Review Site LogosOnline review sites can be a double-edged sword. Enthusiastic reviewers can drive lots of new customers to your door while those with a bone to pick – justifiably or unjustifiably so – can damage your credibility and drive away potential customers.

In a 2013 survey by Dimensional Research, 90 percent of those surveyed said positive online reviews influenced their buying decisions, while 86 percent said their buying decisions were influenced by negative online reviews. If you consider these results, proactively managing your reputation on online review sites is critical to growing and protecting your market share.

Though the online reviewers themselves ultimately dictate the content of these sites, there are steps you can take to encourage happy customers to share their stories and mitigate the damage done by unhappy reviewers.

First, make sure you are on the radar screen by creating profiles for your business on all top directories relevant to your industry. If you are in tourism and hospitality, TripAdvisor, Urbanspoon, and OpenTable are big ones. Angie’s List, Insider Pages, Yelp, and Google+ Local are a few of the sites that allow all kinds of businesses to create profiles and enable their customers to write reviews.

Second, if you know a customer is really happy with your product or service, ask them if they’d mind writing an online review. If you have a small business, you likely know your best customers right off the top of your head, and you can just ask them. Larger businesses send satisfaction surveys to customers. These surveys usually only take a few minutes to complete, and customers are sometimes rewarded with a discount off their next purchase if they respond.

They also might be entered into a drawing for some type of prize. If a respondent gives a glowing account of their experience, they then receive a second email asking if they would consider submitting a review to one or two specific online review sites. Hopefully, a customer service representative reaches out to those that report a not-so-great experience. If you have a large customer base, you could follow this approach.

Don’t be reluctant to ask good customers to write reviews. If they are truly satisfied, they will be honored that you’ve asked them to do so. There are also a good number of individuals that really like writing reviews. It gives people a chance to share their experiences and opinions with others that will value their input. It’s also an opportunity to let their inner writer shine through.

Third, regularly monitor online review sites for new posts about your business. It’s critical to managing your online reputation, and it’s also a way to glean key intelligence into what you’re doing right and what may need to be improved upon. When you do get a not-so-favorable review, don’t lose your head over it. Take a deep breath, consider it constructive criticism, and write a response that shows you have heard what the reviewer has to say and that you intend to do what you can to rectify whatever made them unsatisfied. This will go a long way toward building goodwill between you and the reviewer as well as others that will read his or her post. Responding shows you care about your customers and what they have to say. It may also encourage that unhappy customer to give you another try. In fact, it’s a great idea to suggest this in your response.

Likewise, it’s smart marketing to also respond to those that give you favorable reviews to thank them for your praise. This will make them feel even better about their experience and encourage them to continue spreading the word. They will know their voice has been heard.

Finally, use the best online reviews of your business to promote it on other marketing platforms. For example, you can re-publish all or part of the raving reviews you have garnered in brochures, advertisements and other print materials you use to promote your business. Posting links to these reviews on Facebook and Twitter will enable even more people to read them. If you are in the tourism and hospitality industry, getting enough good reviews could earn you a coveted TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice Award. You can read about the various categories here: http://www.tripadvisor.com/TravelersChoice. Recipients post their Traveler’s Choice Award certifications in a prominent place in their place of business and on their websites because they know TripAdvisor users will look for it when determining where they will stay, eat or visit.

I hope these basic tips will help you navigate online review sites. I want to close by saying that the golden rule of social media also applies to these sites: always be authentic. Though businesses have done it, it is highly unethical to create fake positive reviews for yourself or fake negative reviews of the competition. It can even land you in trouble with the law. Read here about companies that have paid tens of thousands in fines for false reviews.

The best practice is to let your customers tell the story while you focus on providing an excellent product and good customer service to make sure they have only positive things to share.

To learn more about social media and other marketing strategies that can drive customers to your business, visit www.marshallpr.com.