Think big. Be different.

Stake Your Claim: The Homestead Act For Small Businesses

By Julie Neidlinger on May 11, 2012 in News.

The Homestead Act is alive and well on the Internet. Stake your claim!

The land was wide, open space, and the possibilities were endless. It was almost daunting, settling and starting brand new.

The Homestead Act of 1862 encouraged settlers to start a farm by freely giving them the land. The settlers could have the land provided they did three things: file an application, improve the land, and file for deed of title. That wide, open space was theirs for the taking if they wanted to stake their claim and fence it in.

The Internet is the new wide, open space, the possibilities still endless. Any businesses who don’t stake their claim are going to be run over the by the wagon trains of consumers heading online.

The Barbed Wire Of Feedback

Feedback can be positive and negative. Positive feedback is easy to deal with, but negative feedback puts fear in a business owner’s heart.

Feedback from customers is found in a lot of places, not just our website’s online help section. People are less likely to go through the trouble of voicing a complaint through the channels we set up, but instead turn to a favorite or convenient social media tool. With the explosive use of smartphones, customers are hopping onto their favorite app and telling the world what they think about our business.

It’s bad enough when we know about it, but not knowing about it and failing to identify a problem or quell a tide of disgruntled customers leaves us at the mercy of their barbed comments. If we don’t know where feedback is found, we won’t know what’s being said.

Having said all of that, we want feedback, negative or positive. It gives us a chance to find out what we’re doing right, what we’re doing wrong, and to show our customers how great we are about caring what they think and responding to them.

Stake Your Claim

If we own a business, we need to hop on the wagon train and stake our claim on the location-based social networks.

Most businesses set up an account on Twitter and Facebook, and, if they’re wise, use them more for just blasting out marketing information. They also use those networks to pay attention to feedback and respond to it. However, location-based social networking is where a lot of customers go to leave reviews and many businesses aren’t paying attention there.

For example, the visitor in town stops by our restaurant, and has a negative experience. She probably will leave a review, using her smartphone, but since it’s a review and not really a direct complaint, she’s not going to use Twitter or Facebook. She’ll use something better suited to what she wants to do. If we haven’t claimed our business on that social network, we’ll never know what she said, and we’ll never be able to respond.


Yelp is a free online city guide that helps its users find places to eat, shop, drink, relax, and play. It provides recommendations based on the user’s location and opinions. Yelp is known for an active user-review base.


Yelp isn’t all rants. People really do use it to share positive experiences, too.

Claim your Yelp listing here. You can also sign up for a free business account here.

Google Places

Google, being a huge provider of search and other content, makes a convincing argument for claiming our business on Google Places. Google Places provides many features that a business will want to benefit from. It improves our exposure from search traffic, provides a map with directions to customers, allows us to add photos of our business, and include relevant information about our business.

And, importantly, it allows people to leave feedback. While we can’t control what people are saying, and we can’t delete it (read what Google has to say about that here), we can at least be aware of it.  If we’ve claimed our place, we can also respond to it.

Find out how to claim your Google Place here. [UPDATE: Google has phased Google Places out and begun the transition to Google+ pages. Find out more about this here.]


Foursquare is another very popular location-based social network. It allows users to check in and receive badges based on their check-ins. It encourages photographs and repeat visits. This service has expanded beyond the original check-in aspect, now offering deeper local search and things like restaurant menus and reviews. Foursquare makes it easy for users to check-in and be active, so we don’t want to miss out on claiming our business on Foursquare. Plus, we can promote the fact that we are a Foursquare check-in site and use that to our advantage, too.

You can claim your Foursquare venue here.

Other Review Sites

Restaurants, in particular, will want to be sure to claim their listings on sites like TripAdvisor and Urbanspoon. Check them out. See what services we can connect (a Twitter feed, for example). Get our menu listed and photos posted.

Bust Sod, Not Heads

Being a homesteader means we break new ground, not heads. When we respond to negative feedback on these location-based social networks, we want to do it right.

Encourage Positive Reviews

Encourage your customers to leave positive reviews. Reviews are averaged, and while a negative review is tough to read, having more positive reviews will outweigh the negative. However, don’t bribe, or offer anything that might be construed as “payment” for a positive review. If your business is doing a good job and you have happy customers, encourage them to share that online. Make it easy for them on your website or email newsletter, guiding them on how they can go about it. Use the incentives options many of these location-based networks offer business owners. Helping your customers save money with a coupon or other deal when they check-in isn’t going to spur negative feelings for your business.

Respond Professionally

When faced with a negative review, respond professionally. Don’t be defensive, don’t look to start a flame war online. Your response can turn the tide, change opinions, and serve as a stronger presence than a negative review if done right. Apologize, and stress that you care about your customer’s experience and that you’re trying to make it better. If this is a bit much to choke down, wait a day after the initial reading of the review before responding so you get your immediate reaction out of your system. While we say it’s business, and not personal, some reviews can be tough to take. That’s OK.

Flag The Inappropriate

There are people who are abusing the review system. Maybe a competitor has employees leaving negative reviews, or you feel someone is somehow gaming the system. Flag the review, and let the social network handle it in whatever way and timeframe they choose to. That’s all you can do. By no means should you participate in like behavior.

The Three Homestead Requirements

Just like the original homesteaders of the 1800′s had three requirements, businesses today have three requirements when it comes to the Internet:

  1. Find The Feedback
  2. Claim Our Listing
  3. Respond

It’s not enough to just open our doors anymore. Our customers have a voice beyond our customer service counter. They’re tearing across the Internet landscape. Stake your claim and be ready for them.

  • Gareth Wilson

    As ever a massive pile of top quality helpful information. Foursquare looks particularly interesting.

  • Mark Smith