What to do when online reviewers throw eggs at your business

By Laura Haight
Originally published as the Digital Maven in Upstate Business Journal, June 25, 2015

What happens when your business gets metaphorically egged?

Bad reviews and nasty comments about your company really do get small business owners to pay attention to their online presence. You may go through an array of emotions, both rational and not, when someone maligns your business online. Anger, fear, concern, outrage and back to anger and fear.

So what can you do when the inevitable negative comment hits?

The answer honestly is, depending on where the attack hit, very little. Most reputable social media sites that invite reviewing like Google, Yelp, Open Table, Facebook and Amazon do not allow businesses to remove bad reviews. Reputation companies focus on obscuring the bad reviews so that they don’t appear in search results when someone uses a search engine to find you. Unfortunately, that also blocks the good results they might find.

The reviewer who left the bad review is the only one who can remove it. If you are a local business, and you know the customer or have them in your database, you may be able to ameliorate the situation personally and get the reviewer to amend or remove a review. You may even be able to contact an online reviewer through their social media accounts or email address. If so, do it with respect and calm. Arrange a way to talk directly rather than conducting the conversation through email. Employ great listening and customer service skills (you know how to do that) so you don’t make the situation worse.

Maybe the reviewer will respond positively, maybe not. But you’ll gain some points for making the effort.

At all costs, avoid threatening, angry confrontations. It can only get a lot worse when the reviewer updates their posting with tidbits about that kind of a conversation.

In the long run, the best way to protect your online reputation is by cultivating it all the time. Here are three things you should be doing.

Claim your Google and Yelp business pages

A lot of businesses may be surprised to find that they already have a Google business page but have no idea how to get into it and take control of it. Some may find they have more than one page and also don’t know how to access it. If you are starting a new business, get this under control from the beginning. These pages can be great marketing tools if managed correctly, giving you places for photos, videos, comments, updates and other interactions with your clients/customers. Updates to these pages, coupled with recommendations and interaction will come up high in online searches and elevate you above competitors with less of a vibrant online presence.

Monitor social media and internet conversations

A local business owner told me that he monitored Twitter doggedly, a tactic that enabled him to often address a customer service problem while the customer was still in the store. Since people often tweet out of anger or frustration, he could see immediately what was happening and dispatch a manager to resolve it. Often those angry tweets were followed by “I just had the best customer service experience…” type tweets. Bullseye.

You can’t deal with what you don’t know. Set up a Google alert (http://alerts.google.com) for yourself and your business. If you are not managing your own social media, follow yourself on Twitter and Facebook, so you know what’s being posted.

Invite comments and recommendations

Give people lots of ways to communicate with you -- in store, online, through apps, etc. Invite comments, encourage recommendations, welcome engagement. When you invite comment, make sure they are regularly reviewed and responded to. If you give out an email address online for comment, make sure it is monitored daily. Respond quickly and positively to the negative; gracefully and thankfully to the positive.

One thing you can control online are comments posted to your Facebook page and, of course, your website. If someone posts a negative comment on Facebook, resist the temptation to delete it. Respond to it in a positive way, spin the conversation positively and you’ll gain points for dealing with a heckler thoughtfully and respectfully.

Finally, never lash out in anger. Not every comment requires a response. There is a lot of junk on the internet and a lot of people post meaningless comments and reviews that will get little meaningful attention. Readers are interested in useful comments, which is why most social media sites have algorithms that elevate the helpful comments and push down the junk.

Although it seems like it sometimes, your business persona online is not out of your control, but you will get out of it exactly what you have put into it.

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