The Dos and Don’ts of Online Reviews in Your Reputation Management Strategy

User-generated content is one of the biggest movements in the online world since the beginning of the new century. Social networks, reviews sites, and more, depend almost entirely on their user base to create content for their website. All this user-generated content is great for users, especially those who are looking to get an opinion about a new product or service before they buy. But this deluge of user-reviews and comments can also be extremely harmful to businesses when users feel they need to bad-mouth a particular establishment or complain about a small detail of service when the vast majority of their experience was positive.

If your business has generally positive reviews, this can be a great boon to your reputation management campaign. But it’s not such a great thing when you have a handful of reviews floating around the internet that are damaging or outright false. And all these reviews are now showing up in branded SERPs on a regular basis. That means, for example, when an individual searches for your business, they may see 3-4 links to different review websites where your business is mentioned—both good and bad.

As a result, these online reviews are one of the biggest concerns for any business that wants to maintain a pristine online reputation. So, here are a few dos and don’ts for dealing with online reviews to help you can build the most positive online reputation possible.

DO: Seek out Reviews

The best way to keep an eye on the reviews that you’re getting is by seeking them out. Primarily, search for your business name online and see what reviews appear. But once you’ve discovered what’s already out there, stay on top of what is being published about your company online by setting up a notification system like Google Alerts—so you’ll be informed immediately when a new review is published or a blogger decides to write about you. And when you know what is being published and where it’s coming from, you can start to deal with bad reviews.

DO: Open a Dialogue

Once you’ve identified a negative review, the best thing to do is try and contact the reviewer. Your ultimate goal is to get the reviewer to take down the review or change it, but that should not be your immediate petition upon first contact. Start by apologizing for any misunderstanding or mistreatment the customer may have experienced and offer your apologies. And NEVER try and argue with the customer about what happened or call into question their judgment. Next, ask if there is anything you can do to make it up to them or offer them a special deal on their next purchase or service. If the reviewer responds favorably, ask them if they might consider taking down or changing the review once they have a more pleasant experience the second time around. If they are reasonable human beings—and you are sincere and authentic in your communication—they’ll probably agree. If they don’t respond, or they respond with another angry message, it’s probably best to leave the situation alone and do your best with other reputation management strategies to bury the review as low as possible in the SERPs.

DON’T: Trash Competitors

If you respond to a review in an open forum, never trash a competitor. Trashing competitors can have two negative effects on your online reputation. 1) You will simply come off as petty and unpleasant. And anyone who sees that review will view your company as one who would rather bad-mouth others than improve the level of your own service or product in order to get ahead. 2) If you competitors see the comment, they could take legal action against you. And that’s not pleasant at all. It’s best to stay away from mentioning competitors at all and focus on your business’ positive points and products.

DON’T: Post Fake Reviews

This is, perhaps, the worst thing you can do when it comes to reputation management through online reviews. You may get away with it for a little while, but when it is found out that you are manufacturing reviews—and it usually is—you’ll suffer an even more embarrassing blow to your reputation management. When you fake reviews, you risk alienating any and all good trust that you have built with your current customers and any future customers you might have. The best policy is simply to give good service and sell great products, then you’ll greatly reduce the chance that you’ll have to deal with negative reviews online at all.