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From Nay to Yay

What to do about bad reviews on customer feedback sites

The popularity of user-review sites such as Yelp and Citysearch can be excellent resources for inexpensive publicity for a small business. The downside? The inevitable bad review can cause havoc if it's not handled with savvy.

"There is an enormous level of trust between social network user and social network user--much more so than between a brand and end-user," says Carisa Miklusak, co-founder of social media marketing company SoMedios in Vancouver, British Columbia. She calls Yelp "the online Consumer Reports."

To combat an unfavorable comment and lone star rating, Miklusak suggests you publicly address a complaint, politely explaining your organization's side of a dispute or correcting erroneous information. For example, a poster who warns against patronizing an eatery because of its unhealthy offerings could be met with a rebuttal describing low-calorie options and a link to the restaurant's menu. "That way you appear like a transparent organization that takes feedback seriously," she says.

If you identify a poster as what Miklusak calls an "influencer"--someone with lots of sway thanks to a popular blog, say, or a Yelp or Citysearch following--consider reaching out via e-mail, phone or message. You could offer to rectify a bad experience or a coupon to try your service again. Be polite but firm. Bolster an image of confidence in your product.

If a negative post remains, encourage other customers to leave positive yet candid comments. This will push the negative one down and out of sight.

Or follow the lead of The Art of Charm, which coaches men on dating and social skills. The Los Angeles and New York firm boasts all positive reviews on its Yelp profile. Co-founder Jordan Harbinger tracks down negative posters and persuades them to revise their comments.

A "blatantly unfair and abusive review from someone who had never done business with The Art of Charm" annoyed Harbinger. "After trying to resolve the situation diplomatically, I sent the message to her boss to let him know how she was representing herself online," he says. "The review was removed almost immediately."

This story appears in the July 2010 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

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