Recently, I spoke to someone who was incredulous that a Bluffton business had reviews from people from distant places. I’m not that surprised. This may be a small town, but being located on I-75, near U.S. 30, and home to Bluffton University, Bluffton sees its fair share of travelers. It is a small world after all.

Do you use TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google, Facebook, or other social media to read and write business reviews? I’d love to see this virtual buzz benefit our smaller, independent businesses and non-profits that don’t have big advertising budgets or the advantage of a famous name.

Bluffton Restaurants on TripAdvisor
Click to view Bluffton restaurants on TripAdvisor

The potential for negative reviews can discourage businesses from embracing these marketing tools, but what’s the tradeoff? A 6-year study of Yelp.com ratings by a Harvard Business School professor showed that reviews for chain restaurants were ineffective, but that improved Yelp ratings led to substantial revenue increases for independent restaurants. 

My enthusiasm for online reviews comes from personal experience. I turn to TripAdvisor to find restaurants, stores, and vacation activities. When there are a good number of reviews, the ratings are very reliable. And I’m happy to reciprocate. When I really enjoy a meal, a product, or an experience, I like to share my appreciation online. Perhaps because I now have fewer bad experiences or because my mother taught me “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything,” I’ve never submitted a negative review.

The fly in the ointment is these online entries and reviews don’t appear by magic. Businesses need to create and maintain their listings and Facebook accounts. They might even want to do this in self-defense. I see many, many misspelled business names. 

Customers also have to provide genuine reviews. The under-30 crowd does this somewhat automatically, but older folks like me have to develop the habit.

Travelers use reviews in self-defense, to avoid lumpy beds and lackluster meals. So why shouldn’t locals use them proactively? The next time you patronize a favorite local business, remember that you can vote with your dollar and with your online review or rating.

P.S. Read about the 2011 Harvard study of Yelp.com reviews at www.hbs.edu.

Google shopping
Click to Google “shopping near Bluffton, Ohio.”
YelpShoppingBluffton
Click for Yelp “Shopping Bluffton, OH 45817.”