Referrals from past clients are the bread and butter of a successful real estate agent. In today’s digital age, online reviews function in much the same way: stranger marketing. An online review on its own may not carry the same weight as a direct referral from the trusted confidant. However, several online reviews with similar positive ratings make potential clients take notice. In fact, 80%-90% of consumers use online reviews to evaluate businesses, according to Placester.

So how can you ensure a steady stream of positive online reviews? Read these tips for actions to take — and what to avoid — for the best results.

Choose a platform

Reviews of your services can be found on numerous sites, including:

  • Zillow;
  • Trulia;
  • com;
  • Google+;
  • Yelp (primarily for brokerages rather than individual agents);
  • Angie’s List;
  • LinkedIn; and
  • Facebook.

If you want a review to be attached to your name, first you’ll need to create a profile on any of these sites. The exception is Google+, on which anyone can leave a review, even if you don’t create a business profile. But you do have to verify your business on Google+ in order to respond to reviews and engage with your commenters.

If you don’t have any profiles created yet, then create profiles on two or three of the above platforms to start. Limiting the number of profiles you have will concentrate your reviews and avoid you missing the chance to respond to a review (more on that below).

Ask happy clients for a review

Now that you’ve created your profile(s), how do you get clients to write reviews?

Timing is essential when asking for a client review. Asking in the midst of closing when everyone is focused exclusively on a smooth completion of the transaction is too soon — your request will likely get lost in the midst of all the other tasks the new homebuyer or seller has to complete. It’s best to wait about a week after closing and then gently ask for a review.

A good way to ask is to include a note with your closing gift, which can say something like:

It was a pleasure working with you to sell your home. I hope I can help you with your next home sale or purchase. If you feel so inclined, please consider posting a brief testimonial of your experience on [review platform].

You can make this even easier for your client by sending an email with a link to your profile. However, soliciting reviews in exchange for money or products is against Google’s review policy (and is also unethical). Therefore, we advise against sending an email to a client requesting a review while at the same time attaching an online gift card.

Also, do not ask someone to write a review if they haven’t actually used your services. This is fraudulent and can get you in trouble with the review site and even with the California Bureau of Real Estate (CalBRE). The CalBRE commissioner may revoke or suspend a real estate license due to any substantial misrepresentation or any conduct which constitutes fraud or dishonest dealing. [Calif. Business & Professional Code §10176(a); (i)]

Finally, do not ask for a review from a client that was not pleased with your services. As all practicing agents are aware, a positive relationship does not always develop with all clients over the course of a transaction. If a client was hostile to you despite your best efforts, there’s no need to encourage them to provide public feedback of your services as it may yield comments that are contrary to your objectives.

Put your reviews to work

Once you have earned some positive reviews from clients, choose one or two of your best reviews and include them in your marketing materials (after requesting permission from the reviewer).

Further, don’t limit your online reviews to online marketing — incorporate them into a printed brochure or postcard you can hand to potential clients when you meet. Select the feedback you choose in accordance with your target clientele. For instance, if you’ve received a positive review from a past client within your FARM area or specific neighborhood, use that review in your marketing materials within that same area. A review will carry more weight if it is written by the recipient’s neighbor, and will go a long way towards exhibiting your expertise within the community.

Lastly, when you hand your new potential client the brochure, be sure to mention that you hope to earn similar praise from them once you successfully help them find or sell their home.

Responding to reviews

When a client leaves you a review, it means they went out of their way to do you a favor. Reciprocate. Thank them appropriately by responding to their comment, letting them know how great it was to work with them and thanking them for the kind review.

The exception is when someone leaves you a negative review, in which case you’ll also need to respond but in a different capacity.

Negative reviews happen and can taint the online presence of even the most proficient agents. How you deal with them speaks loudly to potential clients, and if handled correctly, can convert a negative situation into a positive one.

First, timely respond to a negative review. Leaving it with no response is as good as admitting guilt to the reviewer’s claims, whatever they may be. Reply to the comment publicly, by:

  • naming the reviewer’s concern and apologizing that they had that experience;
  • suggesting a remedy for their concern; and
  • telling them to contact you via email or phone so you can help them to resolve their claim.

Things to avoid saying in your response (even if they may be true) include:

  • blaming the reviewer;
  • calling out the bad behavior of the reviewer;
  • refusing to take responsibility; or
  • suggesting they take their business elsewhere.

All of these things reflect poorly on you and indicate an unprofessional temperament. Your response will have readers looking elsewhere quickly, even if the original negative comment didn’t.

Make sure to check each of your profiles regularly; at least once a week. This will ensure you don’t miss a review. It also gives you a chance to update your profile with any new accomplishments or sale activities. Think of this as a digital FARM of sorts – you need to continually nurture and cultivate the platform for it to yield the greatest benefits.