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Style, Grammar, and Tone: Branding Through Your Online Review Responses

When you’re active in responding to reviews online, it’s extremely important to take some precautionary measures to ensure that your responses are drafted in a way that add value to your business.

Many SMB owners have done potentially irreparable damage to their business reputation by giving a response that is hasty and emotional, poorly written, or distant from the missions and values of their organization. Some have even gone so far as to mock reviewers by means of sarcasm, or by imitating the grammatical shortcomings of their guests.

The more reviews you get, the more tempting it is to become lax, and to allow numerous individuals within your organization to speak on behalf of the business by answering reviews at their leisure. But before giving them the corporate blessing and your login and password to your reputation management dashboard, you first have to determine if they are both competent and able to take on this important job.

Style matters

The style in which a business or enterprise will answer its reviews is dictated by two factors; primarily, the demographics of its main customer segments, and secondarily, the image that the business wishes to portray to further enhance its branding and concept.

Knowing who your customers are (demographics and segmentation) will allow you to tailor your voice in a way that is aligned with the customer’s cultural nuances, educational level, and linguistic and regional preferences. By taking these factors into account, you will sound approachable and relevant, and you will seldom be perceived as talking down to the customer.

Another aspect of style that’s often neglected is the consistency in length of response. Keep in mind that responses rest in an open forum and will be seen by your prior, current, and future customers. Making every customer feel valuable by giving them an equal share of time and attention will speak volumes about your organization.

In drafting a well-styled response, you must also take into account brand-specific lingo present in offline and online marketing collateral. Even the most casual of businesses should refrain from using common online abbreviations like LOL or OMG, and emoticons (“smileys”) should not regularly be incorporated into a response.

Grammar matters

While it is both wise and kind to offer customers all manner of leniency when it comes to poor grammar, the same does not apply to corporate responses. Whoever is in charge of responding to your reviews, make sure that they have a good grasp of grammatical rules. A great resource to ensure consistency in the manner in which grammar rules are applied is the Associated Press Stylebook.

Generally speaking, grammatical issues such as capitalization and punctuation are easy to diagnose and correct. The biggest and most common problem with poorly answered customer reviews is often the result of misused words. If there are concerns regarding the grammatical quality of responses, consider establishing a peer review or editing process by pairing two competent team members with the task of responding to online business reviews. Simplicity in word choice, and cheat sheets for commonly used words, can make a big difference in the grammatical quality of review responses.

One important consideration for SMB owners is language barriers on the part of the owners or managers. The first cardinal rule in this situation is to NEVER resort to using an online translator to draft responses. Online translation technology has not advanced sufficiently to capture and convey a message with the original meaning preserved. If you find yourself in such a situation, explore the possibility of outsourcing or hiring a contractor part-time to help you out.

Tone matters

You should remember that a reader doesn’t have the benefit of non-verbal nuances when reading a review response online. When selecting the tone for your response, seek to convey kindness, interest, and compassion.

A review response is definitely not a place to vent, argue, demean, or correct a customer, regardless of how “wrong” or “unfair” their words might be. Smart and intentional review managers make it a point to refrain from double meanings, obscure figures of speech, sarcasm, cynicism and finger-pointing. The principal goal is to acknowledge, address the concern of, and please the customer. Focus on remedy, gratitude, and branding. If a review is “unfair” explore the possibility of removing or contesting a negative review, enough, instead of venting or confronting the person who wrote it. If review is negative but still polite, utmost consideration should be taken in responding in kind.

Kevin Kent

Kevin is the Director of Finance and Operations at ReviewTrackers. Every day he finds creative ways to solve business owners' problems and identifies key issues to help them achieve top results.


  1. KrisM77

    A long, well composed, calm tone and error free response is all you need. I wish that it was simple like that. There are reviews that simply can’t be responded to without an aggressive attitude. I mean, I had a few negative reviews that were just unfair and the customer lied all the way through the review. As I can’t prove he is wrong and that he is providing untrue facts, I need to call him a liar. What else could I do? How can I write in calm tone, apologize or compose a response that will benefit my business, when all that the customer wrote is a pure lie?