Over the past few years, companies have learned to embrace social media platforms by building communities on their Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, YouTube channels and more. Still, having a strong presence across social media platforms, where a company can disseminate their brand’s image and identity, is just the beginning. The true goal for companies is to invest time and resources to actually engage consumers and be a part of the online conversations surrounding their brands.

While companies can easily present and maintain their online presence, how tuned in are they to what other people are saying about them online?

The moment an individual shares an experience or reviews a product on a third party website like Facebook, Twitter, Google Places or Yelp, that individual becomes a brand ambassador, whether the company representing the brand likes it or not.

Before making the decision to buy a television, dine at a new restaurant, see a new dentist, or book a hotel, what do most people do? According to a 2009 study conducted by The Nielsen Company, most consumers trust recommendations from people they know (90%), followed by consumer opinions posted online (70%).

Let’s face it. Consumers don’t trust advertisements; in fact, they avoid advertisements. Instead, consumers seek and rely on personal recommendations and word of mouth testimonials during the decision making process. Today, a majority of consumers rely on social networks to make purchasing decisions. According to eMarketer, consumer reviews are far more trusted than descriptions from manufacturers.

Unfortunately, companies tend to neglect, forget or have mixed feelings about consumer review sites and do not see the true benefits and value of these sites. If companies approach review sites effectively and strategically, then they can gain the following benefits:

  • Access to direct and raw consumer insight and information
  • Potential to increase sales
  • Potential to increase brand value and loyalty

So, how should businesses approach reviews sites and use them to their advantage? We’ve got a few helpful suggestions and case studies:

Be Aware and Listen. You always want to know what others are saying about your business and be cognizant of your brand’s online reputation. The first step is to actually create an account on relevant review sites, which allow you to control certain features of your company profile. Make sure the information consumers find about your brand and business is accurate. Maximize your presence by adding photos and regularly updating information. Then, simply start listening. Review sites are a great venue for customer feedback and may even lead to improvements in your product or service.

Check Out Your Competition. You know the saying: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Definitely research your competitors and take a look at their reviews so you can gauge and benchmark their strengths and weaknesses.

Join the Conversation. It’s vital that you know what is being said about your brand and business online. Monitor your business’ page on review sites regularly. That way you can jump into conversations when it’s necessary and show your appreciation when it’s appropriate.

You Win Some, You Lose Some. Of course, it’d be ideal to receive nothing but glowing reviews on your business page, but we all know no one is perfect. As long as you accept this and the fact that you can’t make everyone happy, then you will approach review sites with the right attitude. There is always a critic, and it’s usually the complainer who will shout of the rooftops louder than anyone.

Turn a Negative Into a Positive. Don’t just shrug or look the other way if your company receives a negative review. Take the opportunity to proactively connect with your disgruntled or unsatisfied customer and address their complaint or concern. Who knows, you may be able to convert your dissatisfied customer into a brand advocate. Don’t just stop there. If possible, try to make it right. If you show your customers you care, they’ll likely return in the future and rave about you. A survey conducted by MediaPost found that of those consumers who received a reply in response to their negative review:

  • 33% turned around and posted a positive review.
  • 34% deleted their original negative review.

With the guidance of rbb’s Digital Park team, one of our very own clients, Homewood Suites by Hilton, has championed responding to both positive and negative comments. To learn more about their online marketing strategy, check out AdAge’s Q&A with Homewood Suites’ VP Global Marketing Carla Raynor.

Don’t Forget to Say Thank You. Keeping your customers is just as important as attracting new ones. Those who write positive reviews are your biggest brand ambassadors; find ways to show your appreciation to those dedicated fans. You may even want to offer an incentive to happy customers so they’ll leave positive reviews.

I recently wrote a positive review of a local restaurant on Yelp and received the message below in return from the restaurant’s Director of Customer Relations. I was definitely pleasantly surprised, felt that my business was appreciated and was excited to return for more delicious food and great service!

Here, Canyon Ranch Hotel & Spa Miami Beach responds with gratitude and healthy wishes to a rave review on TripAdvisor:

Have you ever received a response to one of your reviews, positive or negative? Please share!