A business can take decades to build and, in my line of work, it’s disheartening to see the work of small-business owners and sole traders diminished by anonymous or downright fake reviews left online. This has especially been the case in the past few months when small businesses have had to rely on their online presence to attract customers due to declines in foot traffic.
The issue of fraudulent business reviews being left on Facebook and Google has been exemplified by two recent high profile cases in Australia: a dentist seeking to unmask the identity of an anonymous reviewer after their comments resulted in a downturn in business, and a defamation case involving a Sydney law firm.
But what can businesses do about fake online reviews if they don’t have the resources to go to court?
There’s actually a few steps you can take yourself as a business owner or manager to diminish the impact of a fraudulent review.
The first step is not to be paralysed by the negative feedback. The more time the review is online without clarification from yours truly, the longer it’s doing damage to your brand.
The second step is to check your customer records. Has anyone with the reviewer’s name actually utilised your business? Does the situation they’re describing match any issues that you’ve heard about through staff? If after these steps you believe the review is fake or if it has been prompted by a misunderstanding it’s vital you reply as soon as possible to the online comment.
Make a direct reply to the review online. In the comment, identify yourself as the business owner or manager. Address the complaint and apologise for the reviewer’s dissatisfaction. State that you can’t find the reviewer in your customer records as someone who has used your service. Provide your contact details and offer to fix the situation for them.
While it is hard apologising for and offering to fix something you don’t believe has happened, this response will signal to others looking at the review that you are trustworthy and do the right thing by your customers. The reviewer’s claims will be left looking spurious.
Now you have completed the reply you need to flag the review as fake. If the review is on Google, open Google Maps, search for your business and scroll down to the problematic review and then click the three vertical dots in the upper-right corner. Click “flag as inappropriate”. Facebook has similar options.
It doesn’t stop there, either. You have two more options to escalate the issue. Call Google and follow up on your flagged review status. Go to your Google My Business home page. At the bottom of the menu on the left-hand side, there should be an option for support. Click it.
The other option is to get legal. If the review can be counted as slander and false, you do have an option to fill out a Google form for a legal removal request. The requirements for these are pretty high, so grab your nearest legal professional before you go this route.
Sagar Sethi, Managing Director, Xugar Digital Marketing Agency