More threads by Garrett Sussman

Mar 15, 2016
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Agency or DIY? The Value Proposition of Online Reviews (and the Terrifying Cost of Failure)


"I don't need you, I can do it myself."

When it comes to online reviews, many organizations feel they can do it themselves. They think they have everything they need to manage their online reviews in-house. It makes sense then, that some clients are hesitant to work with an agency or consultant.

"It's just asking for and responding to reviews. How hard can it be?"

We don't need an agency to handle this

It's how many do-it-yourselfers feel.

These do-it-yourselfers often aren't aware of the behind-the-scenes details. They don't know the work it takes to attract and promote reviews from ideal customers. They're also not aware of the finer details of a review.

Still, it doesn't mean that they're wrong. Maybe they can get the results they need without an agency or consultant.

Who's right and how can we tell?

The short answer is... it depends. In the vast majority of cases, clients are unprepared. They're not ready to promote and manage their online reviews.

What do agencies have that do-it-yourselfers don't?

A do-it-yourselfer needs several things to be successful. Their review management and marketing efforts won't be successful without the right ingredients. There's just a lot of things an agency will have that makes it tough for a do-it-yourselfer to match.

? A deep understanding of online reviews. Do-it-yourselfers knowledge would need to be T shaped. They should have a clear understanding of everything that's involved with online reviews. But they should also have deep specialties in one or two specific areas (e.g. generating reviews, crisis management or customer service).

? Relationships with powerful influencers. Experienced agencies typically have connections with power connectors, key influencers and leaders. It's something that develops due to the amount of clients these agencies serve. Why would a do-it-yourselfer even need that? Reputation management. It's easier to boost, maintain and improve your reputation when you have help from powerful friends.

? An all-purpose outreach team. This is the team that's responsible for (a.) reaching out to influencers when they need coverage for a specific client, topic, product or service. (b.) requesting comments and feedback from clients consistently and (c.) working with customer service/support teams to respond to negative reviews and blowback.

? Uniqueness in the form of a competitive advantage. This could be a unique process that enables the agency to attract more positive reviews. A strategy that uses customer reviews to attract more traffic, leads and sales. A tool, algorithm or database that allows them to guarantee a specific result. Something other agencies can't or won't do.

? Broad and specific reach. An established agency can work at the national, regional and local level. They're able to expand their client's reach, giving them access to people, places and platforms they wouldn't have on their own. They're able to use their reach to generate results rapidly. Maybe that's generating a tremendous amount of positive reviews online. Or, counteracting a wave of negative reviews.

? A concrete framework / plan. What do you say to an angry customer that's raging? How do you handle the negative reviews or fallout that stems from a potential mistake? Which reviews lead to an increase in revenue? Experienced agencies know the answers to these questions and how to deal with the problem.

When it comes to online reviews and reputation management, an agency's value proposition typically centers around three distinct areas.

1. Proprietary know-how. They're in-the-know. They know what each player in the story wants. They're able to give clients, their customers, exactly what they want, the way they want it.

2. Connections and influence. Connections take time to develop and can be lost overnight. Agencies spend time building and nurturing relationships with the people and organizations that can help their clients.

3. Training and emotional stability. It's tough to stay calm, to be focused in the face of an ambush. When customers are yelling and revenue is falling it's easy to fall apart. Experienced agencies are battle hardened. They deal with emotional volatility on a regular basis.

These ingredients are the requirements needed, whether you're an agency or do-it-yourselfer. Make no mistake, do-it-yourselfers can be successful on their own - if they have the ingredients they need.

Most don't.

Sure, large brands, the Fortune 1000 can do it on their own. But, the vast majority of these brands don't handle these details entirely on their own. They outsource the work to agencies who work on their behalf.


Specialization. Established brands recognize the value of hiring T shaped specialists. It's easier, cheaper, faster to achieve the results they're looking for when they work with specialists.

Andrew goes on to write about the relationship between your value prop as an Agency and online reviews. Read the entire post here.

Re: Agency or DIY? The Value Proposition of Online Reviews (and the Terrifying Cost o

Yikes, the Domino's and Taco Bell examples make me not want to go to a fast food restaurant. :eek:

But many great points made throughout! Thanks for sharing Garrett!
Re: Agency or DIY? The Value Proposition of Online Reviews (and the Terrifying Cost o

Enjoyed this, as I do all of Andrew's fresh and thoughtful posts. My takeaway from this one, though, isn't about whether or not you hire an ORM agency - it's about your hiring practices for your own business.

The fast food brands mentioned in this post experienced failures long before these stories went public. I can't pinpoint the exact moment of failure. Who knows? Was it the normalization of low wages creating an uncaring company culture? Poor hiring practices? Poor training practices? Poor supervision? If your employees are behaving that way, I don't believe any amount of rep or review management is the answer. You've got to fix the deep, structural, cultural problems that result in something like this taking place in a place of business.

Andrew is right that most companies will need professional assistance after a reputation disaster happens. But when public health is at risk, companies should be investing in core quality controls at every level to minimize that risk. The continuous product recalls in the US are a big, red sign that too many businesses aren't making these investments, and aren't motivated to do so.

Could it be that the reality of reviews - of the public finally having a bigger voice than brands do - will inspire big brands to invest in their employees and quality/safety? I'd love to see that happen.
Thanks, Linda! I agree, those examples were yucky, but strongly illustrate Andrew's points.
Thanks for the comment, Miriam! You highlight a really great point about actually 'fixing' the business, especially when it comes to public health. It's shocking how often we see any social media posts about disgusting kitchen conditions. These issues should be resolved without the need of someone posting an online review about it. Another related note is how unfair it is for customer support reps and employees who get the brunt of the customer anger for fundamental business issues. Customer service is an emotionally taxing job in the first place!

With regards to reviews being a stronger voice, I hope it goes in that direction, but the sexual assault reviews that were deleted from TripAdvisor makes me think that we still have a long way to go.

Hopefully we see more consumer protection result from reviews, but I'm sadly skeptical!

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