By RJ Horsley

With consumers spending increasingly more time on social media, small business owners can no longer afford to ignore customer reviews on sites like Facebook. In fact, studies show 92 percent of consumers regularly read reviews and as few as one to three negative reviews of a business will frighten away 67 percent of prospective new customers. With that startling data in mind, here are some best practices merchants can use for managing their online reviews.

First, Here’s What NOT to Do

Managing reviews can be a pain, and some small businesses fall into the trap of trying to take shortcuts. This is a big mistake. Specifically, you’ll want to avoid these three common pitfalls.

  • Don’t pay a third-party company to write reviews for your business. In addition to being dishonest, it’s a waste of money since most sites have filters that flag and take down fake reviews.
  • Don’t offer rewards for customers to leave reviews. This violates the content guidelines of most review sites and is potentially illegal, depending where your business operates.
  • Don’t ask customers or clients to sign non-disparagement agreements. Not only are these agreements ineffective in deterring negative reviews, they don’t hold up in court.

Numerous companies have garnered negative press and even gotten into legal trouble with these tactics. For example, one online retailer tried sending a customer a $3,500 bill after leaving a negative review in violation of their non-disparagement clause. The customer ended up suing the company, and the court ruled that the retailer had to pay the customer $306,000 in damages.

Create a Valuable Experience for Customers

This might seem obvious, but if you want to get positive reviews of your business (instead of negative reviews), the single most important thing you can do is provide a positive experience for customers. This starts by offering a valuable product or service and ensuring your customers have an enjoyable experience. Succeed at that, and your reviews will be largely positive.

Identify Where Customers Are Reviewing Your Business

There are numerous sites where customers leave reviews, so your next task is to discover where your business is getting reviewed. In the past, there was a significant distinction between dedicated review sites like Yelp and social media platforms like Facebook, but these days they are practically indistinguishable from a review standpoint.

Your goal should simply be to identify where customers are writing the most reviews of your business. This requires a fair bit of sleuthing online, or alternatively, you can use review management software. Review management compile your business’s reviews from all the major review sites onto one page, saving you time by drastically reducing your workload.

The most popular review sites you’ll want to look at are Yelp, Google, and Facebook. If you run a hotel, restaurant, or any business in the hospitality or vacation industries, you’ll likely have reviews on TripAdvisor too. As for other major social media sites—Twitter and Instagram—they don’t offer any way for consumers to leave formal reviews. Instead, users tend to simply write a brief comment and tag your business with its handle (if you have an account on those sites) or use a hashtag.

Claim Your Business Pages and Treat Them as an Extension of Customer Service

Once you know where your company is getting reviews, you need to go through the process of claiming your business page on those sites, which varies from site to site. After you’ve claimed your pages, the first thing you want to do is upload professional-quality photos of your business and update all company information, such as business hours, phone number, website, etc.

Then comes the hard part: responding when new reviews are posted. Again, review management software tools can be a huge help. Tools can automatically alert you either by email or mobile push notification whenever your business gets a new review. This makes it easy to respond in real-time, especially when a negative review is posted, where 42 percent of customers expect a response within an hour.

When this happens, the key is treating the process like any other form of customer service, but with the added wrinkle of knowing everything you say is visible to the public. If done right, this can actually be used to your advantage. By effectively addressing a negative review, you can not only salvage the relationship with the unhappy customer, but also prevent prospective customers from getting scared away by showing them that you care about their feedback.

Be Proactive About Getting Positive Reviews

We know that negative reviews can scare customers away, but effective review management is more than just doing damage control. It’s also a way to positively market your business. As proof, a recent study showed that increasing your average review rating by one star can result in a 5-9 percent boost in revenue.

One way to encourage customers to leave positive reviews is by interacting with them in-person and letting them know you appreciate their feedback. You can go so far as to encourage them to share their experience on their favorite social channel, mobile app or website, but just don’t point them to a specific site. Yelp, in particular, doesn’t allow merchants to solicit reviews from customers.

Another useful strategy is to order window stickers from Yelp or TripAdvisor to display at your business and remind customers their opinion matters to you.

Lastly, high-quality review management software can do the hard work for you. Software can help identify your happiest customers and encourages them to leave reviews, so you can sit back and watch your ratings climb over time.