A priced-out prospect posts a miffed “review” on a ratings site, smacking a respected remodeler with a public black eye. An architect blogs that remodeling prices are way down, spurring a feeding frenzy of homeowners expecting deep discounts. An employee lists where he works on his obscenity-laced Facebook page, prompting homeowners doing due diligence on that remodeling company to write the remodeler off in a hurry.

Whether or not you’ve embraced social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and blogs, it’s becoming essential to actively listen to them. Online conversations are windows into unfiltered opinions, experts say — insights that can help you improve, as well as to engage and build trust on a personal level. To get started:

Kyle T. Webster
  • Create automated alerts. Free tools such as Google Alerts can reveal when your name (or other search term, including your competitor) appears in a variety of public online media. Biz-Comm and other marketing agencies can help remodelers set up customized alerts.
  • Surf and infiltrate. At least weekly, search for your name on consumer-driven ratings sites, from Yelp! to the Better Business Bureau. Join community listservs; when relevant, respond to neighbors’ and members’ remodeling queries with helpful, non-salesy advice.
  • Glow preemptively. Encourage strong clients and trade partners to visit the sites and share their perspectives on your company. “We’re going for a blitz of positive comments,” says one remodeler whose Yelp! rating quickly rose from two stars to five this way.
  • Stay cool. For negative comments, if you know the poster, politely call and ask if there is anything you can do to change their impression. If a review is flagrantly untrue or is posted by someone you believe is not a client, you might be able to contact the site and challenge the post’s legitimacy.

Before you act, consider whether it’s worth your time to post a brief, professional response. Be careful; “rebuttals can sound like a dogfight and only put us in a defensive position,” says one remodeler.

  • Associate selectively. “Our reputation has grown considerably since we got busy with Twitter and LinkedIn,” says Ed Cholfin of Advanced Kitchens, in Atlanta. He personally greets everyone who follows or connects with him on those sites, and blocks anyone who is affiliated with multilevel marketing, sex, gossip, gaming, or spam.

Whatever you do, choose your battles carefully, and “don’t get into a tit for tat” involving a nasty post, says marketing consultant Nancy Daniel of Daniel Communications. Better to use the criticism as a way to add value to your services, and to always take the high road. —Leah Thayer, senior editor, REMODELING.