Let’s take a hot minute to talk about ourselves as consumers. Start by thinking about the last big purchase you made for yourself. We could exaggerate, and say, pick the last purchase to think about that was over $500, like a laptop computer, or, something really exciting, like a vacuum cleaner. But, I’m going to be facetious and say you could take something smaller, too. Let’s say dry shampoo, tennis shoes, or a cleaning solution.

We’ll run through your conscious next steps. You’ve started by making a decision that you need something. Whether that’s because your house is a mess (vacuum cleaner), you hate washing your hair on a daily basis (dry shampoo), or your computer is on the outs because your toddler used it for their latest juice spill. Regardless of the stimulus, you know that you need something and you’ve started to enter “discovery mode”.

We’ll park in discovery mode for the purpose of this blog. Think about what you do when you’re in discover mode – is that discovery right before purchase in the store? Is it verbally, asking friends and family? Or is it online? Are you accessing websites to seek information about the product (regardless of how small the purchase) before you make your selection?

In Forbes earlier this year, a blog described how small businesses are thriving as a result of websites that have reviews. Not only are review sites at the core of search results (SEO, and all that jazz), they are believed. 90% of consumers are using review sites to assess purchases – and the cost of the purchase doesn’t change the discovery. If we are purchasing something large, we’ll consult a review site. If we’re grabbing a quick bite to eat in an unknown area? We’ll consult a review site. If we’re desperately seeking the right dry shampoo so that we can be lazy? (You’re sensing a trend…) we’ll consult a review site.

And if we’re making one of the most stressful decisions in our life? Something that is associated with our well-being? Our livelihood? Our children, our spouse, our stress and anxiety? Our career? Yes - we are going to consult a review site.

But you know that. You know reviews matter – and the downside is that they matter regardless of how true, exaggerated, or straight false they are. So, how do you leverage them? How do you make the most of the reality that review sites are here to stay (and expand, and change, and grow), when your job is related to brand management on external channels?

Deal with the nasty side of review sites.

As you saw in my previous blog (hint hint), you’ll have noticed that consumers are looking for detailed, accurate, honest information.  In fact, what’s even more fascinating is that Amazon has structured their entire review platform to this reality. They highlight the most “helpful” positive reviews, and they highlight the most “helpful” negative.

It means, just like the studies show, that people want the good AND the bad. So, you’ve got negative reviews – what do you do with them? First and foremost, you leverage them for your content strategy.

Negative reviews exist for a lot of reasons, and each has a unique way to manage, respond, and strategize them.

Responding to Reviews.

I’ll start with the first, and possibly most controversial, option. There are a lot of “feels” when it comes to responding to reviews, and I’ll put myself out on a line here in saying, I, myself, am conflicted about the right approach.

The first side of the coin is that when someone is writing a review on an anonymous site, they aren’t looking for a resolution. At the time they have come to write a review, they have most likely attempted some other form of resolution, first, and have received a less than stellar solution to that attempt. When they come to Glassdoor, they are anonymously venting to share their experience for a different motive – to impact the candidate.

With that in mind, it seems rather self-serving when an employer responds, doesn’t it?

But, there’s a flipside here. Studies show that candidates view the employer in a positive light when the company responds to that employee – sure, it’s Glassdoor’s study, and yes, I have some doubts about the data, but crossover from consumer expectations is similar. But there’s a very fine tight rope that you’ll have to navigate.

You’ll have to craft a response that serves the employee, portrays your organization in a genuine light, and serves to educate your candidate base.

Good luck, my friend.

But luck aside – there’s a way to do this and it all stems from the intent of providing a resolution. Yes, I said above that the employee is most likely not seeking one, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t take one anyway.

This resolution has to do two things: it has to give them an action to take, and it has to acknowledge and validate the review they have written. Note – validate doesn’t mean “agree”, but it means you have to acknowledge and validate that those feelings are real regardless of how they came about, and regardless of how you feel about them.

Maybe that’s when luck comes in. Is your company willing to be vulnerable online in a way that acknowledges difficult feelings?

But, perhaps, my favorite part about responding to negative reviews is the chance to shed some light on a misconception (or a reality) in a way that let’s candidates opt in or out of your organization.

Example – one of my all-time favorite company responses to a review was on a defense contractors Glassdoor page. The review talked about the work environment – they said it was stale, dark, and didn’t have a lot of natural light, making the environment feel a bit like Office Space.

The response?

You’re right. Our work environment is a bit dark, stale, and corporate. We’re in the process of giving many of our work spaces a lift but we work on top secret projects for the military, and there will always be some limitations to how many windows we can have on our building.

Why is this my favorite? Two reasons – it acknowledges and validates the experience, but it also provides some information about a known negative that isn’t likely to change. This information is incredibly valuable to candidates – if they need natural light and work environment is big to them, maybe this isn’t the right place for them to come.

And that’s okay. We are all so adamant about getting candidates to opt in, but I think that’s naïve. We need candidates to opt out too. That’s how you start getting to quality candidates – good matches for the organizations through the good and bad. The true marriage of company and employee where your values, mission, and expectations align.

Leveraging the reviews as intel.

Let’s say your company doesn’t want to respond to reviews. OR, let’s say your company wants to respond to reviews but also to do more with the content. You have some more options.

But first, let’s back up and look at the data.

We’re a company of over 5,000 employees. We have about 300 reviews. That’s 6% of our employee population – and that’s without considering the fact that maybe half of these reviews are current employees. So, let’s be gracious and say 3% of our actual current employees providing this data.  

Some of you may be in statistics. Some may be data fanatics. Some may hate data but have realized that it’s essential for your job regardless. So, at this point, you might say “this data isn’t statistically valid.”

To which I respond: I don’t care.

I really don’t. The data doesn’t need to be statistically valid to be believed. I mean, c’mon, look at political ads. I don’t care if it’s valid, I just care that my candidates think it is.

And because it’s not statistically valid, and because your company might have a method of collecting information that is, it might not be enough data to fuel or inspire internal or systemic changes, policies, and procedures.

What do you do with it, then? If my candidates are accessing this as a point in their discovery about my company, how do I utilize it to nudge my content strategy elsewhere to address these concerns in appropriate channels?

Topic trends.

On a weekly basis, we track what reviews are emerging on our employee review sites across Glassdoor, Indeed, FairyGodBoss, InHerSight, Quora, Comparably, and more. Within these reviews, we track more than rank – we look at what kind of themes, or topics, are being brought up in this environment. Are employees expressing concerns around work/life balance? Micromanagement? Training and development, or lack thereof?

We take these trends and modify our editorial calendars. This goes back to what prompts a negative review – sometimes these reviews are published because they don’t know what other resources are available to them. This is your opportunity to help educate your current employee populace, but also to correct, or impact your candidate’s perception of the same problem – and we leverage other channels to do so, knowing that candidates (and employees) are looking those places as well.

And no, I’m not asking you to go to LinkedIn to say in your company’s status update “we DO have work life balance”. Instead, ask your employees to help tell that story, and publish through their words. And do it subtlety, honestly, and genuinely – because consumers (candidates) will see right through anything else. Find pictures of your employees volunteering at work.

Your content strategy should be fluid, mobile, responsive. You should update your topics based on what you know your candidates are being exposed to.

Reviews are tough, but they are an incredible wealth of information that should empower (not scare) your content strategy.

After many years organizing communication efforts for local, federal, and international campaigns, Lindsey gave up her constituents for candidates upon entering the recruitment marketing world. For seven years, she worked at Symphony Talent, assisting Fortune 100 companies with their recruitment marketing content marketing strategy, attracting talent to organizations by encouraging the right fit for both the company and the candidate. She now manages a Global Employer Brand Program for Palo Alto Networks, innovating new ways to reach out to candidates, leveraging regional stories, an improved candidate experience, and pushing the boundaries of how we think about the recruitment and candidate process. 

In her allusive “free time” she can be found picking up new hobbies like Girl Scouts leadership, reading allthe books, speaking for her cat, and asking her kids for the 100th time to pick up their toys. Follow her on Twitter @LindseySanford