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When consumers break out their phones to search for a restaurant or retail store, almost two-thirds of them do not have a particular business in mind.

Their search will touch on an average of nine businesses and once finished, over 70% of them make contact (i.e., in-store visit, phone call, or web inquiry) directly following the search.

These mobile-centric consumers are in research mode; open to suggestion and ready to act. It’s a pivotal moment in today’s customer journey. Therefore, it is vital that brands with multiple locations are positioned well. Brands need to identify the critical purchase influencers and be ready to respond quickly.

According to a soon-to-be-released study conducted by SOCi and the Local Search Association, online reviews left by fellow customers are the #1 purchase influencer among consumers performing local searches. They drive more decisions than business location, ad campaigns, advice from friends, and even special offers and discounts. And the same study shows that local online pages are the best source for local knowledge with consumers gravitating to local pages on Facebook and Google over corporate branding sites by a factor of 2-to-1.

Are big brands putting too much emphasis on their corporate branding? It appears so. Many indicators show a disconnect between the high level of influence that local social media pages have on purchases, and the internal resources brands dedicate to managing them. To capitalize on this trend, brands need to engage the local community via their ratings and reviews on every social media page, rating site, and search page. Unfortunately many leave them to the local franchisees or management teams who may not be adequately prepared, or neglect them altogether.

Online reviews are like a garden; tend to them, and they grow, neglect them, and the weeds take over. This leaves brands open to negative reviews and comments that can spiral out of control and eat away at their business. Brands should assume that every reviewer or commenter wants to be heard and deserves a response. According to statistics reported by Social Media Today, customers who experience positive social media interactions are 3x more likely to recommend that brand. And when it comes to negative reviewers, nearly 90% of consumers report that they would change a negative review if their grievances are addressed quickly.

By managing feedback, brands also help keep average ratings above the magic 4-star mark – an important benchmark since 52% of consumers won’t engage with a business showing anything less. But the speed of feedback is also an essential factor.  The survey found that 75% of customers who post a critical review expect to hear back from the brand — and 40% want a response within 24 hours. For brands with hundreds or even thousands of social media pages servicing local brick and mortar locations, responding to every post in a timely manner is a huge bear to wrestle.

SOCi provides the platform to maintain a relationship with local communities at scale. It’s a powerful competitive advantage and a unique opportunity to “surprise and delight” your customers while the competition sends their reviews into a black hole. Our recently launched mobile app, SOCi Go gives marketers the opportunity to react and respond to customer feedback in real-time from anywhere in the world. Plus, users can create and schedule localized content and monitor data and analytics in just a few taps.

The research shows that service expectations are high and consumers want to know they are heard and cared for. By seizing on this opportunity to manage social presence and reputation on the go, multi-location marketing teams can match these expectations and be rewarded with increased engagement, ongoing loyalty and ultimately, customer conversions.

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