In a previous article, I talked about online reviews and a study that found the #1 thing folks did online monthly was reading customer ratings and reviews.  It is clear that social media, such as online reviews play a very important and influential part of today’s Web.

A recent article by Paul Jahn from LocalMN, got me thinking about online reviews again. After reading the article, I contacted Paul with a couple of follow up questions.

Paul’s article, Fake User Reviews Can Really Hurt Your Brand was, as he put it, almost a rant. While surfing, he found what was obviously someone trying to manipulate the system by adding “reviews” to try and boost his listing. If I had found this, I too would have reacted as Paul did.

I am pretty sure this will not be the last we see of someone trying to manipulate the system. The idea behind user reviews is great but does have its draw backs (at this moment in time). Right now I see the three issues as:

how to get folks to provide reviews
dealing with fraudulent reviews
dealing with bad or negative reviews

Getting Reviews:
Google, just made some improvements to its local business center, making it easier to get reviews.  It also allows users to police reviews and flag those that seem inappropriate or fraudulent. One of my first questions to Paul were, his thoughts on how businesses can get reviews from customers.

“Be honest with your clients or customers and proactively suggest to them to give a user-review. Some businesses will even have a postcard-type brochures for customers to take home with them. In the postcard will include URLs to places like Yahoo Local, CitySearch, Insider Pages, and Yelp. It’s a nice way to encourage repeat business while getting some good “word of Web 2.0″ marketing.”

Fraudulent Reviews:
Most folks are smart enough to see through these fake reviews and will automatically discount them. As Paul says, all these do is hurt you, because no one likes a cheater or someone trying to manipulate the system. Read the Kelsey Groups take on Paul’s article here.

Negative Reviews:
This is something I get asked often, “what do you do about negative reviews?” They will happen because you can’t please everybody but now that they can tell the whole world, sort of makes it different.  What I tell folks is, we will deal with it when it happens.

Each review,  positive or negative needs to be reviewed anyway by the business owner.  What if the complaint is legit? A smart business owner can use that as an opportunity to be proactive and build from it. Reacting appropriately from a negative review, shows folks that he listens and cares about comments.

Paul had this to say, “Negative reviews can be inevitable. Someone may have a bad experience with your business and decide to tell the world. Businesses can certainly follow their online reputation and then offer enticements to the reviewer to come back for a better experience.  If it’s an obvious attempt of negative manipulation, some review sites allow you to report negative reviews as abuse.”

The bottom line, is that online reviews are not going away and the smart business owner will need to be proactive to get, monitor, and use them to build his business.

In a recent article on the Kelsey Group Blog, they summed it up nicely. “User ratings and reviews are becoming table stakes in local search and are on the product road maps of nearly every new local search startup that we talk to, and also being built into IYP offerings including Yellowpages.com and Superpages.com”