User reviews of products are now an indispensable part of online shopping today, seen as useful for consumers, brands and e-retail Web sites alike. Denise Zimmerman, President and Chief Strategy Officer for NetPlus Marketing Inc.

gave her thoughts on negative consumer reviews on social media sites to eMarketer today.

At first a frightening new feature of online shopping for retailers, it became an accepted and now positive aspect of the e-commerce environment. was one of the first sites to institute the practice, as well as the one to help determine that it was a helpful business driver. If a product is good, Zimmerman explains, positive reviews far outweigh negative ones. The company also receives valuable feedback about problems.

With social media, retailers can respond to customers in a meaningful way. Before, the feedback travelled basically in one direction. "A lot of companies and retailers weren’t necessarily set up then to address these issues in terms of responding, and if something came to light that they needed to address from a product perspective, the organization dynamics were really not in place."

To deal with negative buzz, Zimmerman asserts three options: Ignore, respond or erase. She asserts that there are times when ignoring social media feedback (or even deleting it) is appropriate - comments may not be relevant to the company, or it might be an isolated incident. Also taken into account is where the customer rates in social media influence - Twitter followers, Facebook friends or fans all indicate how much social clout this person has.

Another indicator of how to react to negative feedback is the credibility of the issue. It is a very real fact of the Internet that people love to complain in a public, yet anonymous forum. People may denounce a product for the sake of the act or sling abusive remarks. "You have to bucket it. And by the way, you have to plan for all this. This is not a reactive thing."