Can I Be Sued for Posting a Negative Review?
Online reviews are great for local businesses, as long as they are positive. A negative review can be detrimental to a local business that is trying to build or expand a customer base and/or expand its footprint. Negative reviews can damage a business’s reputation, resulting in loss of existing customers, fewer new customers, diminished revenues, canceled third-party deals, and strained vendor relationships. Negative comments on Google My Business, Angie’s List (now Angi), Amazon, and other sites should be addressed before they damage all of the hard work and goodwill you’ve established.
Impact of Bad Online Reviews
As a business owner, you encourage customers to leave online reviews after using your product or benefiting from one of your services. In fact, online reviews help boost a business’s reputation — it’s sort of today’s word of mouth, only digitally.
People search for a local business to meet their needs — whether it’s to try a new local Italian restaurant, find a new accountant or financial planner nearby, hire an interior designer, change physicians, or contract with a real estate agent to sell their house. What better way than to read online reviews to see what other people think of the business one is considering patronizing or using. Most people trust online reviews to help in their decision-making process.
Customers Focus on Negative Info
While reading through the comments, however, it’s only human nature that people will tend to focus on the negative reviews. They can read dozens of positive reviews but it’s the bad online review that will stand out and make a lasting impression.
Some may ask those who wrote a negative review to expand further, wanting more details about why they are unhappy about a product or service. For example, someone may complain about the outdoor seating at a restaurant, saying that the experience was terrible (particularly in today’s environment where outdoor dining has become the norm). This will inevitably turn people off from visiting the restaurant. These types of negative online reviews are bad for business, especially when they go unaddressed.
Or let’s say you want to purchase an immune-boosting supplement to see if it really does what its marketing promotion says it does. Perhaps there are negative reviews on the review site section of Amazon with one or no stars where the product is for sale. An individual may comment that the supplement tastes bad or that they experienced zero results after taking the supplement for x number of weeks. These are honest reviews, most likely, but they are also providing negative feedback, which will inevitably hurt sales.
It’s important to contact customers that post negative comments and see what can be done to rectify the situation, apologize for their bad experience, or to counter in a polite way. You want to see if you can turn around the bad review they posted.
Free Speech Allows Customers to Post Reviews
It’s important to note that companies cannot prohibit customers from voicing honest albeit negative feedback online. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Protection, “gag clauses are illegal” to include in one’s terms and conditions and clauses. Companies that use these tactics will be penalized.
There is a difference, however, between saying you don’t like a product or are unhappy with the service, and making false claims about a product or service and disparaging a company with untruths.
Is the Online Review an Honest Review, False Statement, Or a Defamation Claim?
In some cases, negative reviews can also be false statements — even defamatory. Unfortunately, these can be posts written by a disgruntled employee who has been wrongfully terminated, individuals who are trolls and want to write a bad review, a competitor looking to gain an edge in your niche market, or a customer who is simply angry. The online reviewer can be anyone with a gripe, or even worse, a vindictive nature looking to cause online chaos.
What Can You Do About Bad Reviews?
Most importantly, respond directly to all reviews. If you feel that the review is not honest but rather false or defamatory, you can choose to take legal action. A law firm can help you bring a defamation lawsuit against the person responsible for the review, but it’s important that you feel confident you can prove the defamation claim. Also, a lawsuit can cost a significant amount of money. The money you expend on a lawsuit may be better spent utilizing other strategies to deal with and manage negative information.
Work with an Online Reputation Management Company
In lieu of making a defamation claim and pursuing a lawsuit, many businesses turn to an online reputation management (ORM) firm to help with negative reviews. Remember, consumers can post a negative review and are entitled to their opinions, but that review should be truthful. What you don’t want is to have negative information to impact getting potential customers and losing existing clients.
A professional ORM will develop a strategy to create and post positive content online. This includes writing relevant and meaningful content to be included on your website, blogs, Google My Business (your profile), in professional publications catered to your niche market, and featured positive customer reviews. Your services and products will appear on the Internet in a positive light, consistently, and on an ongoing basis. This will help rank the positive content at the top of the search engines such as Google. It will also help to suppress negative and disparaging information.
Contact ReputationSciences Today
Whether you are a business owner or an individual, you know that maintaining a great online reputation is a complex and challenging process. That process has to be comprehensive. It has to include not just your website, but a variety of outlets (such as review sites) that tend to rank highly across industry searches. But that doesn’t make it impossible.