I read many, many articles, news stories, reports and academic papers about online consumer reviews. A casual Google search will bring up thousands of observations about the greatest consumer motivation to connect with businesses  – legitimate, authenticated online feedback.

Sometimes phrases I read will stick in mind, to ferment into ideas that I will later craft into my own own observations. One that have read in the past week have done exactly that. It may sound a little negative but in reality it’s the perfect motivation for every business to commit to online reviews, if it hasn’t already done so.

“There’s nowhere to hide online”

It is utterly staggering how many businesses – from sole traders, to SMEs, to nationwide companies, are unaware of their already existing online reputation – good or bad. The simplest thing appears to be an utter mystery to them – Googling their business name. When they are alerted to it – oftentimes through direction from a customer or a acquaintance, there is a gnashing of teeth and a resentment that they have been reviewed and it is online for everyone to see. Well, without sounding flippant – duh, of course it is. There is nowhere to hide online – but there are incredible opportunities to remedy an unappealing reputation and it’s incredibly easy.

“Guide the conversation”

Taking control of an online reputation requires an honesty and an acceptance that online is king and that’s where businesses either thrive or disappear. When I say honesty, I mean self reflection and a commitment to not cutting corners, or trying to paper over a huge chasm with temporary measures that achieve nothing. I also mean not trying to have legitimate reviews removed or reviewers silenced. Any sensible business owner will understand that concerns raised by legitimate reviews are gilt-edged opportunities to remedy issues in their business and to respond to the review with an apology and gratitude.

“Once a business owner fully embraces the fact that 90% of reviewers actively seek reviews before contacting a business, then it’s all downhill.”

So what does guiding the conversation actually mean? It involves commitment and a dialogue with reviewers – one that can only advance a brand and a business. Once a business owner fully embraces the fact that 90% of reviewers actively seek reviews before contacting a business, then all the benefits of owning an online reputation come to fruition. Letting go of outmoded marketing strategies and platforms is also important. Online truly is everything.

When it’s realised what it means for potential customers to see reviews and also to see a business responding to that feedback – no matter if it’s good, or bad, then the ball rolls even further in cementing and enhancing an online reputation. Apart from the obvious goodwill generated, responding to reviews assists in organic SEO.

Without putting it too simply, ignoring online reputation is a massive opportunity missed and in many cases it’s indicative of businesses with something to hide. Consumers aren’t stupid – bad reputations left to rot online only signal one thing – avoid! No business can afford for that to happen and should do everything its power to avoid it. Guide the conversation before it’s too late.