Gone are the days when a company was the only resource for information on its own products. These days, everyone’s an expert, and everyone’s got an opinion, whether it’s on the cheesesteak at the restaurant down the street, or the next dress a brand is considering producing.

This era of opinions and reviews is a good thing for businesses. By giving customers the chance to weigh in about your company’s products, you’re effectively helping make customers feel like they have ownership in your brand. You’re helping build a lifelong customer, and trust me, she’ll bring friends.

The Voting Phenomenon

We’ve become familiar with voting up (or down) blog posts and articles on sites like BizSugar and Digg. We read a lot of content online, and we like telling our network what we think is better than the rest.

Then there’s the voting that some companies are using to get customer buy-in on products. Take ModCloth. The online retailer for vintage-inspired clothing gets its customers’ opinions…before it brings on new designers. Through its BetheBuyer platform, customers can “Pick It” or “Skip It” for clothing items the retailer is considering adding to its line. The smartest part? Once a customer votes for an article of clothing, she’ll get an email letting her know it’s been added, and giving her first dibs on buying it. Genius.

Rave for Reviews

Amazon perfected the customer review. Others are now following. Where only a few years ago, customers didn’t know what to do with reviews, they now turn to them before making purchases, on everything from home repair services to restaurants to books. Customers no longer want to hear how great your product is from you, the brand; they now want to hear that from other customers.

I can’t tell you how many times I have (or haven’t) bought a book, visited a restaurant or chosen a service provider based on what others are saying online. I try to do my part by leaving reviews to help others make the same decisions.

How to Democratize Your Brand

Before you start sweating at the idea of having negative reviews affect your sales, consider that if your product is genuinely good, a few bad reviews won’t affect overall opinion of it. Embrace customer opinion. Ask for it.

If you don’t already have an automated email set up to go out to customers post-purchase, create one that offers a URL to rate their purchase on your site, leave a review on Yelp or similar site, or share their purchase on social media. All of the above is good, too!

If you’re brick-and-mortar, bring the review option into the conversation with a purchase. Simply invite customers to review their experience, or hand them a business card with the URL on it.

In the event you do get bad reviews, address them publicly on the channel where there were published. Work to convert that unhappy customer into one that is satisfied and will return to buy from you again.