Everybody Has an Opinion: Staying Afloat in the Age of Online Reviews

Before the Internet, a dissatisfied customer might complain to a family member, and perhaps a neighbor or two. These days, he'll use his computer or smartphone to vent his displeasure; he might even include an exaggeration or two (or 10). And instead of sharing his experience with a few people, he'll share it with potentially thousands upon thousands. Thanks to Yelp, Google Reviews, Amazon, and the like, everyone's a critic.

Yes, the Internet has been a game changer in more ways than one when it comes to running a business of any type. Not only must a business owner create and maintain a strong, engaging social media presence, they must also monitor and manage her businesses reputation in the realm of online reviews. They say technology makes things so much easier, but many a business owner is hankering for simpler times!

Why Every Online Review Counts: The Stats

Business owners are wise not to discount the power of the Internet. Consumers do look to online reviews when they're determining where to do business and which items to purchase. Research has indicated that 89 percent of consumers regarded online product and service reviews as trustworthy, and another 80 percent have changed their minds about making a purchase due to reading negative reviews. Eighty-five percent of those surveyed said they'd be more likely to purchase if they could find more positive reviews of a product or business online. Restaurateurs beware: a mere one-star difference in a restaurant review can impact revenues by as much as nine percent.

How to Manage Reviews

Even the most on track businesses receive occasional negative reviews; if only from grouchy, impossible-to-please patrons or vengeful exes. Fortunately, there are proactive steps all business owners can take to offset any negative reviews, as well as highlight the positive ones - all in an ethical way.

  • Have your own website. Ensuring your business has its own website will help clarify its identity, services, and strengths. It will be a place potential consumers can go and obtain an impression of your business in addition to whatever impression they'll get from reviews. What would your business say if it could accurately represent itself? Hire a talented copywriter and graphic designer, and put it on your site!
  • Ask your customers to review you online. You should feel confident about doing so if you know you're offering the best possible service and products, and especially if you've been in business for a few years (a sign you're doing something right!). Suggest they post reviews on sites where you'd like to see them. For example, if there's a negative review just festering on Yelp, as customers to post their positive reviews there to offset it.
  • Ask for permission to re-publish positive reviews on your website, and do so. But never, ever pay for positive reviews. This is unethical, bad business, and, if it comes out, embarrassing.
  • If you have the ability to respond to reviews on any of the sites on which they're published, do so, and identify yourself honestly. (That means don't adopt an alternate identity and call the negative reviewer a fool or worse!) If responding to a negative review, acknowledge the customer's view without apologizing, and offer to make things right. This will only reflect positively on you in other potential customers' eyes. In response to a positive review, it's always good to express humble gratitude!
  • Remember, if you have an abundance of negative reviews, it's probably for a reason. Be humble, and consider how you can improve. Even negative reviews can work in your favor, alerting you to problems you may not be aware of, and enabling you to save your business. 

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