By Kristy Bonner, Account Executive and Digital Strategist of Foster Marketing

Ever had a bad business experience…and then told someone about it?

If not, you’re in a minority. All of us at one time or another have had to wait in a long line, received poor customer service or felt ripped off. When a store doesn’t carry the brand we want, we complain to our friends. When we have to wait too long in line, we warn our neighbors not to shop there.

Today, not only do we share these negative reviews with a handful of family members and friends, but we can also register our complaints on Facebook to our 900+ friends and friends of friends. Or we can Tweet in a pithy comment on Twitter for the world to see.

No industry is exempt from being reviewed. If you provide a product or service, someone somewhere is talking about you. And that can be bad news for your business if you’re not managing customer expectations or acknowledging the online chatter.

There is a very shiny silver lining to this cloud. When things go well we are even more excited about sharing good reviews like “have great products,” “provide quality service” and “are customer-focused.”

Many deals and decisions in the oil and gas industry are still based on long-time relationships and referrals. Why does Operator A only use Service Company B for its Gulf of Mexico projects? Because somewhere along the way, someone gave them a good review.

Social media is changing how we do business. About 83 percent of online buyers said they trust recommendations from friends; and more than 50 percent say they even trust reviews from strangers, according to a survey by Forrester Research.

Shouldn’t you know what people are saying about your company, your products and your services? Are you getting good reviews from current and former clients? If you aren’t sure, take a look online because chances are the people you are selling to already have.

Last year, a blogger approached one of our international oil and gas clients about the origin of its company name. The blogger emailed this company, seeking a response for what could be a rather unflattering posting about the etymology of the company’s name and its mythological meaning.

Our client could have handled this situation in several ways:

– First, he could have ignored the email completely. By deleting this one email, the blogger would have posted this item and likely would have started a chain reaction of other posts and emails from friends, colleagues and customers about the negative statements on the blog… likely with a line that said, “the company refused to respond.” Not exactly what you want customers and prospects to read.

– Second, he could have responded in a not-so-nice or threatening manner. This option would likely have led to a similar outcome, only the blogger would have added a bit more bite to his blog post.

– Instead, our client chose a better alternative. He responded and started a dialogue with the blogger. He offered information about his company, what they do and how the company name came to be.

By participating in the discussion about his company, our client played an active role in protecting his company’s good name, and the blogger opted not to post anything negative about the company and its name.

In the B2B arena, participating in these online conversations is becoming even more important. About 95 percent of corporate purchasing agents say they use the web to research products and services before making a selection, according to a study by research firm, Enquiro. Shouldn’t you know what they’ll see about your business?

It’s worth your time to take a look at what your customers see when they look you up on the Internet and identify opportunities for your company to join this online conversation.

In addition to the five Ps of marketing we’ve always lived by (product, price, position, promotion and people), now there’s a sixth P — “participation” — that demands our attention.

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