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Social media and online reviews…they can be a company’s best friend or their enemy. In the past few years, lawsuits over negative reviews have risen. With this trend, there has been an increase in businesses suing consumers for their overzealous negative reviews and comments.

Most recently, a Virginia dog obedience school filed a $65,000 law suit against a customer for writing negative reviews on Yelp and Angies List. The customer claimed that the services delivered were not as advertised and the owner refused a refund. The business owner said that the statements were false and damaged her small business, which had received great reviews previously.

There are a couple of gray areas here. The First Amendment and defamation of character. I’ll let the attorney’s sort those out. Let’s talk Public Relations.

You’re Not Immune
Let’s face it, at some point, pretty much every business will receive a negative review. Some will be true, others will be flat our lies. And in some cases, negative reviews are not always bad. They can actually help a business improve upon their product or service. But, whatever the case, you have to deal with them.

The best course of action is to respond with a well thought out response. On Yelp, you are able to respond privately and publicly to user reviews. I suggest responding both ways. You need the public to see that you are approaching the situation head-on. With that said, do not offer coupons or free items. That could motivate more people to complain so they can get something too.

Many times after you respond to the reviewer with a solution in place, the customer will be happy and the issue is resolved. However, there may be a time when you can not make them happy.  You should then respond privately, but be polite. Just because it’s private doesn’t mean that they can’t copy the conversation and spread it all over social media. Remember, eyes are everywhere. If they still are not accepting your apology, see if you can set up a phone call or a meeting. Usually by then it will all be cleared up.

Do Not Delete
If your business receives a negative review on Yelp, your chances of getting it removed are extremely slim. Yelp is protected by the 1st Amendment and the CDA Act; they don’t and typically won’t remove reviews. Yelp has won several large lawsuits relating to online review removal.

You do have more control on your own social media outlets though. If you receive a negative comment there, do NOT delete. That is just going to make the person who made the comment angry, really angry. Handle the situation just as you did with the online reviews.  You have established a relationship with your customers, fans and followers. If you handle the situation correctly, they will continue to support you.

Generate Positive Feedback
You can’t erase the negative comments and reviews, but you can get your positive reviews up.

  • Encourage your customers and clients to write positive reviews. If people are happy with your service or product, chances are they will want to write a review. They just need to be reminded.
  • Make posts on social media asking your followers to share their love.
  • Ask your employees and their friends to write a nice review.
  • Call your regular customers and ask they to write a couple of raving remarks. 

If you have these action plans in place with your public relations team, you will be armed to handle any negative review that comes your way.

As far as the lawsuits, I am interested to hear what our attorney friends have to say. Please share your thoughts with us.