How to respond to negative online reviews

When a customer posts criticism of your business, there are steps you can take. Be careful, though, because addressing that criticism can make it more visible in searches.

To be a business owner, you’ve got to have thick skin.

Sooner or later (probably sooner) somebody’s going to offer a word of criticism, and whether that criticism is right or wrong, you can’t take it personally.

We all know this, but it’s hard to abide by it; no matter how tough we are, it hurts to have someone speak negatively about something so important to us. When it comes to online reviews, however, the problem isn’t just that they can bruise the ego. Online criticism can hurt a business’s bottom line.

The importance of online reviews

Statistically speaking, 70 percent of all consumers use online reviews to guide their purchasing decisions. The people running social networks such as Facebook and Google+ are certainly aware of the increased prominence of online reviews, which is why—in an effort to be all things to all people—they’re steadily boosting the role of online reviews. Go to most any business page on either social media platform, and you’re sure to see some star ratings and words of customer feedback.

Given the statistics about how many consumers consult online reviews, it is not unreasonable to suggest that negative notices can cost a company customers and sales, especially if a competitor’s business enjoys more flattering social media scores. Google+ reviews can be especially damaging, as they appear on the pages of Google search engine results.

How to deal with online reviews

For business owners, then, it is worth taking a moment to think about the practical aspects of social reviews: What can and can’t you do about them? What should and shouldn’t you do?

1. First things first: You can’t force people to leave you good reviews. You can’t force people to redact their negative ones. Generally speaking, you’re not going to be able to get Facebook or Google to remove reviews that you find offensive; you would have to prove that the reviewer is lying and/or has malicious intent.

2. With online reviews, engagement is key. This is especially true of positive reviews: Take the time to say thank you. Often, your response to a review is just as important as the review itself, and being active in engaging the reviewer—making note of your gratitude toward your customers—can engender much good will toward your customers.

3. Usually, it is good to respond to negative reviews, too, especially if there is an issue you can resolve. Showing a willingness to right wrongs and offer a more positive consumer experience can benefit your brand, and in many cases the unsatisfied customer will be happy to remove the offending review, once the issue has been resolved.

4. Every now and again, you might run into a review from someone who is simply unreasonable, and it’s your call as to whether you wish to try to engage them. Note, however, that responding to a bad review—especially a Google+ one—can boost its ranking/visibility in search engines, so proceed with caution. Sometimes the best approach is to ignore the really nasty reviews and work on getting enough satisfied customers that the negatives are outweighed.

5. A final note: Encouraging happy customers to leave their positive reviews is smart. You don’t have to bribe happy customers; just ask them, on invoices and receipts, to help you out. A robust and active social media presence may encourage reviews, because it keeps your company’s social media pages fresh in the minds of consumers.

Online reviews effect your company’s public perception, its reputation among consumers, and ultimately your bottom line-and although you can’t control them, you can engage them in a way that’s positive and proactive.

Josh Hurst is the content marketing strategist for Grammar Chic, a writing and marketing company based in Charlotte, North Carolina. A version of this article first appeared on SmartBlog on Social Media.

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