An Ottawa restaurant owner was convicted of criminal libel this week after she harassed a customer who had posted a negative review of her restaurant. Instead of ignoring — or, better yet, responding nicely — to the less-than-favourable online reviews, the owner unleashed her anger at the customer by setting up a fake dating profile in her name, sending fake sexually explicit emails to her employers, and attacking her constantly for a period of over two years. The court case caught the attention of international media and became yet another example of a social media PR disaster. Instead of one negative-yet-respectful review, the restaurant now has notoriety with thousands of people around the world. This is a classic case of how not to respond to negative publicity.
Now, clearly, the owner’s reaction to a negative review is not typical of business owners, but the case brings to light a few things that are going to become more prevalent as the importance of reviews on sites such as Google+ Local, Citysearch, Yelp and TripAdvisor continue to rise. More review sites than ever are requiring people to post under their real names. However, news stories, such as the one mentioned, might scare some people off. If your name is attached to a negative, mixed or lukewarm review, it not only becomes visible to anyone who Googles you but also brings the added threat of being targeted by angry business owners. It’s no wonder people are shying away from posting their feedback. Over time, this could make the value of these reviews decrease, as fewer people will be inclined to trust them.
A study released last week by Berkeley researchers linked an increase in Yelp star ratings to a restaurants’ ability to sell out its dinner hour. Unlike Google+ Local, Yelp still allows users to post reviews under a pseudonym, though it must be from a registered account. Only Google’s reviews, however, are linked to the Google Maps channel. Apple, on the other hand, is moving to its own mapping application on iOS 6, which integrates Yelp data. Businesses who want to win in this space need to be aware of these changes. They need to monitor, listen and respond to user reviews, as well as encourage satisfied customers to post positive reviews.
As for negative reviews, smart businesses will view the criticism as constructive and will use it to improve their offerings and services. A successfully resolved complaint can create some of your most loyal customers, and publicising the complaint’s resolution in the form of a polite reply can go a long way towards mitigating negative reviews. The case of the Ottawa restaurant owner should serve as an extreme example of what happens when businesses respond to criticism in exactly the wrong way.
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Sari Stein, Digital Strategic Planner