You are engaged in pro-active monitoring of your company’s reputation, and you have in place every possible customer service channel to preemptively handle complaints. Yet, you wake up one day to a negative review online. Perhaps it is a customer who had a legitimate complaint and whom you could not satisfy. Perhaps you don’t know the poster. In either event, there are immediate steps to be taken, some “do’s and don’ts” that can lessen and even eliminate the impact of a negative online review.
Firstly, note the tenor of the posting. Is the tone well-spoken and reasonable or it is irrational and filled with inflammatory language? Can you can identify the person who made the posting? Many times, contacting the poster and trying to pull the discussion off-line is one of the best possible tactics. If the poster is willing to engage in a civil manner, it may even be possible once resolved to request a removal, a retraction or a follow-on explanation of the resolution from the original poster. However, too seldom is a rational, off-line solution available. Additionally, many sites do not even have a mechanism for the removal of a negative review by the original poster.
Likewise, the owners of online forums for consumer complaints are seldom open to requests for removal. Such sites depend on a high degree of immunity from civil liability for the opinions placed on their sites. Legal action is an absolute last resort and may not by effective. Nevertheless, consider contacting the owner of the forum offline to ask about resolution and removal. This is often particularly effective if the original post is irrational, angry and defamatory. Make such requests privately, not on the forum itself.
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If you control the media where the negative comment was posted, such as your blog, engage the poster rationally and calmly in a single response. Briefly offer to speak to the poster to resolve the issue and assure them that their satisfaction is important to you. You don’t want to engage in a lengthy online debate, but you will win points with readers for your rationality, openness and transparency. However, don’t engage in a lengthy back and forth discussion of the merits of the poster’s complaint. Simply offer to hear them out and to do what is reasonable and possible to assist them. Deleting messages on forums you control may drive the poster to other media and turn a small, private issue into a larger more public problem.
Should you respond to the post if you do not control the medium? Seldom. Drawing further attention to the complaint may actually raise the profile of the posting in search engine results as new content, details and contact information are added to the thread.
Reputation.com and other online reputation management firms employ techniques designed to lessen the impact of defamatory postings by generating positive comments about your company to overwhelm the negative one. Such companies will engage in an on-going campaign designed to enhance your online image with positive commentary, videos, reviews and other constructive content. Such efforts often enlist the assistance of your best customers to engage in open and positive online reviews. Strong positive commentary on highly ranked sites can push negative commentary down in the search results. Here, too, the “wisdom of the masses” kicks into gear on your behalf. A single negative comment among many positive ones appears to be an aberration and most readers will dismiss the lone criticism. The further down in search results a negative comment, the less likely it is to be a factor in your online reputation. Indeed, tomorrow we will finish our series about online reputation management by discussing additional efforts you can undertake to help ensure that negative commentary is dwarfed by the positive.