The crux of any online business is its ability to convince consumers that it is trustworthy and reputable. For this reason, online reputation management should be an integral part of every online marketing strategy.

One of the biggest challenges for service-oriented businesses (e.g. restaurants, automotive repair shops, gyms, dentists, etc.) is that customers frequently turn to the internet to vent about their frustrations. Sites like Yelp are open forums for the disgruntled, and have made recent headlines for doing great damage to many businesses around the country.

Studies show that over 65% of Americans trust online peer reviews to inform their decision making. This means every business should place great importance on knowing what is being said about them online, and take a proactive approach to monitoring and addressing any negative chatter.

Here are 5 tips for effective online reputation management:

Claim All of Your Online Properties

It’s important to claim listings on the most popular sites that offer customer reviews. Firstly, it will eliminate the chances of someone else snatching up your listings, and secondly, it gives you an opportunity to build positive reviews that show up highly in search results.

Also, schema markup allows businesses to display star reviews in search results, which can be a big confidence booster to potential customers.

Monitor Consistently

It’s important to know what customers are saying about you online, so you should monitor your online presence and keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. If you leave monitoring to the wayside, you may miss a slanderous attack on your business that turns off would-be customers, thus hurting your ability to capture new leads or sales.

React & Respond

When possible, respond (professionally) to any unfavorable reviews. Yelp, for example, allows you to post public responses to customer feedback, giving you a chance to clear the air and make good on any disputes and address false claims

If you feel a review is completely bogus, contact admin support and explain the situation. Most reputable review sites are good about taking appropriate action when the integrity of your business is at stake.

As a last resort, seek legal action if you feel strongly that someone has maliciously slandered you.

Encourage Feedback

If you’re a business with a solid base of happy customers, many of them would probably jump at the chance to leave a favorable review for you. Create a system for asking your customers to leave honest feedback on places like Google Plus and Yelp. A great way to accomplish this is by adding language in follow-up emails that kindly request a review.

Offline Resolution

Perhaps the best way to prevent unhappy customers from taking to the internet to bash you, is by addressing their concerns at the source. For example, if you own a pizza shop and you knowingly delivered a pie two hours late, make amends by offering a discount or freebie. Don’t pretend the incident didn’t happen, or the customer will feel taken advantage of.

Proactive customer service is a sure way to make consumers feel appreciated, and will go a long way to keep your reputation clean both on and offline.

by Fuze April 14, 2014