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This article was written by Victoria Greene, a freelance writer and brand consultant. She writes her own blog VictoriaEcommerce, where she shares her best tips for gaining honest customer feedback.

Your brand’s reputation matters. 4 out of 5 Americans read reviews before making purchases online and 84 percent of people trust online reviews from strangers as much as recommendations from their friends and families.

Having backing from your buyers will help you generate more sales, but don’t be fooled into thinking that reviews are all about bolstering a brand’s reputation and little else.

Reviews protect online marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, and Etsy, as well as consumers and Internet users en masse. Companies that try to fake positive reviews damage not only their own brand (risking removal from marketplaces or possible legal action), but they erode consumer trust in all industries trying to make a profit online.

Here are some tips on how to generate honest reviews for your newly established online brand.

Create a Centralized Reviews Hub on Your Website

Firstly, you will need to create a place for your online reviews that’s easy to find from your home and product pages. For many e-commerce hosts, this will simply be an option you ‘enable’ in your design settings. Make sure that you make it look attractive and on-brand. A clean layout with a white background tends to look best.

Next, you will want to ensure that your products are set up with reviews on all of the relevant major review sites for your industry, such as Google, Facebook, Yelp, Tripadvisor, etc.

Further, if you’re an omnichannel brand, or may be looking to expand to other marketplaces in the future, you will have reviews coming in from multiple sources. Tracking and analyzing customer feedback comments can be streamlined with a service like ReviewTrackers.

Develop a Core Fanbase

Based on your business’ early sales figures, go back to these recent customers and simply ask them for a review. You can do this via e-mail or telephone call if you have the details.

(Or if you’re focused on building your reviews on Google in particular, you can use this free printable review handout generator.)

In making these calls, make sure that you do not offer them any sort of incentive in exchange for their feedback. This could harm your brand’s reputation in the early stages.

You are looking for honest, positive reviews, so approach customers who would likely have nice things to say about you. Repeat customers would be a good place to start.

Marketing Your Online Brand

In developing a core fanbase, you will also need to spend a significant amount of time and effort marketing your online business.

The aim here is to develop organic engagement with your brand and products and for this, there are no shortcuts in generating those 5-star reviews.

Take a strategic approach to marketing within the follow areas:

Social Media: Facebook offers Pages profiles to businesses where you can use paid advertising or organic community-building tactics to drive reviewers to your products.

In developing organic content marketing campaigns, be sure to vary the types of content you post. Aggregate images, relevant news stories, questions and surveys, as well as posts that encourage your followers to post reviews. You want to offer something for free, e.g. interesting information, so your followers will be naturally incentivized to interact with your brand.

Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Facebook each have their own strategies for building followers and facilitating paid advertising. In learning the “etiquette” for each site, you will also want to analyze:

  • Times of day and days of the week where content gets shared most frequently
  • Age and interests of your core demographic
  • Popular content types (images, videos, articles)
  • Popular industry keywords and hashtags

Social media analytics services can help you search and build up an accurate profile of your social media audiences, wherever they may reside. Alternatively, Facebook Insights, Hootsuite (which integrates with ReviewTrackers), Google Analytics, Google Trends, Followerwonk, and other free programs can also help you gather useful data.

Blog Content: Establishing a company blog will give you a place to post pieces of evergreen content that could set you up with a steady stream of organic reviews for your business. Evergreen content is useful information that does not age with Internet trends. For example, a brand that sells children’s shoes could create a print-out foot measuring guide for parents.

Within the content, place a link and Call to Action asking for readers to review your products.

Guest Posting: Creating content for relevant industry blogs and news sites can help draw traffic and customers to your site. Similarly, influencer marketing targets popular bloggers and social media personalities, and in exchange for a free sample or sponsorship deal, you can get them to test and post about your products.

Analyzing Feedback

Reviews in the traditional sense are designed to give customers the opportunity to get back to you with their queries and suggestions for improvement. It should be the goal of every business to heed customer feedback and give consumers everything they could ever want from your brand.

Don’t worry so much about the 1-star reviews; instead, see it as an opportunity to improve customer service with customers who have genuine issues in need of a resolution. This approach will help you reduce the number of negative reviews over time, and help you build on positive responses.

Responding To Bad Reviews

Utilizing reviews begins with responding quickly to the comments that truly demand your attention.

Do not be tempted to delete a negative review. If you are caught, the damage to your brand’s reputation will be far worse.

With some negative feedback, it will be evident to both you and the average Internet user that the comment was a troll or someone with a problem that is not within your remit to solve. In these cases, flag them to the moderators and ignore them in the hopes the comment will later be removed.

In responding to the reviewers that require assistance, get in touch within 24 hours. Do what you can to resolve the issue and always be polite and courteous. Apologize and take public ownership of any mistakes you have made.

If this means sending a wider “troubleshooting” e-mail to customers who may be affected, do so. Everyone makes mistakes, but it could actually enhance your reputation if you are seen to care about your customers’ needs and genuinely want to offer them a better service.

Making Changes

If a negative issue keeps cropping up in your reviews, you may need to regroup and think about whether you can make wider changes to your products or operations.

Try to see through your customers’ eyes as much as possible. Does your online store need to be more user-friendly? Or do you need to adjust your product listings information for accuracy?

A subscription-based online store builder can help you adjust your store settings and enhance the user’s experience of your site, with access to numerous resources and tutorials. Quite often, minor adjustments can generate positive feedback relatively quickly.

Anticipate Your Customer’s Needs

And finally, by analyzing your responses online and making changes, you may be able to begin anticipating your customers’ needs and start truly giving them the 5-star experiences they want from your brand.

Use customer insight data and wider trends to help you future-proof your business.  If your customers are using mobile, for example, consider accepting mobile payments in your store and then publicize this new development.

Generating reviews for your business requires careful consideration and a multidisciplinary approach. From marketing to analytics skills, the efforts you place into building your online reputation will pay off in sales revenue and increased traffic to your site.

(Image credit: unsplash)

Migs Bassig

Migs is the Content Manager for ReviewTrackers. He's a creative writer who has helped numerous companies communicate more effectively online, and he loves sharing his local marketing knowledge to help brands and business succeed.