Deal With Online Detractors

In the age of online ratings, your reputation depends on knowing what's being said about you and how to react.

September 1, 2010

With the proliferation of online rating sites, consumers can disseminate their unfiltered opinions about your brokerage and your sales associates within seconds. And although the trend may be a good thing when the reviews are positive and truthful, it’s not so great when the comments are negative and possibly even false. 

"That’s the bad part about the Internet. People can make things up," says Mia Melle, broker and president of Renttoday.us, a property management company in Ontario, Calif.

Melle recently opted to ignore a harsh online review that was submitted anonymously, calling her company rude, dishonest, and a "rip-off king." "It was so over-the-top that I hope no one would pay attention to it," Melle says.

But beyond simply ignoring bad online ratings, what can you do to manage your online reputation?

Be on Alert

First, know where customer reviews are appearing. The number of Web sites at which consumers can make or break your reputation has exploded in recent years. The list includes mainstream sites such as Citysearch, Yelp, and Yahoo as well as real estate–specific sites like Homethinking, AgentRank, and IncredibleAgents.com

Even REALTOR® associations are getting into the game—the Houston Association of REALTORS® recently launched its Agent Rating system, which allows consumers to rate agents and to search for practitioners based on ratings.

Customers also can easily post comments about your company on blogs and social networking sites such as Facebook.

With so many sites out there, how can you keep track of what’s being said about your company? One easy way is to set up a search-engine alert (try Google Alerts at www.google.com/alerts) so you’ll be notified any time your company is mentioned online.

Next, establish a procedure for handling negative reviews. "Respond promptly to every incident using the same medium the consumer used," says Michael Harris Jr., founder of Ardynn PR, a Harrisburg, Pa.–based company that specializes in real estate marketing. "If the comment was made on Twitter, respond on Twitter. Also, make personal contact."

Angie Vandenbergh does both.

"If there’s a place to post a reply or comment, I introduce myself, acknowledge the person had a problem, and offer to help," explains the Web manager at Crye-Leike, REALTORS®, in Memphis, Tenn. "If the comment involves a legal issue or a sales associate, I ask the office broker to contact the person."

Reclaim Your Good Name

If negative reviews are skewing search engine results for your brokerage, you can pay a company like ReputationDefender to even out the results, making positive reviews appear more prominently.

"Our second-fastest growing market [after physicians] is real estate professionals," says Michael Fertik, CEO of the Redwood City, Calif.–based company, which offers an array of products that monitor online presence. "We won’t fake good reviews. Instead we’ll strategically promote or flood the zone with good links to push out bad links."

The key to a good online reputation is showing every site visitor that you care. "Be honest," Harris advises. "Say, ‘Wow, we messed up.’ Or if you don’t have an answer right then, post a message saying, ‘We’ll find a solution to this issue. Would you be willing to help us do that?’"

And keep things in perspective. "Don’t worry too much about individual comments," Harris says. "Some comments aren’t worth spending a ton of time and money on because you may never win."

freelance writer

G.M. Filisko is a Chicago area freelance and former editor for REALTOR® Magazine. 

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