If you’ve ever questioned the necessity of regularly engaging with your guests via online reviews and other social media, findings from a recent analysis should convince you that these reviews can sway opinion – and revenue – for good or bad.

Research from Xenial and Merchant Centric shows a whopping 66% jump in online reviews for U.S. businesses over the past year (see the graph below). Among restaurants in the top 10 most reviewed categories, those numbers grew 64% between March 2017 and March 2018.

Graph1_Online-Reviews

The top restaurant types most likely to be reviewed online were steakhouses, seafood and American concepts.

Restaurants are ahead of other industries in leveraging this guest outreach. According to the data, the restaurant industry is far more proactive in responding to guests’ online reviews. From March 2017 – March 2018 alone, there was a 29% increase in restaurants responding to online reviews; and overall they respond to guests at a 46% higher rate than all other businesses (see graph below).

Graph3bars_Restaurants-Responding

When it comes to choosing a restaurant, consumers are relying on online reviews and social media for recommendations. And the impact of those reviews has a more palpable effect: a one-star bump in a Yelp rating can translate into a 5- to 9-percent increase in revenue, according to a report in Harvard Business Review.

Reviews are especially powerful because people consider them reliable, and mobile access has made them ubiquitous. According to ReportLinker, 78 percent of people believe online reviews about businesses are reliable—many of them as trustworthy as a friend’s opinion.

These numbers underscore the importance of staying engaged with your customers online. According to the Xenial/Merchant Centric data, a growing number of restaurants recognize this and are replying to guests’ online reviews at an increasing rate. Forty-one percent of restaurants with reviews are already engaging, which is a considerably higher rate than for all other types of business.

If your restaurant has been lax about its online reputation, that potential to capture additional revenue is a compelling reason to change your tune. An online review is the modern version of word-of-mouth, and the internet has extended its reach far beyond any individual’s circle of acquaintances. Today, a single review or post on a social media platform like Facebook, TripAdvisor or Google can reach hundreds, thousands, even millions of users. One good—or bad—experience can have a viral impact on your business.

Extending your brand experience beyond your physical location by embracing online reputation as a powerful marketing tool is a smart move for any restaurant, or for any business, for that matter.

If you would like to view the full research report, please fill out the form below.

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