Online customer reviews can make or break a business – even a relatively large business.

Consumers trust online customer reviews more than any other source of brand information except for recommendations from people they know, according to Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising report. Seventy percent of consumers trust online reviews, an increase of 15 percent over four years. People trust online reviews even more than news articles and other editorial content.

Surprisingly, many businesses ignore reviews. They simply let them happen on their own without responding to them, encouraging positive comments, or even monitoring them – unless a PR crisis erupts. Outside of restaurants and retail businesses that rely on reviews for their livelihood, most companies rarely monitor or promote reviews. Many not-for-profit organizations make the same error.

What’s the main reason businesses don’t monitor online reviews? Many organizations simply fail to delegate responsibility for growing and managing customer reviews to a certain person or department. The job could be assigned to PR, marketing, customer service, or sales. PR can – and should – start the decision-making discussion in its organization and lead the way in developing a policy that establishes who is responsible for online reviews. That policy should lay down a strategy for handling comments and promoting positive reviews.

Steps For An Online Review Strategy

These steps can help companies and not-for-profit organizations energize their online review strategies.

Solicit reviews. Ask customers an open-ended question on a social media site. For instance, ask the audience what they liked most about a product. Contests with small incentives can motivate customers to write reviews or to upload video testimonials. Displaying a message reading “Find Us on Yelp” (or other review site) on your website or at your business shows customers you have nothing to hide and encourages feedback.

Fill your profiles. Providing as much information as possible in online profiles, such as a photo, location, hours, and a food or service menu portrays the business as a professional outfit.

Attend to your regulars. Regular customers tend to post positive reviews. Offering discounts and other incentives can encourage them to write reviews.

Stress the positives. Placing favorable reviews prominently on your website, blog posts, and social media pages emphasizes their importance.

Respond to negative reviews. Failing to answer negative reviews indicates a lack of concern. Responding to negative reviews professionally and graciously with a heartfelt apology builds goodwill. Taking the discussion offline avoids a tit-for-tat public argument. Customers want honesty and generally accept a degree of negative comments.

Monitor comments. Social media listening is imperative to locate positive reviews that can be featured in owned media and negative reviews that call for quick responses. Assigning social listening as a part-time responsibility to a staff member works for some companies, but often fails because the employee has too many other responsibilities that seem more important. A social media monitoring service such as CyberAlert is usually more reliable, effective and cost-efficient that doing it yourself. The buzz monitoring services also provide metrics and reports that help their clients better understand their online reputation and guide the clients to take action to correct problems with products or services. By taking on the responsibility of regularly monitoring and managing customer review sites, PR can help protect the business’ reputation, make a larger contribution to the success of the business, and gain greater standing within management.

Bottom Line: Although online customer reviews are a critical PR and marketing tool, they are frequently neglected by many businesses. PR can take the lead in resolving that shortcoming by pressing their organizations to define what department is responsible for reviews and monitoring review sites for comments.

This article was originally published in the CyberAlert Blog.