online reviewIt's no secret that many small businesses, including dental practices, have discovered the value of online reviews. It is a great way for patients to quickly screen through several options when they are deciding where to go for a service or even dental treatment – what could otherwise be an overwhelming and time-consuming process.

Obviously, there is a yin and a yang to the whole thing. The work and effort to obtain positive reviews could change in a millisecond with a negative comment.

A couple points of interest included in an article written by Becket Adams show the power of positive and negative online reviews. A 2011 Harvard study found that a one star increase in a Yelp rating (5 stars) resulted in a 5 to 9 percent increase in revenue when evaluating posts for Seattle restaurants. Conversley, according to the Harold-Tribune, one customer's "one-star" rating on Yelp decreased the income of a computer graphics company by 70 percent.

Have any of you had a negative comment that was clearly manufactured with a false premise? If you have had the opportunity to work through this type of experience, you learn that even if the comment was proven to be false, the host site still has the discretion on whether or not to remove the comment.

The Communications Decency Act turns out to be a loophole that shields websites that host consumer reviews. Free speech. Consumers have a right to share opinions, but where do the opinions cross the line into the territory of libelous or defamatory?

An article by Angus Loten published in the Wall Street Journal highlights a pending case in the Virginia Supreme Court between a small business owner and Yelp, relating specifically to comments by anonymous contributors. The result of this case could help define a consumer's right to free speech relative to the ability of a business to defend itself.

A blog posted by Andrew Shotland provides insight related to the idea that a negative review could actually add credibility to a group of positive reviews. He provides five points to consider when responding to a negative review – with the goal of turning what could be a festering abscess, if ignored, into a positive opportunity for a small business. All of the consumer review websites listed in the picture below allow for the business owner to respond to a review.

Review sitesGoogle offers a free service designed to monitor searches based on specific queries. Some estimates suggest that only a quarter of small business owners monitor their online reputation and only 5 percent hire an outside firm for this purpose. How do you protect your online reputation?

Douglas G. Benting, DDS, MS, FACP, Spear Visiting Faculty and Contributing Author [ ]