I’ve been doing some research about Angie’s List and other consumer-oriented social evaluation Web services, and I don’t like what I’m seeing. It’s far too easy for someone with little to no knowledge of a trade to turn a molehill into a mountain and ruin the reputation of an otherwise creditable contractor.

In just a few minutes of looking, I uncovered a wide range of unfair commentary on the work of what looked to be good, reputable companies. One consumer gave an over-the-top, glowing, “raving fan” written review of a startup father/son remodeling team that ended with a “B” letter grade overall. What? Though a “B” grade might have sounded fair to those homeowners, in that particular town everyone else scored multiple “A’s,” singling out the father/son team as the worst operator on the block.

If you really are a bad operator, the Internet ensures that you have no place to hide. That’s great for our industry. But if you’re a good, reliable operator looking to protect your reputation online, the best thing you can do is to fight fire with fire: Encourage customers (and even prospects, if they’ve had a positive experience with your company) to post positive comments about you online, and develop your own network of supporters and fans who will come to your rescue when something unfair appears.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Be proactive. If Angie’s List (or any other competing service) is popular in your area, treat it for the make-or-break potential it can have on your business. Educate your prospects and customers about the various online services and encourage them to join and participate in your support. If you’ve done a good job for someone, there is nothing wrong with asking them to say so, and (without telling them what to write) giving them some examples of the kind of language that will be helpful to you. I’d go so far as to have a hand-out ready to distribute with screenshots and instructions.
  • Play the numbers game. The best way to counteract a “C” review is with several dozen bearing an “A+.” This is no different from asking for any other referral, but you have to do it more often, and earlier, beginning with people who didn’t purchase from you but were treated professionally during the sales process. Your goal is not only to score the highest marks; you want the highest number of reviews overall, which will demonstrate that you are a market leader. If you don’t take the lead here, you’re leaving your future at the whim of that customer who thinks they’re doing you a big favor by giving you a “B.”
  • Blog it. Start and maintain your own blog and update it daily. Show your work life from your perspective, warts and all, and show how your company solves problems and makes things right every time. Make sure that all of your customers, subcontractors, and suppliers know about your blog, have added it to their “favorites,” and can comment freely in your support when necessary.
  • Participate. Note that I didn’t say “advertise” — there’s a huge difference. Your aim is to become a trusted expert, thought leader, and regular contributor, adding value to home improvement forums and discussion groups on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and any other place where your prospects and customers might be hanging out and/or following your posts.
  • Leverage your posts. Instead of just “tweeting” on Twitter or randomly posting on a blog, use services such as HelloTxt to update multiple social networks and your blog simultaneously, thus extending the reach and readership of every post.

Most important, always do the right thing and take care of your customers. But don’t do it in a vacuum. In the social-network–driven world, it’s perfectly OK (and necessary) to ask everyone you’ve kept happy to blow their horns for you.
--Joe Stoddard is an industry consultant helping remodelers be successful with their technology. Reach him at Twitter, www.twitter.com/moucon, or at jstoddard@mountainconsulting.com.

This is a longer version of an article that appeared in the September issue of REMODELING.