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Online reviews shape buyer decisions

An effective strategy for responding to online reviews is vital for business and can help companies enhance their reputation and improve operations.

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Consumers are increasingly using online reviews as their primary source of recommendations for goods and services. Engaging effectively with online reviews is an important way for companies to improve relationships and customer loyalty with existing customers and to attract new business. The data and insights gained from reviews can also be used to improve operations internally.  

“Most businesses will have a good experience by opening themselves up to reviews on social media – around 80 percent of reviews are positive,” says Ashleigh Wainstein, director of Social Places.

She says that, realistically, there’s nowhere for businesses to hide online and managing and responding to reviews on social media, even if they are negative, has a positive outcome.

“Reviews are important for brands because they create credibility in the mind of consumers – 84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation,” she says. “People looking for recommendations online typically won’t approach a business with fewer than four out of five stars – they’ll simply look elsewhere.

“Generally, consumers will search online for a business near them and these proximity stats have shot up 500 percent in the last two years. When those listings are displayed on search results, the one with the highest review score will get the click to call or navigate to the location.

“Businesses accept the need for reviews and understand that they should embrace them. Not having a review strategy is the equivalent of consumers calling a customer care line and having no-one answer the phone. Companies that don’t monitor reviews lose the chance to win back negative customers as well as get feedback from those who are happy.

“They also lose out on valuable business insights.  Step one is to acknowledge the customers’ complaints or compliments by taking note of feedback from reviews. Instead of using mystery shoppers, for example; decision-makers can use review data from thousands of people to identify what is working in their business –  and what isn’t. It helps them gauge how the company is performing.”

However, the numbers that large companies and brands have to deal with are substantial. In one month alone, some fast food brands in South Africa can receive up to 30 000 reviews.

“From the data we collect we can categorise review sentiment into primary and secondary, positive and negative,” says Wainstein. “We can tell a restaurant, for example, that its customers are making positive mentions about its food and that they are specifically speaking about menu variety and burgers are its most popular menu item.  We can also identify whether customers are most unhappy about service and waiting times.

“For retail chains, we can provide similar information at both a brand level and store level.  We can tell which stores got the worst reviews, what the issues were, and how many pieces of customer feedback they received. The company can then arrange for better training based on these categories, and track improvements over time.”

Wainstein says brands like Spur answer 100 percent of their reviews, as do RocoMamas, Panarottis and John Dory’s. Ocean Basket is also very proactive in answering all customer feedback – from customer reviews on social media to feedback from their website.  

“When dealing with reviews it is key that a response sounds like it’s personal and that the customer feels that they have been heard. We have dynamic response templates based on the sentiment categories of the review which we use as the basis but we then add a personal touch on top of it. Even though we’re starting to use higher levels of artificial intelligence to process and respond to consumers, there’s always a human, personal touch on top – responses go through a check process before they are published.

“Responses to good reviews should include strategic keywords that boost search rankings. With bad reviews it’s important to provide balanced responses that have strong calls to action, taking the conversation offline. All industries – from restaurants and retail to financial services and telecommunications are showing growth in online consumer interaction, so the effective monitoring and management of online reviews is crucial.”

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Small SA town goes smartphone-only

Vodacom partners with farming business to upgrade all residents of Wakkerstroom from 2G devices to smartphones

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All residents of the small town of Wakkerstroom, which straddles Mpumalanga and kwaZulu-Natal provinces, have had their 2G feature phones upgraded to 3G devices.

The initiative is a result of Vodacom partnering with BPG Langfontein, a farming business that employs the majority of the people living in Wakkerstroom. It is now the first smartphone-only town in South Africa. This is a model the network provider says it hopes to replicate across the country as part of its mission to connect people who live in deep rural areas and are still dependent on 2G networks.

Wakkerstroom, is the second oldest town in Mpumalanga province, on the KwaZulu-Natal border, 27 km east of Volksrust and 56 km south-east of Amersfoort.  

“There are growing expectations for big corporates the size of Vodacom to serve a social purpose, and for us to use our resources and core capabilities to make a significant contribution in transforming the lives of ordinary people,” says Zakhele Jiyane, Managing Executive for Vodacom Mpumalanga. “We are helping to remove communication barriers, so that citizens in the area can be part of the digital revolution and reap the associated benefits. By moving the more than 1400 farm workers from 2G to 3G devices, this will also free much needed spectrum and this spectrum can be re-farmed to provide for faster networks such as 3G and 4G.

“Crucially, the move opens a new world of connectivity for farm workers in Wakkerstroom. As a result, most people in the area will now be able to use the Vodacom network to connect on the net and access online government services, eHealth services such as Mum&Baby and eCommerce. Learners can now surf the internet for the first time and access Vodacom’s eSchool free of charge and those who are actively looking for jobs can start using their smartphones and tablets to apply for jobs over the internet on Vodacom’s zero-rated career sites. This will be key for driving growth to the benefit of people living in this area.”

Vodacom has already deployed 4G base stations in Wakkestroom as part of this initiative.

For the next phase of this project, says Vodacom, it is going to educate the farm workers about data and the benefits of the Internet. Vodacom will also look at various ways in which it can help empower members of this community in areas of education, gender-based violence and health.

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Facebook fact-checking goes to 10 more African countries

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Facebook today announced the expansion of its Third-Party Fact-Checking programme to 10 additional African countries, which now join  Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Cameroon and Senegal in the project,

In partnership with Agence France-Presse (AFP), the France 24 Observers, Pesa Check and Dubawa, this programme forms part of its work in helping assess the accuracy and quality of news people find on Facebook, whilst reducing the spread of misinformation on its platform.

Working with a network of fact-checking organizations, certified by the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network, third-party fact-checking will now be available in Ethiopia, Zambia, Somalia and Burkina Faso through AFP, Uganda and Tanzania through both Pesa Check and AFP, Democratic Republic of Congo and Cote d’Ivoire through the France 24 Observers and AFP, Guinea Conakry through the France 24 Observers, and Ghana through Dubawa.

Feedback from the Facebook community is one of many signals Facebook uses to raise potentially false stories to fact-checkers for review. Local articles will be fact-checked alongside the verification of photos and videos. If one of our fact-checking partners identifies a story as false, Facebook will show it lower in News Feed, significantly reducing its distribution.

Kojo Boakye, Facebook Head of Public Policy, Africa, said: “The expansion of third-party fact-checking to now cover 15 countries in a little over a year shows firsthand our commitment and dedication to the continent, alongside our recent local language expansion as part of this programme. Taking steps to help tackle false news on Facebook is a responsibility we take seriously, we know misinformation is a problem, and these are important steps in continuing to address this issue. We know that third-party fact-checking alone is not the solution, it is one of many initiatives and programmes we are investing in to help to improve the quality of information people see on Facebook. While we’ve made great progress, we will keep investing to ensure Facebook remains a place for all ideas, but not for the spread of false news.”

When third-party fact-checkers fact-check a news story, Facebook will show these in Related Articles immediately below the story in News Feed. Page Admins and people on Facebook will also receive notifications if they try to share a story or have shared one in the past that’s been determined to be false, empowering people to decide for themselves what to read, trust, and share.

Providing fact-checking in English and French across eight countries, Phil Chetwynd, AFP Global News Director said: “AFP is delighted to be expanding its fact-checking project with Facebook. We are known for the high quality of our journalism from across Africa and we will be leveraging our unparalleled network of bureaus and journalists on the continent to combat misinformation.”

Eric Mugendi, Managing Editor from Pesa Check who will provide fact-checking services in Swahili and English added: “Social networks like Facebook haven’t just changed how Africans consume the news. Social media is often the primary access to digital content or the ‘Internet’ for many Africans. They shape our perceptions of the world, our public discourse, and how we interact with public figures. This project helps us dramatically expand our fact-checking to debunk claims that could otherwise cause real-world harm. The project helps us respond more quickly and directly. We’re seeing real positive results in our interactions with both publishers and the public itself. The project also helps our fact-checks reach a far larger audience than we would otherwise. This has helped us better understand the information vacuum and other viral dynamics that drive the spread of false information in Africa. Our growing impact is a small but tangible contribution to better informed societies in Africa.”

Caroline Anipah, Programme Officer, Dubawa (Ghana) said: “Dubawa is excited to be in Ghana where the misinformation and disinformation have become widespread as a result of technological advancement and increasing internet penetration. Dubawa intends to raise the quality of information available to the public with the ultimate aim of curbing the spread of misinformation and disinformation and promoting good governance and accountability.”

Derek Thomson, editor-in-chief of the France 24 Observers, said: “Our African users are constantly sending us questionable images and messages they’ve received via social media, asking us ‘Is this true? Can you check it?’ It’s our responsibility as fact-checking journalists to verify the information that’s circulating, and get the truth back out there. Participating in the Facebook programme helps ensure that our fact-checks are reaching the people who shared the false news in the first place.”

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