How to deal with negative online reviews

There’s no denying that online word of mouth remains a powerful, low-cost marketing tool for small businesses. Positive reviews via social media or websites like Google Maps, TripAdvisor and Yelp can position your business as a trusted brand.

On the flipside, negative online reviews have the potential to erode trust and can have a serious impact on your business. It’s therefore crucial that small business owners are proactive in monitoring and managing their online reputation.

Monitor your online listings

One of the first steps toward successful online reputation management is monitoring what people say about your business. The democratic nature of online media means that for many review sites, any user can create a listing relating to your business and clients and customers can add additional comments or reviews to that profile. It’s therefore important that you claim your listing, so you can receive alerts when a new review is posted. You should also take advantage of free online monitoring tools such as Google Alerts and set calendar reminders to prompt you to check your reviews regularly.

Respond promptly

The worst response to a negative online review is no response and that can demonstrate a lack of care for your brand. Ideally, you should be responding to a review within 24 hours of it being posted, to demonstrate to others that you take your business and its reputation seriously.

Remain objective

Founders often see their business as an extension of themselves and this can make negative feedback of any kind hard to take. To add insult to injury, not all online reviews are genuine and not all genuine complaints are reasonable. However, it’s imperative that you remain polite and professional in your online correspondence. If you feel you will struggle with remaining objective, consider hiring a social media manager or virtual assistant to help monitor and moderate your online marketing channels.

Take it offline

After acknowledging a complaint and validating the customer’s concerns, invite them to provide their email or phone number (or give them your details), so you can discuss how you can resolve the matter offline. Once you’ve successfully resolved the issue, feel free to post another comment in the thread outlining the actions you’ve taken to fix the problem or compensate the customer for any inconvenience.

Help customers find you online

It may be tempting to get your friends and family to flood a review site with positive posts about your business, regardless as to whether they are legitimate customers. Don’t do this. Not only is it a clumsy and obvious tactic, but the ACCC considers this to be misleading. Likewise, businesses that offer incentives to people to write positive reviews risk misleading consumers and breaching the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. However, it is perfectly legal to let people know where they can find you virtually, so if they have had a positive experience with you, they can also share it online. Prominently display stickers or decals at your checkout or point of sale area, or consider including a link to a review site on your website or in your email signature. Proactively encouraging a conversation will provide context and lead to a balanced representation of your business online.

If online reviews are consistently mentioning a particular weakness or failing of your product or service, it’s important that you listen and fix the problem. Although it may be hard to accept, constructive criticism is a gift and, if harnessed correctly, can help make your business stronger.

Penny Smits, Principal Consultant, WordPlay Public Relations

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