How should businesses handle negative online reviews?

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How should businesses handle negative online reviews?

“We’re an insurance broker and we just had our first bad review on Facebook and Google – should we delete them?”

You should not delete any reviews, unless they’re fake. Read on to learn how businesses can deal with online reviews.

So you’ve signed up for Google and Yelp and set up a Facebook business page. Then comes the moment of truth, a negative review rears its ugly head.

First of all, congratulations for having the guts to put your business online.


Putting your business online is scary (especially if you’re in an industry that can be polarizing, like insurance or even oil and gas.) Almost daily we hear stories about companies caught in the middle of a viral social media storm. The scenario is usually due to real (and perceived) bad customer service. This is only exacerbated by the bandwagon effect after some bad publicity; random people pile on aggressively with negative online reviews. [Port Moody for example.]

When your business shows up online, you open yourself up to vulnerability and while most of the time you’ll have wonderful, positive encounters, you need to prepare yourself with the ability to assess risk.

When you get a negative review, the temptation to delete it can be strong, whether it’s Google, Facebook, Yelp, Glass Door or TripAdvisor. You may also have the immediate and natural reaction to defend it at all costs.

Here’s how businesses should reframe their approach to negative reviews and comments:

Responding To Legitimate Customer Reviews (those that are actually about your products or services):

1) Frame the review as feedback that could be critical to the operations of your business.
Example: “their coffee always taste burned, it’s like they leave it on too long. I wish they would keep A fresh pot on – I like to support local.”

While This feedback appears negative to a small business owner, the review is actually helpful feedback that provides an opportunity to make a positive change within your organization. Think about it, if you respond to that poster telling them that you’ve found a solution to keep fresh coffee at the ready, imagine the impact that could have on others reading the review? Your responsiveness is excellent marketing!

2) Put out the fire on your own bad publicity.  

When you delete a comment, this can backfire. Rather than going away, the commenter comes back with a vengeance. Perhaps tagging news outlets in a tweet, even promoting (putting ad $ behind a post) so that it becomes top-of-mind (and perhaps a top news story.)

Some people get incredibly creative when they feel that they’re not only being ignored but disrespected. Deleting or hiding comments from someone who is angry isn’t necessarily going to stop them. Recently I wrote an article over on LinkedIn about Sears. Sears had had a lot of haters over the years. Some have created blogs, websites, Facebook pages, tweets, and secured traditional media spots hammering the company with a slew of bad publicity.

3) Accept the opportunity to show everyone that you’re human too.

Before getting defensive about a review or comment, put yourself in their shoes. Show them that you understand their disappointment or concern.

4) Accept the opportunity to show others that you’re proactive.

We like to do businesses with those we know, like and trust. This will always be so. When you listen to your customers and proactively approach their concerns, you can actually help with buying decisions. (e.g.: reviews can show potential clients what you’re like to deal with as a business.)

Responding To Negative Reviews (those that are likely don’t use your products or services and disagree with your politics):

We’re living in a challenging time to manage a brand or business. Our customers demand that we tell them which side of an issue we fall on. Every single post that leaves the company on a social channel has the chance of disappointing someone and turning into a negative encounter. In fact, I cannot think of a time where so much has ridden on “being clear” and carefully considering the risks associated with content development.

For example, let’s say you share a post supporting the “Black Lives Matter” movement. The post results in a polarized response. While there are some supporting your stance, others threaten to “never buy your product again and tell everyone they know not to.” Finally, you experience “Review Sabotage” (your review scores drop from 4.8 to 1.8.)

How can a business respond to fake negative reviews on social media?

First, you cannot delete reviews (even if you want to.)

However, sites like Facebook and Google are adapting to this environment and always looking for ways to tackle fake reviews.

For example, on Facebook, you can tap that “Give Feedback On A Recommendation” — the team (or algorithm) will evaluate the legitimacy of it.

Second, you can turn reviews off until the storm has passed. (You can find this option in your settings in Facebook, however, in Google it isn’t an option.)

Finally, as awful as being caught in a negative news cycle is, they don’t usually last too long before another company is in the hot seat.

How to be proactive with online reviews and feedback: 

  • use monitoring tools (mention, google alerts)
  • do a social media audit – check your brand assets online at regular intervals
  • respond as quickly as you can, as factually as you can.
  • take the conversation offline (remember the Port Moody guy didn’t have a chance to do that!)
  • report fake reviews

The reality of business today is that you should be prepared for negative comments and reviews. You should also prepare for your social content to be taken out of context; these instances aren’t slowing down. Though it used to be only big brands that had to worry about. being under the microscope, businesses and organizations of all sizes should have a plan in place, ready to proactively tackle negative feedback online.

Kat Macaulay, BA ADdPR BnC
Kat Macaulay, BA ADdPR BnC
Kat Macaulay is a Marketing Strategist, Writer + Speaker known for her no-nonsense approach to pretty much everything. Using data insights, she helps organizations market more effectively to get results that matter. She's also a high-scoring instructor at Mount Royal University, where she teaches Social Media Analytics and Google Analytics + Marketing Measurement. She holds certifications from Google, as well as Facebook and is currently working toward a specialization in Marketing Analytics and a certificate in Data Science from IBM. When she’s not busy juggling kids, volunteering + work, she’s busy planning her retirement to Cape Breton.