The Right (and Wrong) Way to Use Customer Review Sites

A somewhat audacious review on AmericanWineryGuide.com and a Social Media Explorer article titled "The Fundamental Flaw of Yelp's Solicited Review Stance" has motivated me to try to develop a list of what I consider effective, and ineffective, business engagement activities on customer review sites.

The incident on AmericanWineryGuide.com started with a winery owner, whose winery was not yet listed, requesting that I add the winery to the site. I agreed to do so and noticed the following morning that the winery owner had created a user account, using the winery's name, and had provided a review for a different winery within the same city, giving the winery a "1 star" rating in every category with no review text. I respect the winery for not hiding behind a fake persona, but to publicly tell your competitor "you suck and I want the world to know" is probably not good business and is definitely not the intended use of the site. I think the business owner failed to recognize that when businesses use customer review sites to attack their competitors with negative reviews, it says a lot about their business, and it's not positive. Of course, businesses who engage in such practices hope that the negative reviews won't be connected to them - or so I thought - but users of customer review sites, and the sites themselves, have gotten pretty good at spotting such activity.

The second item that prompted this post was a Social Media Explorer article that reiterated the value of customer review sites and questioned Yelp's stance that businesses should not encourage their customers to post reviews. According to the article, Yelp makes several misguided assumptions about businesses and how they interact with their customers which belittles businesses and undermine Yelp's business model. You can read the full article here.

The incident on AmericanWineryGuide.com and the well-reasoned article mentioned above got me thinking about our own policy regarding wineries, and other businesses on our site, encouraging their customers to post reviews on AmericanWineryGuide.com. Our primary goal is to develop a repository of genuine, honest, unbiased reviews that help wine tourists choose which businesses, primarily wineries, to visit, and we don't think solicited reviews, necessarily, jeopardize our achievement of that goal. Therefore we've created the following short list of recommended and discouraged activities for businesses listed on AmericanWineryGuide.com:

Recommended Activities:
1. Encouraging customers to provide a review of your business
2. Using positive reviews to promote your business
3. Using negative reviews to identify potential improvement areas and customer-perceived strengths and weaknesses
5. Tactfully responding to select reviews (positive and negative)

Discouraged Activities:
1. Providing, or encourage others to provide, a negative review of a competitor's business
2. Creating fake reviews of your own business
3. Incentivizing a review
4. Requesting a positive review

For additional reading and recommendations, SCORE provides a nice reference for making the most of customer review sites.

Published: Oct. 25, 2012

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