Use a Negative Online Review to Showcase Your Business Strengths

"Spee-D Printing must think it is opposite day. The job was late, the paper was ecru instead of cream and the font was avenir instead of futura. Only use this company if you like inattention to detail, sloppy work product and rude customer service, and that’s if you can get anyone to answer the phone."

This was just posted on Yelp, an online review site. It’s not true, and you think it’s from a recently fired employee or maybe a competitor. Can you sue Yelp? Or the complainer? Can you make Yelp or Angie’s List or Facebook take down the bad review? Are there other alternatives? Does it really matter?

In reverse order, online reviews matter more and more. Just a few negative reviews can really drive down sales and potentially close businesses. Customers pay less attention to your professional marketing and more attention to peer reviews.

To address negative online reviews, first you have to see them. Every retail and consumer business needs to understand social media and monitor brands online. They also need a social media response strategy.

Negative reviews actually can be a great tool for a small business owner. They uncover hidden problems and give you a chance to show you care about the customers, their experience and your business. Taking them down can be done, but it is difficult and you can look like you are hiding something. Every social media site has its own procedure for take-down.

When you find a disgruntled customer posting online, engage politely, constructively and sincerely. You might try to reach out privately to settle the issue or get more facts so you can fix legitimate problems.

But you also want to respond online, so there is a permanent response to the negative review. Be polite and professional, and thank the reviewer for the feedback. Briefly and factually respond. Don’t argue, be combative or be defensive. Don’t insult or belittle the poster.

For example, the owner of Spee-D Printing could respond: “We hate that you had a bad experience. We noticed a serious error in our registering software, and we thought we had recalled all the misprinted items. Obviously, we missed one and we cannot be sorrier. We’d like to reprint your order for free, and we’d also like to donate $100 to the charity of your choice to in some small way compensate you for the inconvenience.”

Another way to overcome bad reviews is to encourage satisfied customers to give positive feedback. Have you been to a business that has this sign by the register: If you liked your meal, like us on Facebook or review us on Yelp. Natural, organic reviews can really help your business, but orchestrated, canned or fake reviews will be discovered and removed.

You can also put your own positive content (interviews with your employees, customers, vendors, this week’s specials, news about the local business scene, best wishes to the new store next door, pictures of your renovation, a recipe, new products) to be fresher than the negative reviews.

Defamation suits are rarely a viable option. Defamation is a false statement that is harmful to a person’s or business’ reputation, that was made recklessly or intentionally. Opinions, even harsh ones, are not considered to be defamation.

Also, it is very difficult to bring defamation suits against bloggers and most commenters. Section 230 of The Communication Decency Act gives a safe harbor from defamation suits to users or providers of an “interactive computer service” (i.e., if you post a blog via WordPress or Blogger, you are a user, if you host a web site, you are a provider). You may still be liable if you edit comments and accidentally change the meaning of a comment, or in your response to a comment.

The moral is: if you see the bad review, take a deep breath, and use your chance to showcase your strengths to an online audience.

What do you think? Share your experiences.

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