Five Practical Tips for Responding to Online Criticism

November 11, 2019
Brandon S. Harter

One of the most common issues I am asked about is what a small business can do about online criticism. Here are five practical tips any business can use to help manage their online reputation.

  1. Know What is Being Said About You

To effectively manage your online reputation, you need to know what is being said about your business. Keep an eye on the platforms that matter most to you. For a professional services business like mine, that means watching platforms like LinkedIn. But for other businesses Facebook, Twitter, or Amazon might be more important. And almost every business benefits from keeping an eye on Google’s reviews.

And try to keep an eye on what is being said in the news because many online newspapers allow comments to be posted after articles. We use Google Alerts to get automatic email notifications when our firm or attorneys are mentioned online.

  1. Respond, But Remember You Cannot Argue with Crazy

It is important not to ignore online criticism. But you also cannot argue with a crazy customer. Remember that the primary purpose of responding to an online critique is not to resolve that customer’s situation (more on that below). The purpose is so the rest of the world reading the criticism can see you responded in an empathetic and respectful manner. Use some form of “we are sorry to hear you had a bad experience,” but do not use a stock response. Craft each response based upon the criticism leveled. That shows you are aware of the concern and care about it.

  1. Engage with the Unhappy Customer Offline

So, if the online response is primarily for others who see it, what about the customer who was unhappy? This is better handled off-line. Ask them to call you or come back to your store. You will be much more likely to resolve the situation that way. And they are likely to be more reasonable talking to you then when they can hide behind the anonymity of the internet. Plus, you can offer things like a discount or refund you do not want to trumpet to the world in an online response.

Photo by Kobu Agency on Unsplash.

  1. Take Advantage of What the Platform Allows You to Control

When preparing a response, it also helps to know your rights in a particular platform. For example, sellers on Amazon can respond so it shows that you are the seller of the product being discussed. This is much more effective than simply using your personal Amazon account to respond to another individual.

Some platforms also enable you to disable messages for a period of time. This can be effective if someone is attempting to get friends or family members to spam your site with negative reviews. Turning off reviews can allow the situation to cool down and keeps the situation from spiraling out of control.

  1. Wash Out Negative Reviews with a Sea of Happy Responses

One of the most effective ways to manage negative reviews is to already have a large set of positive responses surrounding them. No one expects your business to be perfect. A business who has absolutely no negative reviews is highly suspicious because it looks like they delete all the negative comments about them. (And for this reason, I rarely recommend deleting a negative review, assuming you can even do so, unless it is truly threatening or offensive).

Notice that none of these tips required a technology attorney like me to help you get resolution. That’s because many online criticism issues are better handled outside the courts. So, when should you come to see a lawyer like me? If you have a competitor or former employee artificially generating negative messages, then it’s time for a lawyer. Similarly, if someone is getting online followers who have never used your business to post, it’s time to seek legal help. But until then, be mindful of what is being said about you online, respond with respect, and encourage your happy customers to post positive things about you.

Brandon Harter is a litigator and technology guru at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from William & Mary Law School and advises clients on issues of Civil Litigation & Dispute ResolutionMunicipal Law, and chairs the firm’s Tech Law Group.