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How Small Businesses Can Handle Negative Online Reviews

How Small Businesses Can Handle Negative Online Reviews

Written by Allan Lacoste, in Category Latest Articles

Most Americans Look At Online Reviews Before Making a Purchase or Hiring A Service

Recent reports from the digital marketing world make the claim that 70% of Americans search online reviews before making a purchase or hiring a service. I believe this claim is true, and so do many businesses who have been rocked by negative online reviews.

There are no businesses free from the potential of negative online reviews. Every business will have an occasional dissatisfied customer. People are people, and you can't please everybody no matter how hard you try. Hopefully, you, as the business owner, can resolve the issue with a customer before it reaches the point where they feel justified to post online. Just know this... one angry customer can cause a whole lot of havoc posting their opinion of you or your business on Yelp, Google My Business, or the Better Business Bureau.

Furthermore, I believe that "online reviews" are here to stay and therefore, small businesses must have a policy and plan to deal with negative reviews (it is only a matter of time before a negative review appears if it hasn't already). Below I have provided a few basic steps which explain how small business owners can protect themselves from negative consumer reviews, as well as how to handle painful defamatory reviews.

Most consumers today regularly look up the online reviews of businesses before they buy a product or hire a business to perform services. It is obvious that people find it helpful to see what others think about a product or a service before making a decision to buy or hire. It makes sense to me. However, online reviews are a doubled-edge sword. While positive reviews can help a business grow, negative reviews can be very harmful. It is my recommendation that small businesses have a robust, proactive plan regarding online reviews.

Where Do Consumers Find Online Negative Reviews?

Reviews of businesses are typically found on the first page of a Google search result. The same is true for Bing and Yahoo. Consumers simply conduct an online search of the name of your business, product, or service and search results appear. If you have positive reviews, the consumer's confidence of your business typically increases. If there is a negative review, the consumer may skip your business, and you'll never know that you lost business.

I have consulted with many small businesses owners who've shared their frustrations regarding unfavorable reviews posted by dissatisfied customers and disgruntled former employees. Moreover, some clients shared situations that I refer to as "revenge-based reviews." Both types of reviews can hurt a business. A consumer today can use their smartphone to look you up, and in mere minutes come to a determination whether or not to.

Of course, most of the business owners I've worked with claimed that the negative online reviews of their business were baseless, biased, inaccurate, and misleading - which is probably true. The question is, can a business owner avoid an online reputation nightmare? Or, once a negative reputation has been found online, can it be defeated or defended? The answer to both questions is yes!

Understand that the reviewer has all the leverage and power in the online review equation, especially if they can remain anonymous. Moreover, the small business owner does not have a great deal of recourse when a defamatory or libelous review has been made online.

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Defamatory Reviews

The definition of a defamatory online review is "the malicious effort to damage one's good reputation through slanderous or libelous statements posted online."  If you have been hit by a defamatory online review, you know that it is very difficult to prove defamation, libel, or slander. Even if you do prove defamation, it does not mean that you can get the reviews removed. The slant is in favor of the reviewer's first amendment rights, which is something that the business does not have.

Although, there have been plenty of lawsuits filed by small business owners against people posting defamatory online reviews, the process of getting those reviews removed requires a great deal of time and money to resolve. In the meantime, while the small business owner attempts to defend him or herself, his or her business suffers. More specifically, their livelihoods are negatively affected. Even if they can get the online lies and defamatory comments taken down, the damage is already done.

The Best Defense is a Good Offense - Be Proactive

The common theme I've experienced from small business owners is that there is an inherent "unfairness in the review process". They mention feeling helpless to combat the "misinformation" and the one-sidedness of reviews coming from discontented patrons.  Many have attempted to respond to the negative reviews only to make matters worse.

For those businesses that have yet to experience a negative online review, my recommendation is to be proactive. Meaning, the best defense is a good offense. Reputation management is the answer to negative online reviews.

Reputation Management

What is reputation management? My definition is this... "a purposeful proactive plan created to frame and shape a business' online image and reputation, which includes close monitoring of what is being said about your business." Essentially, the definition of reputation management is exactly that, the careful and purposeful management of your reputation.

Furthermore, reputation management is the active attempt to mitigate negative reviews by attracting positive reviews, thus combating the negative stuff by moving it off the first page of search results (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.). At the very least, positive reviews can dampen or lessen the harmful impact of negative reviews.

The most harmful negative reviews for small business owners come from displeased consumers who have posted to Yelp, Facebook, Google+, and Yahoo. Some of the more crafty online attacks happen when a consumer posts complaints on all the online review portals. However, the same method used by crafty consumers can be used by the small business owner. Meaning, small businesses who pursue healthy doses of positive reviews on Yelp, Facebook, and Google+ will enjoy the rewards offered by the online statements of happy customers.

Specifically, if you are a small business owner, and you have found a negative review about your business on Yelp, Google+, or Facebook, then you already know that your business has been harmed. Therefore, your job is to use the same power of these online platforms by seeking plenty of positive reviews. The golden rule is that you need 4 positive reviews for every negative review.

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