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Interacting with review sites is a fact of life for any consumer-facing business. Review sites are how customers decide where they’ll eat dinner, what shop they’ll visit, and what experience they’ll try. Even if your business doesn’t have a website (although it should), you will probably still have a page on several review sites – whether you created it or not. Gone are the days when professional food and entertainment reviewers had a monopoly on taste – these sites have taken that power for themselves through crowdsourcing opinion.

Online Reputation

It can be scary to know that your online reputation is inextricably linked to the opinions of strangers. It’s easy to imagine a situation in which someone holds an unreasonable grudge against your business and goes on an online agitation campaign to “review-bomb” you. Whether an isolated fluke bad experience or an accusation against an employee that has nothing to do with the business, it doesn’t take much to incite the mob.

We deal with it regularly – aggrieved parties usually aren’t interested in apologies or explanations; they just want to take revenge for a perceived slight, and they’re not very responsive to new information. In some cases, the majority of negative reviewers that result from such a scenario have never interacted with your business – they’re just following the herd. Keep in mind that it costs these people nothing except a few seconds to leave a bad review, but it can cost your business much more.

Thankfully, you can mitigate the effects of such negative attention with a sound internal review site policy. Here are some tips to guard against and recover from review-bombing.

Build a Strong Foundation

It’s harder to tear down a strong reputation than a weak one, so the better you manage your business’s online presence the more resilient you’ll be to negative reviews. This process starts with controlling where and how your business appears online, to the extent possible.

Get Google

Start by getting a Google My Business (GMB) account. It confers a ton of benefits, starting with SEO – Google likes its own products, after all. Your GMB profile is the first thing people see when they google you, so stock it with information. Your location, phone number, hours, website, menu – fill in all the details and it will function as a one-stop shop for people looking into your business. In addition, it’s where people will review you.

While you’re creating your Google presence, get an AdWords account too. You don’t even have to purchase any ads – the point is to get access to Google’s support services. If you’re having a problem with reviews, call your ad account’s support number and ask to be transferred to GMB support. They’ll do it, no questions asked, and you’ll be able to talk to a real person about your problem.

Because Google reviews appear in search results, they are the most important reviews to monitor. Before anything bad happens, build that five-star reputation! Ask customers, whether verbally or though signs and discounts, to support you by reviewing you. Respond individually to reviewers, thanking those who rate you highly and sincerely reaching out to those who don’t. Goodwill has inertia, just like bad faith, so make it work for you! The better your rating and the more reviews you have, the harder it will be for people to bring it down.

Bad Reviews – What to Do?

If you’re experiencing a flood of unfounded negative reviews, report them all. Google’s policies are clear; if the review indicates that the reviewer didn’t actually have an experience at your business, or that it’s just there to harass or demean, they will remove it. To expedite the process, call Google support and tell them about your issue. It’ll draw their attention to the situation and may result in quicker removal, especially for the more egregious reviews. One unfortunate caveat, however: Google will not remove one-star reviews with no text, as they cannot ascertain whether the person had an authentic experience, unless hundreds appear in response to some article or incident.

What About Other Sites?

We haven’t mentioned Yelp, TripAdvisor, or other platforms yet, and there’s a reason for that: Google is far more important. Yelp is the most prominent alternate site, but you’re better served by staying away from them. Although they deny it, Yelp has strong pay-for-play elements and heavily favors advertisers when it comes to support and search results. If you don’t have a Yelp profile for your business, keep it that way – you can’t leave nasty reviews on a nonexistent page! By limiting the number of places people can review-bomb you, while getting maximum value from the sites where you do have a presence, you give yourself more control.

If you’re a retail business, you probably have a Facebook page and therefore another place where people can recommend you – or not. Thankfully, the relevant steps for Facebook are similar to those for Google; make an ad account, report harassment, get in touch, and stay vigilant.

Weather the Storm

Because some reviews slip through the cracks in Google’s (or Facebook’s) review policies, a review-bombing incident will likely negatively impact your overall rating. The steps outlined above will mitigate that effect, but can’t prevent it entirely; unfortunately, the online mob has considerable power. The best thing you can do after the storm has passed is redouble your efforts to get real customers to review you positively. If the incident in question was clearly not your fault, you may be surprised by the level of support your loyal customers will show.

Review sites are the ultimate two-edged sword online. They can showcase your excellence to the world, but also be a source of pain if your profile is targeted with malicious intent. Controlling your presence, staying vigilant, and promoting positive reviews will help harden you against review-bombing, as well as making your business more attractive and accessible.

To learn about how Tucker/Hall can help you fight review-bombing and other online crises, contact Solomon Howard at showard@tuckerhall.com or 813.28.0652 x1126.

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