5 Ways to Manage Your Online Customer Reviews Without Being Really Shady

There's a lot wrong with the muddled world of online reviews. They can make or break a business, but when it comes to mitigating the sting of negative reviews -- or of not being reviewed at all -- business owners often feel helpless. And as a result, many of them turn to the dark side. Owners manipulate the system by either paying people to write fake positive reviews, or paying reputation management firms to place fraudulent reviews on popular review sites like Yelp, Insider Pages, Google and CitySearch.

While fake reviews may not be too disastrous for customers lured to try a new restaurant, coffee shop or even hair salon, what about a doctor? Luckily, our justice system is starting to catch up with the culprits.

Still, the question remains: What's a badly-reviewed -- or not-yet reviewed -- business owner to do? Most of the review sites out there don't make it easy. Here are five best practices to keep in mind that can profoundly (and legally) make your brand shine in the unpredictable realm of online reviews:

  1. Respond: Don't just cross your fingers and hope for positive reviews. Get in there and talk to your customers. And talk to them like a friend, not a salesperson. It's not always intuitive, but there is a way to respond to reviews on every major review site out there.

  • Embrace the negative review: Negative feedback is a great opportunity to show other potential customers reading the review that your brand values their experience. Take a deep breath, thank the angry reviewer for their feedback, apologize, and provide a follow-up option when necessary.
  • Be nice and don't get personal: There are real people behind each review (most of the time) and if you're nice to them, they'll reward you. Reply in a way that addresses the overall experience, and remember: it's not about you.
  • Keep it short and sweet: Users are looking for useful and genuine information about your business and are easily overwhelmed by a long response. Keep your responses succinct.
  • Encourage feedback: 70 percent of people consult reviews before making a purchase and they're 63 percent more likely to purchase a product from a site if it has product ratings. If you want your business to thrive, you need online reviews. But how you encourage those reviews makes all the difference. Don't be aggressive. Encourage engagement instead by posting Yelp check-in offers, including links to review sites, or finding other creative ways to incentivize your customers to leave a review.
  • Treating your customers like the humans that they are online will build trust, boost sales, and save you hundreds of thousands in legal fees. Take the reins the right way.

    This post was originally published on Location3 Media's blog.