Last week, Google announced that it is reversing its policy requiring people to use their real names across its ecosystem, including Google+ and YouTube. After a couple of years of asking, begging and cajoling people to use their real names, Google has had to acknowledge that some people were never, ever going to get on board. Now, there are no more restrictions, so we can all go back to hiding behind pseudonyms.
Right away, many businesses reacted with concern. Would this new policy mean that once again, people could hide behind anonymity to leave scathing reviews on local businesses?
Well, yes. But don’t panic. For most businesses, this change is actually good news.
Most businesses already know that only a tiny percentage of customers will post reviews. Generally speaking, angry or dissatisfied customers are much more likely to review a business than merely satisfied ones. (Customers who are in love with your business or completely wowed by your service are also likely to post, though often that happens not on review sites like Google+, but instead in less visible channels such as Facebook…) The result is, one negative review can have a big impact on a small business, particularly when only a handful of reviews exist.
Allowing anonymity on Google+ will actually remove the barrier for the average customer. Those who are really angry will probably keep on posting anyway. But, Joe Q., satisfied customer number 342, may not have posted anything under his own name, simply because — let’s face it — most brands aren’t important enough to customers for them to want to share their reviews with their entire networks, or have them pop up whenever someone Googles their name. Yes, humans, like businesses, are increasingly aware of their own brand’s online reputation. A customer’s real name is a valuable brand, to be protected and carefully crafted to tell a specific story.
On the other hand, these satisfied customers may be perfectly happy to post a review under a specially-created Google+ pseudonym, particularly if you ask them nicely. This means that most businesses will have more reviews from satisfied customers to balance out those one or two angry negative reviews. As a result, they should see their star ratings and review sentiment go up. And, as we all know, ratings and reviews influence the 95% of consumers who are lurkers, and have an impact on everything from conversion rate to sale price.
Let us therefore not fear anonymity. With this policy change, Google is removing a barrier that may have been stopping your happy customers from expressing themselves. Local businesses would be best served to see this as an opportunity.