Protecting Yourself From Negative Online Reviews As A Business Owner

As a business owner, you want to do everything you can to effectively deal with negative reviews, so they don’t ruin your business’ reputation and keep customers from working with you. But what do you do when you get an unfair or untrue comment? How do you handle the situation?

Small businesses often generate a significant amount (or lack thereof) of business by word-of-mouth, but that doesn’t just mean talking to people you know about a business. These days that means reading online reviews and comments and with some polls estimating that more than 85% of consumers consult online reviews before using local and small businesses, protecting your brand’s reputation may have never been more important. The question then, is how, in the age of technology, social media and everyone having the ability to leave a comment or opinion, does a business go about trying to protect its brand, image and reputation? 

There are other issues to worry about here as well. Online reviews are user generated, which means they can be influenced and manipulated. On top of individuals making reviews that are problematic there are concerns about what other businesses and competitors are doing with reviews that could impact your business.  It could be companies that are paying review companies to make positive results that aren’t true, impacting your business by diverting potential clients or customers, or competitors paying review companies to make false claims about your products or services. 

None of those situations above is good. It's important to understand what can be done, what can’t be done and how to handle the review situations. 

For starters, most online reviews, including the bad ones, mean ones and nasty ones, are protected free speech under the first amendment of the constitution. However, that doesn’t mean that all comments and reviews are protected and that as a business owner you wouldn’t have any options for bad reviews. There is a real possibility for every business may receive a negative review that can’t be removed, and we aren’t just talking about comments on your website or online review sites (Yelp and Google for example), but also YouTube, social media sites, Reddit, online forums and basically anywhere else people can express an opinion. 

Reputation Protection 

How can you protect your business and reputation from bad reviews or fake reviews? Here are a few tips on how you can protect your company reputation online:

  • Monitor the review sites or find a way to track mentions of you and your company name. Your image with the public is important to your long term success and bottom line. You may want to make it a habit to regularly check what’s being posted about your business on the review sites and use something like google alerts to get notices about mentions including your company name.
  • Test out the review sites to see how they work and how they handle negative reviews when they are submitted. There may be parameters in place that dictate how reviews can be posted, or there may not be and users can simply post freely about whatever they chose. 
  • Make sure the review is a malicious and false review before moving forward to take additional action. You’ll need to make sure there is no truth to what was posted. In many businesses the owner or management isn’t necessarily aware of every little thing that happens day to day. You may have to investigate to see whether there’s anything to a negative review before jumping straight to claiming it’s false or defamatory. 
  • Claim your business page on the review sites. Places like Yelp and Google Business offer you the opportunity to claim your review page. This isn’t going to prevent someone from posting a bad, negative or false review, but it will make it easier to monitor what’s being said about the company, respond to posts and possibly open up options to remove anything that may be untrue. 

How to Handle A Bad Online Review

  • One option will always be to respond to the review. A couple of things to consider if this is something you pursue: respond on the site where the negative review was posted and tell your side of the story; read the response guidelines for the site; make sure to respond to the major points of the negative post; be polite, objective and don’t attack the individual who posted the review; try not to be emotional. 
  • Make an argument requesting the site remove the or delete the review. If you can make a case for malicious intent and a corresponding negative outcome you may be able to get the site to remove the comment or review. Draft a letter showing how the review has impacted your business, provide supporting evidence to show it’s false and send it to the company. If you can convince the company they are potentially placed in a position of liability they will be more inclined to act. 
  • Take the situation to court. It’s common for businesses to ask if you can sue for a false review? Yes, there’s legal recourse for false allegations online. In a scenario where there has been a false statement, amounting to defamation and your company has been harmed (something you’ll need to prove), you can consider taking the claim to court. Weight this option not just from a legal perspective, but from an overall business perspective as well - it may be costly and your chances of collecting any real compensation, even if you “win” may be small. 

Many states have Anti-SLAPP laws. “SLAPP” stands for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, and Anti-SLAPP laws provide defendants a way to quickly dismiss meritless lawsuits filed against them for exercising their first amendment rights. At least 32 states currently have some form of Anti-SLAPP law, and there’s the potential for federal Anti-SLAPP legislation as well. The laws vary quite a bit from state to state, but it’s important to understand the concept behind them in regards to businesses and negative online reviews or comments. The laws make it harder to silence critics in situations. Where previously a company may have had the option to file suit against someone who wrote a negative review as a means to try and dissuade them from continuing to do so and have the review removed, the Anti-SLAPP laws limit that option. The point is, if you’re going to look at the legal option in response to a negative review, you’ll need to factor in your states Anti-SLAPP laws. 

Have questions about protecting your business reputation online or how to handle a bad review? Contact us to schedule a free consultation. 

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