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BusinessColumnistsJamie Herzlich

Small Business: monitoring online reviews

Online review sites, such as Yelp, can give

Online review sites, such as Yelp, can give you a badge for your website that will help direct customers to where they can post their reviews. (March 18, 2010) Credit: AP

A good online review goes a long way for a business.

In fact, nearly 90 percent of customers say online reviews have influenced their buying decisions, according to a survey conducted this year by Dimensional Research.

With more scrutiny of fake reviews, as evidenced by a recent crackdown by New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, businesses need to pay attention to how they generate and manage their reviews.

"I think it's the beginning of a series of crackdowns," says Lori Randall Stradtman, author of "Online Reputation Management for Dummies" (Wiley; $24.99) and an Athens, Ga.- based social-network architect. "With 'big data' tools, it's going to be a lot easier to sniff out the fakes."

After a yearlong undercover investigation, Schneiderman recently announced an agreement with 19 companies to stop writing fake online reviews and pay more than $350,000 in fines. None of the companies was based on Long Island.

Still, local experts say all companies should be cognizant of the crackdown, noting you risk not only fines, but the loss of audience trust, as well.

It's all about credibility. "I'd be even more worried about visitors to my site who suspect there's a fake review and then spread that around and my e-tail site shows up on 10 or 20 blacklists," says Dave Pasternack, president of Didit, a Mineola-based digital marketing firm. "That could literally put you out of business."

So how do you garner real reviews?

"In order to get more reviews, you'll need to make it as easy as possible for customers to review your business," explains John McHugh, president of Brainstorm Studio, a Melville-based digital marketing firm.

For one, make sure you complete your business profiles on review websites such as Google+, Yelp and TripAdvisor, he notes. The more professional it looks, the more likely a consumer is to post a review, he says.

Place links to review sites from your company websites, he adds. Yelp and other sites will give you a badge to place on your website, says McHugh.

Also, ask for reviews soon after the transaction, he notes. People are more likely to respond the same day or next day, rather than weeks later.

If someone writes a review, good or bad, be sure to respond, he adds.

That's what Joe Bruton, managing partner of Blackstone Steakhouse in Melville, Rare 650 in Syosset and Insignia Steakhouse in Smithtown, has his team do.

"We try to monitor them on a weekly basis," says Bruton, who has Brainstorm Studio monitor reviews in addition to having his own managers keep up on sites like Yelp and OpenTable.

Managers will thank customers if they post a good review, and if they post a not-so-positive experience, they'll try to correct the problem, says Bruton. "We try to reach out on a one-on-one basis and invite people back and make resolution of whatever experience they had," he notes.

Negatives create balance. If a person makes a negative comment on a review site, it's best to "move the conversation offline," says Randall Stradtman. You can say you're sorry they had a particular experience and offer to email them to see how you can handle it further, she advises.

Don't be upset with negative reviews, because they can actually help create balance, says Pasternack. "They increase the credibility of the whole review process."

To encourage reviews, create a more communicative environment where reviews are part of the experience, as is the case with sites like Amazon and eBay, he says. "They're building a community and making it clear to the shopper that their review is valuable."

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