The digital age has without a doubt empowered consumers like never before. Through social media, blogs and online review services, customers now have the ability to publicly voice their love or disdain for a business.

And these user-generated comments can be stunningly powerful. Leading companies such as Netflix and Verizon have shifted policies after unhappy users voiced concern on social networks. As a recent post from Red Banyan Group highlighted, Instagram “clarified” its terms of use after a social media uproar last month. A recent study by Harvard Business School even found that one extra star in a Yelp review average garners 5 to 9% more revenue for a restaurant.

Several business owners over the last few years have even gone so far as to sue online reviewers for posts which they believe unfairly malign their companies. Such bold actions illustrate the importance of a carefully considered and properly orchestrated response to sensitive social media situations. Sometimes a hammer may be the right tool, but often it’s a scalpel.

Companies have a variety of options and steps they can take to handle unfortunate situations like bad user reviews. As crisis communications experts, Red Banyan Group regularly advises clients in challenging circumstances such as these. Businesses must consider both the immediate and long-term repercussions of their chosen courses of action. A negatively-viewed corporate reaction can multiply a company’s image issues tenfold, while being accessible, responsive and clear in your response can dramatically improve consumers’ impressions.

While every communications quandary requires an individually tailored strategy, the one constant is to effectively and empathetically communicate clear messages to your key constituencies.  When it comes to online interactions with customers, often times an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Companies would be well advised to avoid the fight in the first place, but when left with no other choice they should think hard before they choose either the hammer or the scalpel.