If you are a communicator for a consumer brand, then you need to recognize the power that online reviews can have on the success or failure of a product or service. Online forums like Yelp and Angie’s List allows consumers to post anonymous reviews that can sometimes have a detrimental effect on a company’s bottom line.
Hadeed Carpet Cleaning of Springfield, Va., is a perfect example. After a series of bad reviews on Yelp in 2012, Joe Hadeed’s business dropped off 30%. He believes that competitors set out to deliberately harm his business through a campaign of negative reviews, and he is suing Yelp for the identity of the commenters. The case has reached the Virginia Supreme Court and will be heard later this month.
Yelp maintains that its commenters are protected by the First Amendment and that anonymity is conducive to honest reviews. Unfortunately, anonymity can also reduce accountability.
You don’t want your brand to lose business, and you certainly don’t want to wind up in court. Here are some tips on handling negative anonymous comments that can help prevent damage to your brand.
- Keep an eye on your brand on the Web. You should have alerts set up for any mention of your brand on all the major search engines. Make a regular habit of searching Yelp and other consumer review sites to see what people are saying.
- Address negative comments as they come up. Don’t let bad reviews go unanswered; they tend to snowball. A timely response demonstrates real concern for the customer experience, and it may prevent other negative reviews from adding to the fray.
- Be contrite. Apologize and offer to make good on the negative experience that the commenter shared.
- Use bad reviews to your advantage. A bad review can sometimes bring attention to a negative aspect of your brand of which you were previously unaware. Learn from your customers.
- Have some perspective. A large number of Yelp reviews are actually pretty positive. A good communicator will be able to tell by the tone of a negative review whether it is a serious grievance or just an old-fashioned hater. Don’t take the negative comments personally.
Follow Richard Brownell: @RickBrownell