This article first appeared on: Bitsy – the friendliest B2B marketplace on the web

In sub zero weather I stood outside an old Prussian public toilet on a traffic island under a railway bridge eating a burger. Complete strangers had led me, a woman in a foreign city, to stray way off the beaten tourist track. Why had I paid attention? Because according to real people sharing their opinions on review sites Burgermeister is probably the best burger joint in Berlin. Thanks to word of mouth recommendations this no-website, no marketing business is packed out every night. Here’s how you too can turn online reviews into business:

  1. Be seen in all the right places. Find the review sites used by your customers and clients and get listed. For tradesmen it could be; for hotels and of course Amazon for book sellers.
  2. Get in the habit of asking for reviews. Happy clients or customers should be happy to be asked. And if they’re not happy they’re likely to express their dissatisfaction anonymously online. Remember one happy customer will tell a friend, one unhappy customer tells everybody online. You have nothing to lose apart from your inhibitions. If you don’t want to be direct try including a message in your email signature suggesting you’d welcome a review and include a link.
  3. If you’ve got it flaunt it. Incorporate reviews on your website.Embed a button from the review site on your website, and your web page will be updated whenever a review is received. Even if you haven’t updated your website this will keep content fresh. And third party independent reviews carry more weight than all the other web pages put together.
  4. Hey, I heard that! Whether or not you choose to get involved be aware that people are talking about your business online. Monitor what’s being said. If you disagree respond politely. Thank the reviewer and ask for more information about their experience. Engage them in a conversation online and you may convert a complainer into a loyal customer. If you believe the review is malicious or simply out-of-date (no longer reflecting the customer experience) bring it to the attention of the site owner. Reputable review sites will remove unfair content.
  5. Don’t fake it. Anyone can post a review so how do you spot the fakes? How do I know Burgermeister doesn’t offer a 10% discount for customers posting a positive review? I don’t. But I use my judgment. If there are only a few glowing reviews I’m suspicious. I look for more than one opinion, and go with the majority view. And give greater weight to established sites which tend to screen reviews before posting and check whether reviews come from the same IP address. Don’t be seduced by the anonymity of the internet into posting a fake review. It is illegal under the 2009 EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive. Whilst you may not get caught by Trading Standards Officers you’re guaranteed to damage your business reputation if exposed as a faker.