One of the many fantastic things about the Internet is the opportunity for people to express their opinions on almost anything. If you own a business, it’s a way for customers to comment on your service or products. These comments are posted on the web as online reviews, either directly to your business’s website or social media pages, or to other sites which aggregate online reviews (like Yelp).

How Important Are Online Reviews?

In the digital age, online reviews have largely taken the place of the word-of-mouth referrals. After all, it may be easy to ask your neighbor who mows his lawn, but harder to find someone you know who has ordered a pink infant-sized baby jumper from a fair-trade website in the past year. With the Web, potential buyers can seek out online reviews of products and services offered by various companies all around the world — including people who have frequented your business in the past.

So it’s easy to see why positive reviews are like gold, while negative ones can be toxic and dangerous.

How Can You Monitor Your Online Reviews?

Be proactive – Don’t just read a few online reviews when you feel like it. Schedule time regularly (weekly is a good goal) to check for new reviews. Also, when looking at various review sites, take note if your recent positive reviews are not current; the older they are, the less impact they have on the opinions of others.

Respond quickly to negative reviews – On the other hand, you may come across customers who express displeasure about their experience dealing with your business. Do not ignore these individuals, and do not procrastinate in responding. When you respond quickly, you send the message that you care about customer input and are taking steps to resolve the problem. (Note: Don’t issue a “form-letter” response. People see right through those.)

Keep the tone civil – Some online reviews can be scathing, juvenile, inappropriate, and downright unfair. Even if a certain review does awaken some strong emotions, do not mimic the reviewer’s negative tone. Instead, remain calm and civil, and respond to the reviewer with class. If you get dragged into the virtual mud with a reviewer, both you and your business almost always lose.

Address the issue and offer to make it right – If a reviewer has a legitimate complaint — even if it wasn’t the fault of you or your staff — try to find a way to make him or her happy. You’d be surprised how many positive reviews are born out of negative ones that were addressed properly and in a timely manner.