A bad review can easily damage the reputation of a small business. Failing to address negative social media and online posts could make it worse.
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Yelp.com recently won a case in California where an aggrieved law firm tried to force it to remove negative posts. That, the state's supreme court ruled, would be a legal no-no. While it's a victory for freedom-of-speech advocates, many business owners say they are vulnerable to anyone who chooses to spread falsehoods because there are no consequences for doing so.
There are several measures a business can take to respond to negative reviews to mitigate any potential damage.
"This is something you simply can't ignore," said Columbia Business School professor Jeremy Kagan. "The best defense is a good offense."
Here are some key points for business owners:
ASK HAPPY CUSTOMERS TO POST REVIEWS OF THEIR EXPERIENCE
It's important to be proactive and have staff ask customers to post their experience. The offensive part of this strategy involves having a base of good reviews from happy customers. It's even more important because people who are upset are usually more motivated, Kagan said.
That can leave a skewed picture of a business. A solid base of good reviews will help give a potential customer a broader view.
RESPOND IMMEDIATELY AND POLITELY
People want to know that the owner is professional and cares about fixing legitimate problems. Simple things, like saying "I'm very sorry you didn't enjoy" the meal or product can go a long way with potential new customers checking out your reviews.
"You will often find that you're playing to the audience, which is sort of neutral," Kagan said.
PROVIDE A FACTUAL REBUTTAL
While owners should acknowledge a person's feelings, there are some issues where a factual rebuttal is necessary.
For a restaurant, this could include providing a link to a health department grade or report if somebody falsely accuses the restaurant of being unclean. For some companies, it could mean posting a statement on steps being taken to improve a product or service.
"You're not necessarily going to fix an upset person," Kagan said. "What you can do is limit the impact."