The popularity of consumer review websites like Yelp.com and Angieslist.com means that many businesses are spending more time monitoring their online reputations.
That can also mean reaching out to unhappy customers to try to persuade them to change bad reviews.
Exterminator Jim McHale monitors reviews himself instead of delegating the task.
"I'm in the relationship business," said McHale of JP McHale Pest Management in Buchanan. "I want to know (what's being written) and it's a good way for me to find out what's going on."
"We jump on it," said McHale of his company's efforts to manage dissatisfied customers. "If you help them and resolve their issue, that's all they want."
Online reputation management is also becoming a bigger business for public relations professionals who monitor sites for their clients. Dawn Dankner-Rosen of DDR Public Relations in Pleasantville said that she spends a great deal of time online seeing what her clients' customers are posting and responding to the comments.
"Where it used to be 100 percent media relations, it's now 50 percent media relations and the other 50 percent is engaging in local conversations, especially for my local clients," she said.
Yelp.com, for example, gets about 108 million unique visitors a month. Yelp's business model is to create a community of reviewers and businesses interacting with each other.
Businesses are allowed to claim a free account that they can use to respond to negative reviewers, who have the ability to update or remove their reviews.
"I think that's one of the most valuable tools for businesses, because they have the opportunity to join the conversations," said Darnell Holloway, a Yelp manager of local business outreach based in New York City.
Holloway said that a private response to a negative reviewer is the best first step for a business, followed by a public post with an explanation or announcement of changes that demonstrate sensitivity to customer concerns.
Risa B. Hoag of GMG Public Relations in Nanuet, N.Y., said she's doing more online reputation management these days because more of her clients are consumer-oriented businesses. For some of her clients Hoag is the person who directly responds to Facebook comments or reviews on sites like Yelp.
She said the sites provide an opportunity for business owners to correct unnoticed problems.
"What I tell my clients is if you don't want a bad review on Yelp you have to do a great job and control your employees," said Hoag. "It forces clients to read those reviews and implement whatever changes are necessary."
Not everyone is convinced about review sites' importance. Dr. Lyle Dennis, chief of neurology at Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, N.Y., and the editor of extremelongevity.com, said he doesn't pay much attention to medical and physician review sites like ratemeds.com.
"I think those (sites) are minimally used and exceedingly inaccurate. I doubt that many people look at them," said Dennis. He said more people choose doctors through word of mouth or primary-care physician referrals.
Despite his views, Dennis launched his own medical social media site, healthkeep.com, in April. The site allows users to anonymously post comments about their health conditions to foster sharing while preserving medical privacy.
Dennis acknowledged that healthkeep.com could be used to write negative comments about doctors, but said that users will be able to agree or disagree with postings and inappropriate comments can be removed.