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The topic of negative website and social media reviews is an increasingly common concern for organizations large and small. From popular review-based websites like Yelp and Angie’s List to social media websites and local search engine listings such as Google My Business, digital platforms have introduced incredible opportunities for brands to enhance their marketing and outreach efforts through low-cost and no-cost promotion. Similarly, those same platforms have given your brand’s stakeholders a soapbox where they can rave or rant about their experience with your product or service. Let’s get right into it.

What Not to Do about Bad Online Reviews

  • Don’t overreact. Take a deep breath. Write a nasty note and throw it away if that helps you vent.  Definitely don’t threaten or provoke the party in question. Yes this should go without saying, but it has been done, from the hotel that attempted to fine customers for negative reviews to restaurant owners who just plain went off on patrons. Don’t be a PR case study or an online laughing stock because you lost your cool.
  • Don’t let this play out online. This is especially true if the dialogue turns into a pissing match (and you have the ability to prevent that from happening, which you should). Graciously acknowledge the concern, and then offer to take the conversation offline.
  • Don’t try to counter negative reviews with false positive or staged reviews. First, such reviews are usually obvious. Second, a bad review here and there makes your complete set of reviews feel legitimate — especially if you acknowledge concerns professionally and try to make things right. Nobody is perfect and most of your customers get that. Try to maintain at least an 80 percent rate of positive reviews; if you dip below that with consistent, legitimate concerns (especially from different customers) there is a good chance you have an operations problem to address, so don’t blame the messenger — address the issue.

What You Can Do about Bad Online Reviews

  • Understand that online dialogue about your brand is not going away. Discussion and publishing platforms may change, but the internet has now long been part of our way of life and it’s only going to evolve.
  • Accept constructive criticism and move on. Many great companies pay for consumer feedback via focus groups, so look on the bright side: while it might be public, a review is potentially useful feedback for free. Refer to the aforementioned goal of at least 75 percent positive reviews. If reviews signal a real problem, apologize to individual reviews and work to resolve the core problem.
  • Report threatening, abusive and irrelevant reviews to the platform where it appears. If a review is off-the-charts nasty, you should consider reporting it to the platform where it appears. Most websites, including Facebook, have mechanisms to flag abusive comments; keep in mind, it’s hard to know when they will be reviewed, and my experience is that only excessively mean-spirited, foul or threatening comments are addressed. If a review airs concerns that one could perceive to be legitimate and non-threatening, then it might be there to stay.

Obviously treat online threats of violence or other heinous acts like you would a verbal or in-person expression. Report it to authorities.

Make Online Reviews Work in Your Favor

Again, the most realistic strategy where online reviews are concerned is to outnumber bad reviews with good ones, and KevinMD has a great physician-authored piece on the matter. Adopt the tried-and-true philosophy, “If you’re happy, tell others. If you’re unhappy, tell us.”

  • Add a visible page on your website where you can easily help customers share an experience, whether good or bad.
  • Do you offer an online customer survey? Use survey logic to present happy customers with encouragement to share the love, guiding them directly to your official online properties where they can write about their experience.  When negative feedback is identified, try to connect with that individual right away (offer an email address and phone number so they can share their concerns).

If a dissatisfied customer has already vented online, perhaps he or she will follow up with a positive remark — something I have witnessed. The next-best thing to having a negative review removed is having a reviewer acknowledge, in a follow-up comment, that her or his concerns were addressed.