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How to promote your business with online reviews

Online reviews are a great way for customers to spread the word about your business - but how do you get positive reviews and how should you deal with the bad ones? Plus why you should NEVER fake your own reviews.

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The internet offers no end of promotional possibilities to the owners of small and medium-sized businesses, but if one thing is going to strike fear into your heart it's the thought of someone posting a bad review about your business online. Here we look at how to deal with bad reviews and attract some positive ones. How to deal with bad reviews Listing your business on sites like Google Places, Yell, Thomson Local and The Best Of can be a cost-effective way of promoting your business, but many business owners feel that it could be opening up their businesses to criticism. Well, the blunt answer is to deal with it – people are going to talk about your business (in person or online) whether you like it or not, it's how you react that counts: Act quickly – Once you've spotted a bad review, don't stick your head in the sand – it's not going to go away. Turn negatives into a positive – Demonstrate that you're the kind of business that listens to its customers and acts upon legitimate concerns. Act professionally – You may want to verbally throttle someone who leaves you a bad review, especially if their review is inaccurate, but creating an argument online will only make you look bad. Correct inaccuracies but respect that everyone has a right to an opinion. Sometimes it's best not to say anything at all. Make an official complaint – If you really feel that a review is unjustified or false (perhaps left by a competitor or someone who has never been a customer), you have the right to contest it. On Google you can flag it as being inappropriate, where as an third party sites like Yell, you have to contact their administrator. How to attract positive reviews Deliver excellent customer service – It sounds simple, but if you impress your customers enough, they will want to spread the word about you. Make it easy – Try to collect reviews wherever you can, for example, hand out feedback cards, direct them to a feedback form on your website or ask them to give you a review on Google, Yell or another popular site if they enjoyed your product or service. Don't 'pay' for good reviews with special offers or prizes – If customers see you doing this, they're less likely to believe what people write about you. Three good reasons not to fake reviews! An investigation by The Times in 2011 uncovered evidence that hotels are paying agencies to create false online reviews for their services, which is not only unethical but also illegal! The practice is known as ‘astroturfing' as it fakes ‘grass-roots' support. The investigation also revealed that agencies have been paid to write unflattering reviews for their clients' competitors and sold social media followers to help companies demonstrate increased – though entirely false – support. The practice is a criminal offence under The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations, which calls it 'an unfair commercial practice' and can carry an unlimited fine and a prison sentence of two years. Though the risk of being prosecuted may be slim, the risk of potential customers discovering (or even suspecting) that you're faking reviews could be potentially damaging to your reputation. The exact opposite of what you're trying to achieve. In conclusion, faking reviews and buying social media support is counterproductive because prospective customers will a) suspect you of lying or b) discover your lie when your service doesn't match the ‘ideal' you've sold them. You should believe in the abilities of your business and use the tips above to generate genuine positive reviews.

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