Online reviews allow individuals more options in choosing products and services. They give insight into a business from the point of view of a customer who has already used the services or bought a product. In many cases, people visit sites that provide online reviews before they start looking for a service provider or a store. Yelp, one of the primary online review sites for businesses, has over 33 million reviews.
Nonetheless, reviews can be subjective and perhaps most damaging when they are malicious. Malicious reviews constitute a problem because the individual posting these can create several user identities and post numerous fake reviews that on the surface, appear to come from different customers. Malicious users can also “buy” ratings from other users for little compensation and create a defamatory network. With increased reliance on review sites for almost every product or service, your business can suffer from fake online bad reviews. Here are some useful ways of preventing and resolving these situations.
Monitor Review Sites on a Regular Basis
The image your business has in the community is crucial to your success and bottom-line. As new technology and trends arise, you need to keep on top of these and understand their potential impact. Aside from the other aspects of running your business, make it a habit to regularly look up what customers are saying about you on review sites. This serves as a prevention tool, but also a way of becoming familiar some of the most-visited or popular site.
Test the Review Site by Writing a Review
Part of protecting yourself against malicious reviews comprises understanding the way a review is submitted and the site’s parameters for cases when negative reviews are submitted. For instance, Amazon.com requires the customer to contact the merchant before posting a negative review. As an exercise, review a product or restaurant that you like or one tied to your industry, in order to test the parameters of the review site as well as their self-monitoring. While some sites review the content submitted, others simply allow users to freely post it.
Make Sure the Review is Not Genuine
Before you prepare to handle a malicious false review, make sure there is no truth to it. Use business records, ask your staff and look for the possibility that the incident indeed occurred. If you own a business, there is only one you. In most companies, the owner or managerial staff will not be onsite all the time and will have to rely on staff and records to determine the validity of the claim.
Claim Your Business Page on the Review Site
Online review sites such as Yelp and Google Places offer business the possibility of claiming their review page. Although this will not prevent individuals from posting freely, it will give you a chance to monitor reviews about your business, respond to these, investigate the source, and if proved to be fraudulent, remove the review from the page.
“Review” the Review Site
Recent cases in which reviews sites attempted to extort money from businesses in exchange for good reviews or deleting bad reviews have surfaced. Some sites offer a paid membership option that allows you to manage reviews. Certain sites lure businesses with fake bad reviews in order to get them to pay for their membership package. Recently, a notorious review site placed negative reviews at the top and positive reviews at the bottom based on whether the business under review had a free or paid membership. If you feel this might be the case, look at what others have to say about that particular site. You can find this information in online blogs as well as news items. If a company is operating outside the law or unethically, you can always get in touch with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and report it.
Is the Problem Due to Technical Issues?
Some review sites have little monitoring. Their system for calculating total customer satisfaction for your business might not reflect an accurate picture due to errors in formulas and algorithms. If you feel the site has some technical issues that place you at a disadvantage, you should contact the site administrator or content reviewer. In addition, if you have identified a reviewer with a history of posting negative reviews on multiple business pages, you can request the site to look into the matter, as this also affects their credibility.
Prepare a Compelling Argument Requesting the Review Site to Delete the Review
In some cases of malicious intent coupled with extreme circumstances, such as major decline in customers, review sites are willing to correct the problem. However, you need to make an argument that includes how fake bad online reviews have affected you and how this type of behavior should not be tolerated. Prepare a letter to the site administrator containing evidence that the review is fake and malicious and the impact it is having on your business. In the case of Google, for example, a business can submit a free legal request to the Google Team which might effectively gain the interest of the company as they are placed in a position of liability.
Respond to the Review
If you suspect malicious intent, you can always respond to the review. In preparing your response, keep the following considerations in mind:
- Respond on the site where the review was initially posted and give your side of the story.
- Read the review response guidelines for the particular site.
- Address the major points of the review, responding to these accordingly.
- Write in a polite manner that objectively responds to what is in the review and not the person who posted it, unless this is very relevant. Do not let your emotions potentially make your business’ reputation worse.
Counterbalance the Negative with the Positive
The majority of review sites do not take down fake bad reviews unless they contain profanity or highly offensive content. Even then, the line is blurry. Because these reviews will stay, counter-attack by encouraging existing customers with positive experiences to go to the sites and write reviews. This will give potential customers a more realistic, rather than distorted, impression of your business.
Take It to Court/Become an Activist
In a case of defamation resulting in severe loss of profit for a business, you might consider taking the issue to a court of law. This might be costly and you should be prepared to have to pay attorney fees initially and court hearing fees if you lose the case. A second option, is to advocate. Some review sites have forums where users discuss these type of issues. If several businesses are encountering a similar problem, your claim against the review site now has support and the company running the site might decide this collective injunction can tarnish their reputation. Advocate on blogs and business industry pages about the potential harms a fake bad review might have on a business. Get your side of the issue out there. You are very likely to find supporters.
Published: August 12, 2013