The second installment of our monthly News Round-Up series focuses on behavior and how it impacts the trustworthiness of your business. This past month saw stories and articles written about the consequences of responding poorly to negative reviews and the best practices for avoiding such situations. Here are some of the highlights:
Timothy Geigner, of online publication Techdirt, comments on yet another case of an owner responding to a negative review with legal action. A customer wrote a seemingly genuine testimonial on a popular review site, but it was not accurate according to the shop owner. After the review appeared on Google, the owner enlisted a lawyer to serve the reviewer with a defamation lawsuit. This response escalated the situation to viral levels. Businesses should always beware of the Streisand Effect. This term, stemming from when Barbra Streisand unsuccessfully sued a photographer for uploading a picture of her Malibu mansion to his website, refers to cases when an attempt to suppress information backfires.
It takes some longer to learn than others. Lisa Freedman, a writer for The Knot, reports on the growing trend of wedding vendors adding clauses in contracts preventing clients from writing negative reviews. Sure enough, news of vendors suppressing clients from publishing opinions has reached the masses, to which vendors have responded by advancing the legal jargon. While the threats have certainly been the cause of worry for consumers, they are not founded on an adequate amount of legal precedence to hold up. In contrast, one way to find a trustworthy professional would be to look at how a vendor responds to a poor review. If handled in a mature and reasonable fashion, it’s safe to assume the vendor understands its flaws and aims to correct them.
This type of response coincides with advice from public relations expert Allie Danziger, founder of Integrate Public Relations. She wrote a piece in the Houston Business Journal describing the proper tactics for responding to online reviews. Danziger recommends planning for worst-case scenarios by analyzing your own reviews and those of competitors. Have a plan of action that does not include deleting a review. This involves knowing when to respond publicly versus privately, politely suggesting a reviewer refrain from hyperbolic language, responding within a few hours of the posting, and then making sure to follow up.
Another expert on the matter, Michael Fertik, sat down with Ian Mount of The New York Times to discuss managing one’s online presence. Fertik founded Reputation.com in 2006 around the idea that parents would want to safeguard their children’s online reputation. He quickly found that his service had a far greater appeal to business professionals. When asked how to handle particularly nasty reviews from customers, Fertik cautioned away from responding in kind: “When you wrestle with a pig you both get covered in mud”—a common saying from Kentucky, he says. If the claim by a customer proves to be true, injecting humor into the discussion and including a commitment to regain the trust of customers should be the go-to protocol for a business.
These articles are all in response to a flawed online review system. Businesses and consumers alike have become more aggressive and opinionated online. There may also be confusion when interpreting a review, as a four out of five one place may mean another somewhere else. A system less prone to manipulation and with a more sophisticated rating structure needs to exist.
The intention of online reviews is not to start a battle between businesses and consumers, yet conflicts sometime become an unintended consequence. While both parties should practice a fair amount of restraint, it is the good name of the business at risk. Make sure you have a plan of action for responding to negativity and untrustworthy reviews before you actually encounter a situation. Preparedness facilitates appropriate reactions. The Streisand Effect is a real thing, and discouraging negativity through legal action or responding in equal fashion does more harm to the reputation of your business than a bad testimonial ever could.