Over the past five years, online review sites have become so important to local businesses, including cannabis dispensaries, that a majority of the most successful dispensaries in the country appoint a team member (usually someone with a marketing or customer service background) to take ownership of the channel.

Why do they do this? Well, online reviews affect virtually every part of your marketing strategy. You could spend a ton of money on marketing and promotion, but if your reviews aren’t great or if you don’t have many current reviews, you’re wasting marketing dollars.

Not convinced? Here are three reasons dispensary online reviews and reputation management matter.

1. It’s The New Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Online reviews, along with social media, have in many ways become the new word-of-mouth marketing. Your buyers are online hanging out on Facebook or Instagram talking about brands they like or don’t like, and they’re leaving reviews on sites like Yelp and Google (Google My Business) as well as on cannabis industry-specific sites like Leafly and Weedmaps.

Online reviews are verifiable social proof. It’s one thing to hear from a friend at the coffee shop about a dispensary, however, most people still check out a company’s reviews before they decide to visit the store.

Over a short period of time, online reviews in the cannabis industry seem ubiquitous. While we don’t have specific statistics for the industry, a recent Forbes article reported that 92% of consumers read online reviews and an astounding 88% trust reviews just as much as a recommendation from a friend or colleague.

2. Positive Reviews Can Boost Your Business, While Negative Reviews Can Kill a Business

If you’re part of the 92% of consumers who read online reviews — and we assume you are — you know how poorly negative reviews reflect on a business. Most people are looking for businesses with at least 4 stars or more, maybe 3.5. If you’re average is lower than 4 stars, you’re leaving a lot of money on the table. If you’re lower than 3.5, then it’s mission critical that you take steps to improve the customer experience and put together a plan to encourage more reviews.

But it doesn’t end with negative vs positive reviews. Many consumers — cannabis buyers included — also look at the number of reviews you have and how current they are. Even if the reviews you have are mostly positive, if you don’t have many reviews, consumers become suspicious. They may think your cannabis dispensary can’t be that great because no one seems to be going to it. Likewise, they’re going to assume the sample size of reviewers is too small to know whether your dispensary is, in fact, a good dispensary. And if you don’t have current reviews, it looks stale, and buyers will similarly be skeptical.

3. Online Reviews Influence Your Google Rankings

You’ve probably seen the Google 3-Pack when you search for a local business. You may wonder how a business gets in the Google 3-Pack. There are a number of reasons relating to effective SEO, but the major review factors Google looks at include the overall sentiment of your reviewers, the number of reviews you have, and how consistent and current your reviews are.

Google wants to provide the most relevant search results so they try to think like a consumer when they develop their algorithms. It makes a lot of sense, right? Search should ultimately benefit the consumer.

How to Manage Online Reviews

It may seem like a daunting task to manage reviews, especially if you don’t have a dedicated marketing person or you’re sharing the responsibilities across your team, but it can be easier than you think.

Here are a few tips:

1. Claim or create your dispensaries business page.

You’ll need to claim (or create) your business page on the major review sites, especially Google, Yelp, Facebook, Leafly, and Weedmaps.

2. Track your reviews.

Most of the review sites allow you to receive notifications when someone leaves a review, but you have to join the site first (see step 1). You can also set up Google Alerts to track mentions of your dispensary anytime your business brand comes up on a webpage, in an article, in a discussion, on social media, etc..

Pro Tip: You can also use Google Reviews to monitor your competition and industry trends.

3. Assign one person to have ownership over reviews if possible.

Too many cooks spoil the broth, so make a single person on your team responsible for managing reviews. That doesn’t mean they have to do all the work, but the buck stops with them. Otherwise, if everyone has the responsibility, the fact is, no one has the responsibility.

A final bit of advice. You know to respond to negative reviews, but what you may not know is that you should also respond to positive reviews. Responding to positive reviews encourages more people to leave positive reviews, boosts your SEO (search) rankings, and promotes engagement. If someone leaves a review on Google, they will be notified when you respond to their review.

If you’d like to learn more about developing a digital marketing strategy for your dispensary (including SEO and online review management), visit Foottraffik, where you can download the Beginner’s Guide to Dispensary Marketing. Best of all: it’s free!

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