Growing Bolder, Facebook caption

If the alligator photo isn’t enough to grab your attention, how about that great hook: “Don’t mess with Nana”?

This Growing Bolder caption definitely adds context to the photo and its accompanying headline. And because readers will automatically want to know more about how Nana killed the gator, there’s no need to write out a formal call to action like “read more below.”

Really, the whole thing is so engaging that we can forgive the typo (e.g., “a few years go” instead of “a few years ago“).

By contrast, the following caption needs some work:

Banyan Facebook post, caption

Ho-hum. The relation to Kevin Bacon and the “six degrees of separation” feels forced in this caption, as do the first two hashtags. There’s also no call to action, written or implied.

Instead, we could have used this photo to introduce a poll caption: “Which do you prefer during your meetings: 1) Sitting in a circle, 2) Sitting in rows?”

This scenario proves that even a photo of a work meeting can be more engaging with the right caption. It also proves that at Banyan, we’re always learning to practice what we preach!

“Your image or video should be telling the story while your caption is providing context. Finding a middle ground between showing and telling with your (social) posts could be the key to converting users.” – Sprout Social

Captions—by Type

To decide what type of caption is right for your post, always ask yourself what you want customers to do.

For example, if you want specific feedback in your comments, try asking an intriguing question in your caption. If you want more shares, you could ask for them in a giveaway-style caption.

NOTE – An engaging caption always depends on context (see above) and your unique brand voice. But for variety, try the following ideas:

The informational caption

Some businesses are great at balancing engagement with information. Take a look at this example from General Electric’s Facebook page:

General Electric Facebook post

The story within a caption

Every photo has a story to tell. The trick is saying it in a short, but memorable, way. Airbnb is fantastic at this:

Airbnb Facebook post

The contest caption

In the following example, Southwest Airlines does a great job linking to a current, trending event (e.g., Shark Week) in their sweepstakes caption:

Southwest Airlines, Shark Week contest caption

The ‘shoutout’ caption

A shoutout caption is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a caption that calls out someone else on social media. In the case of this Banyan post, we were featuring one of our clients, Synergy Dental—so our caption is all about them:

Banyan Facebook post

The ‘fill-in-the-blank’ caption

If you have a decent amount of followers, a fill-in-the-blank caption can be a fun way to get even more comments on a post. Here’s how Chili’s did it:

Chili's Facebook caption

The company culture caption

As mentioned earlier, successful captions include a hook. If you’re sharing content about your company culture, a feel-good story is the ultimate hook. Here’s how Walgreen’s wrote a caption about one of their employees:

Walgreen's Facebook caption, down syndrome employee

Captions—by Social Platform

The more you post on social media, the more you know that captions tend to vary by platform. For example, your caption (and post) on LinkedIn will look a little different than a caption on Instagram.

But before discussing these differences, take a look at the following data from Sprout Social:

Sprout Social data, behaviors consumers want from brands on social

As you can see in this graphic, honesty counts. Your customers also like to see captions that are friendly, helpful, and humorous.

Next, let’s talk about how to optimize your captions on the most popular social platforms.

Facebook

According to social marketing expert Mari Smith, most people come to Facebook to be “edutained.” So, it follows that your caption will complement your photo or video by offering that blend of information and entertainment.

“The tone of … Facebook (content) tends to be more polished. Generally, posts should come accompanied (by) one or two sentences that compel the reader to like, comment, or share. The news feed hides captions that are too long, though, so any more is overkill. Use hashtags sparingly.” – Soldsie

Expect interactions to drop when your Facebook caption is too long. To provoke interest, Buzz Sumo recommends captions that are 50 characters or fewer.

Remember to pair your caption with a dynamite image, video, or article for the most engagement. Hashtags are best kept to a minimum of one or two (and don’t include them in every post you publish).

Discover Card, Facebook post, example of good caption

In this Facebook post, a potentially boring subject (i.e., credit scores) can be made fun not only with an engaging video of a snail but with a pithy caption that relates both to the snail and to Discover’s services.

The video itself is the hook. The caption adds context to that video. And the “Learn More” button is the call to action. All the ingredients are in place!

Instagram

On Instagram, you’ll get the most traction with short and sparkling captions. After all, the real focus is on those high-res photos.

In general, the tone on Instagram is a bit more relaxed than it would be on Facebook or LinkedIn since everything happens “in the moment” on this platform.

According to AdEspresso, here’s the ideal recipe for a great Instagram caption:

  1. The caption should tell a story or sell a lifestyle.
  2. The caption should be concise (unless your story is unusually compelling).
  3. The caption should ask questions from time to time.
  4. The caption should ‘play’ with emoji but still be easy to read.
  5. The caption should use hashtags (but not so many that the post looks spammy).
  6. The caption should mention other pages/Instagram accounts where appropriate.
  7. The caption should include a call to action, either spoken or implied.

Remember the Instagram bio we showed you earlier? Contrast that long (and ultra boring) caption with the one State Farm uses below:

State Farm, Instagram post, social captions

Let’s face it, Instagram can be a challenging platform for those businesses whose products or services aren’t naturally ‘visual.’

But State Farm’s post is universally appealing, helped by a caption that tells a story about keeping loved ones safe with a working smoke detector.

Note that the caption also includes an emoji, a couple of relevant hashtags, and even a link to an article about smoke detector safety tips.

LinkedIn

Think of LinkedIn as a social platform that lets you build your network and connections.

Most businesses use LinkedIn to connect to thought leaders in their industry, but it’s also a great place to connect with employees, prospects, and customers.

So, what should you share in your LinkedIn status update? It could be a video from your YouTube channel or a great article you think your customers and employees would like.

Your caption should still offer context, brand personality, and some sort of call to action.

Hashtags on LinkedIn: It’s fine to include a couple of hashtags on your LinkedIn status update, but only if those hashtags are truly relevant to the article you share or to your company mission.

Uber update on LinkedIn, example of LinkedIn caption

Uber has garnered a large following on LinkedIn, partly because of the value and interest it offers in posts like this one.

In the caption, Uber quotes directly from the employee shown in the photo, which is a great way to personalize the update while offering context.

This caption inspires and motivates job seekers, entrepreneurs, and customers alike. And it’s perfect for LinkedIn.

Twitter

Anyone familiar with Twitter knows it’s a great place to ask questions, conduct a Twitter poll, chat about the latest trends, and follow thought leaders.

Since a tweet is basically an extended caption, take your cue from those you already follow on Twitter. If you like the length and flow of their tweets, feel free to try a similar style.

NOTE: Twitter users will move past anything that smacks of salesy, so be sure you ditch the hard-sell boring caption (i.e., tweet) and try something more creative instead.

Case in point: Arby’s is a fast-food maven and social media connoisseur that clearly understands how to win on social media. Here’s just one of Arby’s creative tweets:

Arby's tweet, Brandi Chastain, example of great social post

It’s true that Arby’s sizeable marketing budget means it can go wild on creative social media campaigns.

Even more important, Arby’s knows its audience and understands what will appeal to its followers. This tweet is the perfect example of connecting with others on Twitter and keeping the conversation going.

If you really know your audience, you’ll know what appeals to them. And your caption can reflect that.

Writing a Great Caption: The Takeaway

As you can see, writing a good caption takes a little thought and planning. By contrast, a boring caption is all too easy to write.

Still, writing an engaging caption doesn’t have to be a pain.

Let’s review

Anyone can write a good caption by following our recommendations:

  1. Offer context, a hook to grab viewers’ attention, and a call to action.
  2. Just say NO to long captions and captions that are too literal or spammy.
  3. Be purposeful (not undisciplined) in your use of emoji and hashtags.
  4. Vary your content with informational captions, captions that tell a story, and other caption types.
  5. Match the purposes of each social platform by crafting captions that serve those purposes.

Ready to ditch your boring caption and engage your customers on social media? You’re just one cool caption away!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jon-tyson-708656-unsplash-best

Facebook Recommendations Are Here | What to Know

By now, you’ve probably heard that Facebook has updated its platform with a new ‘Recommendations’ feature—and you wonder how it compares to the reviews feature you’re already familiar with.

Here’s what you need to know.

From Reviews to Recommendations

You’ve always been able to display reviews and star ratings on your Facebook page. But now, you can expect even more meaningful feedback and online visibility with the new recommendations feature.

The Old Way: Reviews

Until recently, consumers could visit a company’s Facebook page and leave a star rating (between one and five stars) along with their written review.

In this way, Facebook worked much like Google and other review platforms that use star ratings.

But Facebook’s newest algorithm—and its promise to give users a more authentic experience—means that reviews are now changing, too.

The New Way: Recommendations

Now, businesses are starting to see a phaseout of the reviews feature and a gradual rollout of the recommendations feature.

Banyan Facebook page, reviews, recommendations

Before, Banyan’s page showed an average star rating of 4.5. But with the recommendations feature, visitors will see that 4.5 of 5 people are recommending us.

Here’s how the process looks on mobile:

Recommendations feature, Facebook

If customers recommend your business, they will be directed to a user-friendly menu that helps them pinpoint why they recommend you.

What do you recommend, Facebook update

So now, instead of just seeing a generic star rating, new customers can learn what others specifically like about your business.

A Better Way to Authentic Recommendations

As part of the new recommendations feature, Facebook also makes it easier for your business to report spammy or dubious recommendations, as shown below:

authentic Facebook recommendations feature

What Banyan Clients Can Expect

First off—Facebook will continue its recommendations rollout through the end of 2018. So, don’t panic if you haven’t seen this feature yet on your business page.

However, once recommendations go live on your Facebook page, you’ll notice that they will show up in the Banyan app as “not rated.” Feel free to respond to each recommendation just as you’d respond to a review.

Also, keep in mind that whenever a Facebook user asks for a recommendation from friends, your business name may come up automatically.

Here’s an example. Let’s say that someone needs a new dentist. One of your current patients mentions your practice by name in the comments. Suddenly, a snippet pops up that shows your profile photo, a map, and total recommendations for your business.

Just like that, your name is reaching more people who may be interested in your services.

For Improved Business Recommendations on Facebook

  1. Make sure your Facebook page is active.
  2. Always list an updated bio, web URL, and contact information on your Facebook page.
  3. Include a call-to-action button on your Facebook page.
  4. Feature a quality profile photo that accurately reflects your business persona.
  5. Boost your total recommendations by habitually asking patients or customers if they can recommend you.

NOTE: At Banyan, we are monitoring these ongoing Facebook updates and working to adjust our own platform as needed. Stand by for further notifications from us as the process evolves.

 

Ready to make the most of your Facebook recommendations and grow your online reputation? Just reach out to us at Banyan anytime—we’re happy to help.