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Social media reviews and ratings are the life blood of many businesses. When consumers consider whether to patronize a business, many consult social media reviews first. What these reviews say often determines whether the consumer ever inquires further about the business much less patronizes it. A single good or bad review can make or break an entire business. A 2011 Harvard Business School study found that a business improving its Yelp rating by just one star increased its revenue between 5% and 9%.
High stakes of these social media reviews can tempt businesses to try to manipulate the process. Writing or encouraging fake positive reviews for your own business is called "astroturfing" because social media reviews are supposed to be grass roots and astroturf is fake grass. A 2015 Harvard Business School study estimates that 16% of restaurant reviews on Yelp are fake. This includes false positive reviews and fake negative reviews by competitors. The problem is so rampant that businesses have sprung up that will astroturf for you for a price. In New York, 19 of these companies were caught and fined more than $350,000 and had to agree to stop astroturfing.
If you are tempted to take your chances and astroturf, pause for a moment and consider the consequences. If you are exposed, you could face criminal prosecution and fines. You could also lose all credibility with consumers which would destroy your business. Consumers are wising up to astroturfing and seeing through many of these fake reviews on their own. This is why there are better ways to deal with competitor astroturfing than resorting to it yourself.
If a false negative review is posted by a competitor, websites have take-down procedures that expose them. These are far from foolproof, but they are a good starting point. Being honest with consumers is an effective way to establish credibility. If all of your reviews are 5-star and perfect, consumers will be suspicious. A few middle-of-the-road reviews complemented with honest responses reveal that you provide good customer service. No business makes every customer happy all of the time and nobody realistically expects that. Consumers want to patronize businesses that provide good customer service when things don't go perfectly.
Avoid knee-jerk emotional responses to bad reviews and assign someone the task of professionally responding to them. This person should be trained to turn negative reviews into positive interactions. Think of social media as the door to your business. If you want customers to come through that door and spend money, you have to give them a positive experience from the moment they open that door. Otherwise customers will simply walk away and open another, more friendly door.
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