What to do when your business is being defamed online

Michael Gabrian

by Michael Gabrian on 06/23/2017

Did you know? 60% of people won't want to use your business if they see negative reviews and only 5% of people ignore reviews

So what should you do when someone writes a defaming review of your business online? It's tricky because on one hand, obviously, the review needs to be addressed, but on the other hand, if you come at it the wrong way, you could make things worse. Imagine responding to a bad review immediately with a cease and desist letter. It could look like you're trying to bully them out of taking it down.

Let's talk about how to handle a negative review and what to do when your business is being defamed online.

"Reviews condition people. At the end of the day, a lot of human minds are malleable. They can be easily shaped with strong words."

- Drake

Responding to a negative review

Step 1

The first thing you should do is respond to the review. If the review is in regards to a bad experience, it probably won't be too hard to make amends. But keep in mind, when responding to the reviewer, you're also responding to everyone who has seen the review.

Here are a handful of tricks for creating a nice response:

  • Be genuine, helpful, and human
  • Soften it with one of your strengths
  • Try to take the conversation offline

So if someone had a terrible experience with your business or in your store and posted a negative review, what would an appropriate response look like?

Combining the tips above, try something like this:

"[Name of reviewer], I'm so sorry to hear about the experience you've had with us. We've been proudly serving our customers for over 10 years and regret that your expectations were not met. We'd really like to talk with you more and try to make this right. My name is [Michael] and I'm the [manager, owner, etc.]. Please give me a call at [phone number] at your earliest convenience. We're looking forward to earning back your business."

Step 2

Attempt to reconcile with the disappointed customer. If they call, offer them their money back, a free replacement, anything your business can provide to made the situation right again. Hopefully, this will make things right with the customer. Even better, maybe they will become a repeat customer.

If all goes well, ask them to follow up on their negative review or remove it. Unfortunately, sometimes even when you make things right as quickly and as best you can, it won't compel the reviewer to update or remove their post. All you can really do is learn from the experience and move on.

If this is the case, I wouldn't be too bummed out. According to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, sometimes a negative review won't actually have a negative impact on a brand at all; provided that the negative review is written in a polite manner. If the review uses polite, soft phrases like "I'll be honest" and "I don't want to be mean but...", the review could actually have a positive effect. I know, this all depends on the reviewer.

Responding to a defamatory review

The difference between a bad review and a defamatory review is typically that a defamatory review is false. While opinions are opinions, based on my research, stating false defamatory statements is actually not protected by the First Amendment. So what do you do when you find out the reviewer was never actually a customer? Do you reach out and ask them to take it down? Do you reach out to the website the review was posted on? Do you send a cease and desist letter?

I'd start by reaching out to them following the negative review protocol. If they clearly weren't a customer, you can respond to the article explaining why the review is incorrect.

If you can identify the reviewer, you could try a cease and desist letter. If you go with this tactic, keep the letter professional and acknowledge their freedom of speech, but explain how false defamatory statement aren't protected, so their post exceeds those bounds. Though keep in mind, the reviewer may post the letter to mock you or make it look like you're the bully. Just something to consider.

You could also contact the website to remove the post. Explain why you believe the post to be defamatory or fraudulent. The website may be willing to remove the post if it violates certain terms of service, etc.

To conclude:

Handling negative reviews is one thing, but false reviews is a whole other issue. Though you have a couple of different options, each one should be handled carefully. If your business is being hurt by a defamatory review, just remember not to react emotionally, keep it professional, and take it one step at a time.

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