Houston, TX / The Times-Standard has been the North Coast’s daily newspaper for over a century and a half. They recently ran an article on receiving bad reviews as a business and whether or not there were any legal precedents for pursuing defamation in those cases. They interviewed defamation attorney Paul Sternberg as their legal expert. Paul Sternberg is a defamation lawyer based in Houston, Texas, and is the author of The Guide to Internet Defamation and Website Removal.
It’s happened to every business at some point – a devastating lousy review. Most bad reviews reflect a small lapse in judgment or one imperfect moment on the part of an employee. But sometimes, a particularly horrendous review can seem to come from nowhere or blow a situation entirely out of proportion.
Bad Reviews Have Real Effects on Local Businesses Says Paul Sternberg
“Given the fact that the first place many of us go before making a purchase, a service, or patronizing a restaurant is the internet, a bad review can have genuine consequences,” says Paul Sternberg. “People do not realize how devastating the ramifications and the damage bad reviews can do. ‘Maybe this is true. Why should I take a risk with them?’ is precisely what we often think when reading a bad review.”
Bad reviews can lower your SEO score and search engine rankings and lead to a loss in patronage and revenue. But what can you do? Google and Facebook – along with most other review sites – have taken a pretty firm stance on non-intervention when it comes to bad reviews. They don’t allow business owners to remove negative reviews for fear of “cherry-picking.”
Defamation Attorney Paul Sternberg’s 5-Step Process for Addressing Bad Reviews
Paul Sternberg says that 95% of the time, this process will help you achieve your goal of having the lousy review addressed or removed.
- Become a detective. To effectively address the problem, you need to know why this person is leaving a defamatory review. Is it a former employee? A problem customer? Figure out who it is and what their motivation may be.
- Ask them to remove the negative comment. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending), the internet is not that anonymous. You can pretty easily find out who left the comment and send them a cease-and-desist letter that says, “Take it down or face a lawsuit.” Paul Sternberg says you’d be surprised how quickly most people respond just to legal letterhead.
- People usually back down after receiving the cease-and-desist letter.
- If not, fight fire with water. Request that your loyal customers and employees write honest, glowing reviews about your business. The more 5-star reviews, the better. Just be sure that they are genuine. People can feel if the reviews are disingenuous.
- Address the complaint publicly. Always respond to negative reviews. Always. But wait a day or two to calm down, and have a few people proof it first. There is no need to be defensive. Just be honest. Something like “I’m so sorry you seem to have had a poor experience, but we have consistent A-grades for cleanliness in our restaurant.” Then offer them a discount or follow up appointment and leave it at that.
If all this doesn’t work, Paul Sternberg suggests using the review site’s arbitration system.
“Depending on the website the cost is around $4,000,” warns Paul Sternberg. “This requires all parties to agree. But realize many crazy people use the internet to form legalized extortion over relatively small amounts of money. They agree to take down the bad post if you pay them. Welcome to the Wild West of Social Media!”