Online reviews.  We can love them or we can despise them, especially if it has anything to do with our business.  With the advent of social media, the opportunity for people to share information with others has never been easier – from Google and Yelp, to Angie’s List and Foursquare.  But how do we really know that what we are reading is truly authentic?

Reading the Sunday Enquirer last weekend I came across an article that asked, “Can You Trust Online Reviews?”  This question was posed to Steven Petrow of Digital Life.  He stated that “recent studies report that 16% to 25% of reviews on these sites (Yelp, Angie’s List and TripAdvisor) are fake, often written or commissioned by businesses trying to counter bad reviews or complaints.”  In fact, “there’s really no way to gauge the accuracy.”  So, if this is the reality, how do we properly utilize online reviews both personally and professionally?

Crowdsourcing, according to Merriam-Webster, is defined as:

“the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content, by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community.”

It is through crowdsourcing that we can properly utilize online reviews because it ensures that the truth will be exposed.  In other words, a bed and breakfast with 3 stars and 50+ reviews is more reliable than one that is 4 stars and 10 reviews.  Those fewer reviews are more than likely skewed in favor of the bed and breakfast owner because of preexisting relationships.

So, before you jump the gun and automatically dismiss a business because of a negative review, or worse, panic because of a negative review your business gets, remember it is only one.  Dig deep and look at all the reviews or work harder at encouraging your customers and clients to share online their experience with you.  Be proactive.  Don’t wait and see what people say.  A negative review can be overwhelmed in the sheer crowd of positive reviews.  It can be used as a catalyst for continuous improvement and raising the bard on excellence.  Leverage the crowd.

Keep it relevant.

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