Green: Movement to build a digital presence

When you don’t know about some place or thing, what’s the first step you take? Your answer, without any real debate, is probably “Google it.” Google, for better or worse, has consumed how we find, define, and research almost everything, especially a person, place or company we’re going to be doing business with.

That’s why a good rating on Google is essential for local businesses. If a potential customer hears about your business, or is just searching for someone who does what you do, they will most likely first look you up on Google. Especially if they’re from out of town or a new resident to the area. If you have three stars or below, a negative rating, that will probably hold sway with someone who has never heard of you before. Just as bad is no stars. It’s almost like you’re not legitimate. 

For many small businesses in the area, there are no Google ratings. I say this as one of those businesses. And, frankly, it’s kind of embarrassing. How did we end up here, without any real response? Well, it could be that what you do doesn’t really elicit a review response from customers/consumers. Option two is that we simply don’t ask for a review. Or it could be, what I believe is most likely, that our culture in northwest Louisiana means consumers don’t really engage with our business community in this way. 

We tend to put our weight behind a local business through word of mouth and social media. But that type of engagement isn’t thorough enough, and is simply not how things are done in this day and age. And that goes just beyond Google reviews, digital interactivity has to be a priority. Period.

That’s why it was so heartening to see a concerted effort last month to try and change it. The Be Bossier campaign, by way of the Bossier Chamber of Commerce, held a Google Review Party for engaged residents around town to review a slew of businesses across various industries — restaurants, entertainment, retailers, health care providers, etc.

The idea was simple: Get a group of people together who care about the area, whip out a phone/tablet/laptop, search for a local business in a certain category, and then leave a review. It was a true event with refreshments, drinks, door prizes and a fun atmosphere.

But the real benefit of the party was boosting the area’s presence on the predominant search engine in our lives. Now, businesses have more data for visitors and potential customers to make an informed decision. On a deeper level, it created a personal connection between customer and businesses, building loyalty between them and also boosting the business’ profile. 

To the uninitiated, this may seem silly or overblown. But for an area to continue to grow and thrive, it has to attract new blood. That new blood comes in the form of young people who engage with businesses in this very way. For example, a new employee at GDIT relocates his or her life from the Beltway to Bossier City and wants to find a great Italian restaurant, and when they turn to Google to give them not just one, but multiple, recommendations they find businesses with no ratings. It doesn’t look good.

So while things like the review party show a progressive attitude about how to promote the area, in the meantime, we can all take a few steps to get the ball rolling. First, make a promo flyer asking for a Google review and post it around your business. Second, cultivate an email list and send out the ask digitally with an incentive — “Leave a Google Review and get 10% off your next purchase.” Lastly, get your own network to contribute. Ask family, friends, loyal customers, clients to leave a review.  

As the Be Bossier Google Review Party shows, I and many others care about the future of Bossier and its business community. Let’s leverage that passion and help ourselves out at the same time. It’s all part of living up to the notion that “Bossier Innovates.”

Sean Green is publisher and editor of BIZ. Magazine.