Living Smart: Rules for writing - and reacting to - online reviews

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

As online reviews become an increasingly common tool to help consumers make everyday decisions, from where to eat to which roofer to hire, itís important to keep a few basic guidelines in mind.

Iíve been in the consumer-review business for almost 20 years. Here are my top three rules for consumers to consider before sharing a business or service provider experience with the world:

Be honest. You have the right to write truthfully about your experiences. But that right isnít protected if you fabricate information.

Be fair and objective. State your experience as it happened, without exaggeration or unfounded conclusions.

Be polite. For instance, itís one thing to say that a painter showed up late and did sloppy work. Itís quite another to call the painter a crook.

Ideally, reviews serve a greater purpose than documenting one personís experience. They help consumers make better decisions about spending money on home and other services, and they can ó if approached properly ó help companies fine-tune business practices to better serve customers. But the reality is that people have always discussed their experiences with companies and service providers. Online reviews simply amplify that practice.

Smart business owners pay attention to their online reviews and work to make things right when consumers arenít happy. Here are my top three rules for how businesses should respond to negative reviews:

Be thoughtful. Donít react in the heat of emotion. A tactless, angry or defensive response could hurt your business more than a single review.

Be aware. Donít ignore negative feedback. A thoughtful response that shows youíve looked into the problem can increase consumer confidence.

Be open. A single bad review every now and again isnít the end of the world. But a pattern of negative feedback tells you something is wrong and needs attention.

How a business owner responds to reviews, particularly negative ones, tells a prospective customer a lot. I wouldnít hire someone whoís dismissive of a negative experience, but I would consider a company that works to resolve a problem. Iím even more impressed when a business takes time to respond with thanks to positive reviews.