The prevalence of online review sites such as Yelp make it easier than ever for dissatisfied customers to leave negative reviews. Though constructive criticism can help both consumers and businesses, many online reviews veer into downright nasty territory. Some are even defamatory.
If you are a business owner, you have a few options when it comes to managing these negative reviews. You also have legal options when an unfavorable review crosses the line into defamation.
Handling negative reviews
Most online platforms do not allow businesses to delete unsavory customer reviews. You must take matters into your own hands with one or more of the following actions:
- Ignore the negativity
The first option is to ignore certain comments or commenters. This may work best for one-off comments. Eventually more reviewers will leave positive responses, burying the negative one and balancing out your rating.
- Respond publicly
In other cases, you can comment publicly with an explanation. Perhaps a customer or one of your staff members had a misunderstanding that can be clarified through a concise paragraph or two. This shows readers that you care about their feedback and take pains to offer good service.
- Send a private message
Many review sites, including Yelp, allow business owners to direct-message individual commenters. You could take this opportunity to address their feedback, offer an apology if appropriate and feel out a resolution.
Carefully weigh your response depending on the situation at hand. You want to neutralize the problem, minimize the damage to your company and move forward as quickly as possible.
When negativity becomes defamation
Reviews containing falsehoods that cause demonstrable financial damage to your business may be considered defamatory. Business owners have more legal recourse when it comes to defamation. First, you or your attorney may contact the host site to report the defamatory comment. Though most review platforms allow their users to post negative opinions, they do not allow defamation, hate speech and other unlawful forms of speech.
You can also serve the commenter with a cease-and-desist to indicate that their defamatory speech may result in a lawsuit. Your final, nuclear option is litigation. It is against the law to defame a company, no matter how unsatisfactory an experience you had. By filing a lawsuit, you may recover compensation for your damages, hold the perpetrator accountable and send a message to other reviewers who will think twice before making untrue com