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How Business Owners Can Deal with Online Customer Reviews

Nowadays, everyone’s a critic. Thanks to the internet, the person who was once your customer is now a reviewer with an opinion heard by thousands, if not millions, of people. Personal blogs and websites such as Yelp ® have facilitated the emergence of the individual opinion. Potential customers scour the posts looking for the best place to visit or, more importantly, which to avoid like the plague. So, naturally, a well articulated negative opinion-post could have undesirable results for any business, and an especially detrimental effect on Small to Medium-sized Businesses. The question becomes: how do you protect yourself from the negative attention one person might bring to the business you have worked so hard to build and maintain?

Imagine that your business gets a negative review on a widely visited website. The review complains about the services and products. It goes on to say that your business is not worthy of its customers. Over the next few days you see interest in your business diminish and a few regulars mention the negative publicity. You contact the website and request that the review be taken down. The website states that the review can only be taken down by the author. You ask the identity of the author and are told that it is anonymous. You begin to think that you are going to have to contact your lawyer and file a defamation lawsuit. Stop right here; there are many alternatives to dealing with such a situation.

Review sites act as a public forum to freely express opinions and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act legally protects them from liability. This law provides nearly complete immunity for such websites from any harmful information posted by its members. This means that legally the review website is not held responsible for damaging information about a business.

Websites, just as Internet Service Providers, do not have to disclose the identities of their members. The only time that they would surrender such information would be by an order of a court. They are usually bound by a privacy agreement that members consent to when signing up for the website’s service. If they violate that contract the website would be responsible to the member for damages associated with such disclosure.

Although the situation may look bleak and the Small Business Owner may feel helpless, there are several ways to protect your business that do not violate privacy agreements. The following is a list of options for resolving this issue with minimal effort:

1)     Ask the website if there is a way to contact the member without revealing their identity. Usually a website will let you write to the member directly. You can then request clarification for the negative review.

2)     Offer an incentive to the member who wrote the negative review. Understand his position and persuade him to take another look at your business. Suggesting a ‘peace offering’ might be enough to change the reviewer’s cold demeanor.

3)     Start a positive marketing campaign on the review website. Offer special deals to members of the website and encourage them to make their own opinions about your business instead of listening the negative reviewer.

4)     Create a profile for the business and become active in the online community. By participating in social networking your business will attract new customers and increase the number of reviews written. This will provide a more comprehensive look at the quality of service and product your business provides. As the number of reviews grows the single negative review will become less and less significant.

Even though the aforementioned solutions are simple, they can be easily overlooked if the review makes it personal. No matter how horrible the review is, here is a list of things that should be avoided when attempting to correct your image:

1)     Never assume that the person does not know what they are talking about. Nowadays the most unlikely person can be an internet superstar. Some people have hundreds if not thousands of friends, fans and followers. The sheer numbers of people that care about that individual’s opinion make them either a great advertising tool or a negative marketing campaign.

2)     Don’t take it personally. A lot of these reviewers feel that they can be harsh because their identity is unknown. The most that you can do is justify the actions of your business and attempt to persuade the public not to listen to the negative review.

3)     Be reasonable. It is only a review. Yes, it might affect your business, but there is no reason to attempt to track down this person, contact their employer or attempt to intimidate them into liking you. Such events can lead to legal action taken against you by the reviewer.

4)     Cut your losses. If the reviewer is not willing to work with you to change the review, post your response to the reviewer on the website and leave the issue alone. Even though the person might have a million friends, it doesn’t mean that they all like him.

An online negative review with a large readership can be a source of unease for any business owner. However, it is a manageable situation that can be reversed to benefit your business without the need for judicial intervention. If an issue such as this arises in your business you can contact The Jacobs Law LLC and we will be happy to help in any way we can.

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