A guide to practicing (ethical) PR on Yelp and other review sites

Bad reviews on websites such Yelp and TripAdvisor can damage a company’s reputation, but so can fake reviews. Here’s how to ethically tackle these murky online waters.

Yelp. Amazon. TripAdvisor.

I don’t know about you, but these days, I religiously check online product and business reviews before trying anything new.

What does Urbanspoon have to say about the quality of that hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant down the street? Where can I find a clean, inexpensive hotel room in South Beach? Which laptop do the masses recommend I buy?

The Internet has fundamentally changed the way that buyers and sellers interact in the marketplace. E-commerce sites make it easy to comparison shop and purchase, while crowd-sourced online review sites help customers make more informed buying decisions.

As a result, reviews—good and bad—spread faster and reach more people than ever before. Typically, business owners will find that positive user-generated content adds credibility and provides the chance to interact with customers. On the flip side, unhappy customers are often quick to voice their displeasure on websites and social channels, and negative reviews can quickly take a bite out of sales.

According to a 2011 BrightLocal survey, approximately 70 percent of consumers use the Internet to find local business, and nearly all of those read online reviews when deciding which business to patronize. In addition, an overwhelming 86 percent of respondents claim online reviews influenced their decision—so they clearly carry a lot of weight.

The question is: How should businesses deal with them?

Join the conversation: If your business or site has no customer feedback, reviews or testimonials, you may be viewed as less trustworthy than the competition. Make sure your company is listed on the major search engines and solicit customers for help promoting it on Google, Yelp, Bing, and other key sites.

Face the negative: If people are disparaging your business, the best approach is to respond quickly and publicly, and in an accommodating manner. Don’t lash out against the criticism; use the opportunity to minimize problems and resolve issues. Negative reviews are not fun, but they can be an effective way to win over critics. By showing accountability and attempting to solve the problem, you’re giving potential (and existing) customers more reason to trust you. If people walk away from a discussion pleased with your response, they are more likely to have a better impression of your brand.

Don’t be so fake: According to Gartner, as many as 10 to 15 percent of social media reviews will be fake by 2014. Instead of honest customer reviews, praise, and feedback, we’ll unfortunately see a growing number of reviews that were bought.

These might come from a company trying to bash a competitor or a company trying to boost its own profile by posting glowing reviews. Remember, reviews are all about public perception—and the public can pick up pretty quickly on phony feedback. Should you attempt to improve your own reputation through positive anonymous reviews, it could come back to haunt you.

Therefore, transparency is paramount. On the other hand, if you see a review bashing your business that you know is erroneous or fake, contact the administrators of the review site with details. With enough proof, sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor and Insider Pages have deleted false reviews.

Customer feedback is incredibly important for any business looking to be successful, and online reviews are increasingly valuable. Get in the game now. How you manage your online reputation can help make the difference between five-star success and one-star failure.

Kate Grusich is a senior account executive with Cookerly PR. A version of this story first appeared on the Cookerly PR blog.

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