Negative Online Content & Reviews – It’s a Person-to-Person Matter

Debbie Williams

Written by Debbie Williams on Fri, Sep 19, 2014

Whether you’re a frustrated customer leaving an online review, or the business owner or manager receiving it, one thing that has to be considered by both parties is that you’re still communicating person-to-person. 

Negative ReviewsToday, we prefer authenticity first and foremost in our business interactions, no matter which side of the fence we’re on at any given moment. Fans, friends and even foes want to deal with real people. As a consumer you don’t want to hear a canned corporate response, publicist sound bites, or worse… crickets; just like, as a business owner, you don’t want to hear outlandish, exaggerated or accusatory comments that may be taken out of context and hurt your business.   

There’s been a lot of controversy about online reviews lately, from a hotel fining someone $500 for a negative review to a cable company suing a man over his bashing of their brand on Amazon. Here are a few guidelines to consider when dealing with online reviews, whether you're the giver or the receiver.

Don't Hide Behind the Computer Screen

At our content marketing agency, I can’t imagine if one our clients was so unhappy about their service that they took to the internet to bash us versus having a personal and mature discussion about it. Just because you have a computer and a forum to voice your opinion, it doesn’t mean that you should say what you would never say to someone directly. Think about what you’re saying, how other people might read it and what that might mean for the business you’re talking about.   

For example:

The owner of The Wine Goddess, a neighborhood wine shop in Evanston, IL, shared a story recently about a disgruntled customer’s review on Yelp and how it personally affected her.  A man she called “the German Guy” came into her store requesting a very hard-to-find vintage of wine that she did not carry. Apparently she answered other customer questions while talking to him, which he found offensive. So he went home and wrote a one-star review on Yelp, bashing her store and the “comfy clothes” she was wearing. It really hit her hard, personally, and she admitted in her company newsletter that it made her cry in the shower after working non-stop for 18 months to run the business with two small children. 

The Wine Goddess shared this honest advice with her customers:

“I’m saying if the man knew me as a human person and not just the subject of a Yelp zing!, he would know that I’m just doing the best that I can, with very limited sleep, help, and resources, and would forgive me for not having in stock an obscure red from an obscure appellation… And to the man I'd say this: just because the internet gives you an anonymous forum to sound off on whatever persnickety bone you have to pick with the universe, or in this case, the local wine lady, I remain unconvinced such mean-spiritedness does the universe much good.

Remember, when giving online reviews, be mature, considerate and that you’re talking to and about an actual person. Of course there are times when negative reviews are warranted, but there’s a way to go about your review if you want a positive outcome, and for it to be actually helpful to anyone else.

If you're interested in learning how to start communicating person-to-person, check out our free ebook: There is No B2B or B2B - It's all P2P

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No Response is Equal to Admitting Guilt

It always irks me when hotels on TripAdvisor don’t respond to negative comments. Honestly, it makes me feel that if they are ignoring the comment, then what the guest is saying must be true! Ignoring an ugly comment will not make it go away. And in the travel and tourism industry — one that is increasingly being impacted by customer reviews — hoteliers must respond to the less than stellar comments or concede to admitting they’re at fault.

A phony canned response doesn’t help either, like: “Thanks for your feedback. We are always working to improve our facilities.”  

Here are a few Positive Ways to Deal with Negative Online Reviews: 

  • Take your fingers out of your ears. As we’ve been drilling into your head, LISTENING is one of the most critical aspects of social media and online marketing, and to ensuring that your brand is seen as authentic.

Social media monitoring tools such as HootSuite, Facebook Page Manager, Google Analytics, and HubSpot Social Streams can help you closely monitor your brand in social channels. Using a social media monitoring service like Radian6 can also be really useful in managaing manage all of your social media sites so you always know what is being said about your brand in real time.

  • Don’t ignore them. Stop ignoring the negative comments; they almost never go away, and can often snowball out of your control unless you intervene.

If people are genuinely engaged with your brand, engage with them back... isn’t that the point of “social” media? People want to know there are people behind every brand who might even make mistakes sometimes. Human mistakes are usually more forgiven than big cold corporations with no personal touch.

  • Speak up – sincerely. Lose the canned responses. Be real, polite, and authentic, and people will respect you for it.

  • Bite your tongue. You might want to fly off the handle when someone posts a scathing or untrue review about your brand, but take a step back and think about your response instead of firing back an emotional one instantly. Chances are if you go back and read your initial response after cooling off, you will tone it down… possibly a lot.

 Keep your cool and your response simple, honest, and polite (but not overly canned). Anyone posting an online review is a vocal customer. So, if you respond in a disingenuous way, there’s a chance that reviewer could make the situation worse by posting your message all over the Internet – and fast! So, take a deep breath and respond professionally but authentically. Negative reviews can also shine the light on areas where improvements to your business need to be made.

  • Make sure your CAPS LOCK is off. Writing in ALL CAPS online is the equivalent of shouting like a maniac at someone.

  • Do not take it personally. We know it’s hard when someone says something negative about your business, which is like someone bashing your kids. For founders and sole proprietors, it often feels like a personal attack. But as much as you may hate it, the review is feedback. Use that constructive criticism to improve your experience for the next customer.

  • Ask for a second chance. By contacting a negative reviewer (most online review sites give you that option) and establishing a conversation with them, you might be able to improve the situation and even change their mind about your business in the process. Customers want to know they are being heard. We’ve seen many negative reviews amended after the reviewer was contacted by the business and, accordingly, gave the business a second chance.

  • Accentuate the positive. Let reviewers know if you’ve made any changes or improvements as a result of their feedback, and thank them. It’s important to share that you’ve taken their feedback seriously and took positive steps as a result.

  • Focus on good customer service upfront. Great online content and reviews don’t just happen magically. Empower your staff and have a system in place for dealing with every type of customer issue and complaint, because that is your opportunity to turn a two star review into one with glowing praise.

You can impact your brand’s positive reputation online, and via word of mouth, if you have an honest approach. While responding to one reviewer, thousands of others may be silently watching, reading your comments, and taking note, forming their own opinions. These reviews live online for a long time. Make sure everything you put out there shows that you’re a respectful, attentive, and honest business.

  • Keep it real.

No matter how transparent you are, you can’t control everything that’s said about your brand online. Still, honesty is the key to creating trust with people. Breaking that trust by not responding or trying to hide negative information will diminish your reputation and result in a loss of business. Acknowledging negative comments will actually enable you to increase customer loyalty and let customers see you in a bright, honest light — flaws and all.

If you're interested in the topic and would like more exmaples and how-to's about doing business authentically, check out our content marketing book Brands in Glass Houses.

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