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Online reputationBy now, everyone knows that most home buyers start their search online. Once they’ve sloshed through page after page of homes for sale, buyers start thinking seriously about other decisions, such as, “Who will we work with to purchase our new home?”

To answer that question, buyers also search online. What will they find when they start checking up on you?

Agent ratings and reviews have become increasingly important for real estate professionals. Here are five ways to make sure you’re putting your best face forward:

1. More reviews = more business

People want assurances from others. It helps establish credibility, and more assurances are definitely better than less. For this reason alone, making an effort to increase the number of reviews you have online is time well spent.

2. Fresh is best

Consumers also put more weight on new reviews. So don’t rest onyour laurels. It’s important to continually ask clients to provide reviews and set up systems that put these requests on “auto pilot.” Ideally, new clients should be asked to contribute a review shortly after closing, while they are feeling especially good about the home buying process.

3. Share the love

If good begets good, one of the best ways to improve your online reputation is to submit genuine, positive reviews of others, especially your favorite local businesses. Once the review appears, send the link to the owner to make sure he or she knows you’ve supported their cause.

If you don’t want to invest this much effort, consider the simplest, easiest recommendation of all—find the Facebook pages for your favorite local businesses and hit the Like button or write a positive comment.

4. Know the rules

When it comes to review sites, it’s important to understand what you can and can’t do. Fraudulent reviews are obviously prohibited—whether they’re pumping up your business or putting down a competitor. Such actions also violate the REALTOR® Code of Ethics.

It can also be against the rules to provide any kind of enticement, whether it’s a payment, discount or prize to encourage clients to contribute reviews. Make sure you read and abide by the terms and conditions of each site. Failing to do so can result in being banned—a red flag that can negatively impact your reputation for a long time to come.

5. About bad reviews

You probably have a lot of happy customers. But the sad fact is that some people enjoy complaining. If you find yourself on the receiving end of strong criticism, don’t panic. There are several constructive steps you can take.

First, have systems in place that will alert you to the problem. It’s important to respond promptly, but not until you’ve cooled off and collected your wits. Most review sites allow you to reply publicly to negative reviews.

Don’t retaliate with angry words; instead, claim the higher ground and apologize in a way that acknowledges their complaint and offers additional information about the situation, without necessarily shouldering all the blame. Most people will side with whoever appears more reasonable.

Additionally, most review sites allow business owners to challenge reviews if they believe the content is fraudulent. Once your challenge is investigated and substantiated, the review will be removed from the site.

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