yelp logo blackTo stay on top of your online reputation and use review sites like Yelp to their full potential, just follow these 5 basic principles:

1) Take full advantage of free business promotion tools.  The best way to hurt your company’s online image is to have a Yelp profile that is missing important contact information, lacks photographs, or looks unkempt.  Remember, studies have shown that Yelp operates like a virtual storefront―having a clean and attractive “welcome mat” is a key way to draw clientele.  Other tools, like apps and analytics, can similarly expand your electronic interface.

2) Communicate clearly and regularly with your Yelp constituency.  Getting a bad review on Yelp isn’t the end of the world.  You should never respond in anger or frustration.  Simply address the customer’s concerns patiently and openly, and be willing to go the extra mile.  Remember the internet is watching; how you respond to one customer will be visible to countless others.  And communicate in other ways too!  Yelp has a “Yelp Deals and Gift Certificates” feature that enables you to offer discount vouchers similar to Groupon.

3) Defend your company’s reputation with a supportive social media network.  Fact: Yelp reviewers are less likely to list a public negative review for a company with an active social network and thousands of followers.  Their impulse will be to assume that “X people can’t be wrong” and figure they must have caught you on a bad day.  Besides, harvesting likes and followers on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook can only benefit you in the long run.

4) Use Yelp regularly as a customer of other businesses. This strategy is less intuitive, but hear me out.  You can’t know how your own public face looks to customers until you’ve been a customer and seen how other businesses look on Yelp.  This won’t cost you any additional time.  Just create a Yelp account for yourself, and start using it to decide which restaurant or clothing store you’ll choose next time you’re out.  Soon you’ll develop a feel for the site, and your own presentation techniques will improve.

5) Take Yelp reviews seriously, but not too seriously.  Remember that your Yelp image is about the big picture.  With all the positive and negative reviews floating around in Yelp’s zero-accountability zone, a negative review here or there isn’t going to ruin you, just like a positive review isn’t going to make you a millionaire.  Just remember the tips above and damage control will become like second nature!

If online advertising and reputation management isn’t your forte, the above advice should serve to get you going.  Now that you understand what Yelp is, how it operates, and how you should approach it as a customer and small business owner, you’re ready to get started.

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