Protecting Your Business’s Online Reputation

Savvy social media practices can help your business put out fires, or start them if done correctly. Here’s how.

Social media is an innovative and effective way to promote one’s business.  Entrepreneurs use Facebook, Twitter, blogs and even Instagram to post observations about their business and its competitors.  But social media can be a double-edged sword.

Story by Don Simon

Customers also use social media as a way to express their feelings and frustrations about a business’s products and services. Sites like Angie’s List, Yelp!, Citysearch and others allow users to post comments, criticisms, and complaints about the customer service, management style, quality of work or other aspects of a business. Increasingly though, some of these remarks are being regarded violations of defamation laws, infringements of intellectual property, or invasions of privacy.

Your good business reputation may be the result of years and years of hard work. During that time, you may have expended considerable time, money and effort in building up the reputation of your business only to have it sullied overnight by online criticism.  Whether that criticism is from a client or a competitor or whether the writer’s observations are fair or unfair, these posts should be taken seriously and dealt with quickly. Here are a few tips to consider:

1) Don’t take the online criticism personally. Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism, once said: “The best fighter is never angry.” Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. It may be tempting to engage in an online war of words. Don’t do it. You may end up posting something that you may later regret. Worse yet, your response may end up actually confirming what the online critic posted in the first place. Simply put, take a deep breath and plan out your response.

2) Respond in a timely manner. A quick, but well-planned, response shows the online critic and others that you take the remarks seriously. On the flip side, there is a strong argument that says one should ignore critics that are obviously being irrational. Paying attention to their outlandish comments, so says this line of reasoning, legitimizes their activity. That’s taking a big chance. Comments that go unnoticed or unanswered often tend to be taken as fact by readers.

3) Contact the site’s webmaster or host immediately if you think an online critic is being blatantly false, inappropriate, or is violating the law. See if these false or unfair comments can be taken down. The critic may try to claim 1st Amendment free speech protection for their defamatory comments. Don’t be fooled. The 1st Amendment applies only to attempts by the government at abridging free speech. Even if the 1st Amendment did apply in this situation, defamatory speech is not protected.

Steven Tulipana, co-owner of Kansas City’s RecordBar, takes online reviews very seriously. “I respond to every review, good and bad, by first thanking the person for taking the time to comment,” he says. “Then I ask them for clarification or for more detailed information so I may try to correct the problem. It is important to keep close tabs and an open line of communication with customers.”

But Tulipana takes issue with how ratings are calculated on some of these sites. “In the last few months, we’ve received (2) 2-star reviews. One was from a guy who couldn’t believe we weren’t open for lunch on a Tuesday and another from a woman who was surprised by how ‘old’ the audience was during one of our matinee shows,” he says. “If anyone actually reads the reviews, they’ll realize how ludicrous they are. But if they just look at the overall star ratings, they might not.”

Online criticism about you, your business, or its products and services can sometimes be hard to take. These remarks can be especially difficult to handle when they are unfair or even defamatory. Whether you handle the inaccurate customer reviews yourself or have a service such as do it for you, stay calm and respond quickly. Don’t ignore the inappropriate remarks and try to get them removed.  The reputation of your business is worth protecting!

Donald R. Simon, J.D./LL.M., is president and CEO of Simon Business Consulting, Inc., a firm providing consulting services such as business and marketing plan development, incorporations, intellectual property advising, franchising regulatory assistance, and presentations on the basics of starting a small business. Send questions or comments to [email protected] This article is provided as a source of information and is not to be construed as legal advice or opinion, or to form an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice, please consult an attorney.