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4 Mistakes to Avoid When Your Business Gets Bashed Online

By Tom Kaneshige, CIO
February 03, 2014 03:21 PM ET

CIO - When a company gets a bad customer review on Yelp, Facebook, Twitter or any other social network, emotions can run high, because real damage to its reputation and sales can result.

The business owner usually has a knee-jerk reaction and responds in kind by attacking the offending customer with an emotionally charged online response.

Some businesses might take the opposite approach and choose the other extreme -- no response at all. By simply ignoring the bad review, a company hopes it will dissipate into the Internet ether, whereas a response might ignite a social media storm and cripple the company publicly.

But both the emotionally charged response and the ignore-it-at-all-costs response are big mistakes, says CEO Jay Shek at Locality, a search engine for local businesses that taps into ratings and review information from Yelp.

The better response is a measured one where you reach out to the upset customer offline and try to fix the situation. The result of this effort, good or bad, can be relayed online. The goal is to show readers of the bad review that your company is proactive when it comes to improving products and services.

Shek has seen his share of responses to bad reviews and has come up with four common mistakes companies make. There are exceptions, of course, that call for special responses. For instance, if competitors or critics pretending to be customers are writing bad reviews, as in a recent case concerning Yelp reviewers, then legal action may be required. Generally speaking, though, Shek's list of common mistakes apply to most situations.

Mistake 1: Countering With Fake Positive Reviews

Some companies will try to flood the social site with positive reviews, in hopes of blunting the sting of a critical one. A quick Google search on fake reviews will uncover a cottage industry of marketing firms specializing in producing them. But by doing so, a company runs the risk of getting caught and being publicly shamed.

Odds of getting caught are increasing, too. Review sites such as Yelp are getting better at sniffing out fake reviews. Web filters help identify fake reviews coming from the same accounts. Consumers, too, can often spot fake reviews by the way they're written: They are typically overly positive, not a lot of detail about the business, a generic feel.

Last October, Samsung was fined $340,000 for hiring writers and two marketing firms to post fake reviews in Taiwanese forums, both positive ones for Samsung products and critical ones for competitors' products.

Mistake 2: Overreacting Publicly

Smaller retailers tend to overreact emotionally to a critical review, whereas a larger company's marketing pros are usually more seasoned and level-headed. Yelp is awash with small business owners ranting against customer criticism, but it only makes them look small, petty and, of course, unprofessional.

"It's natural to react emotionally, but you can't let that come through," Shek says. "Reacting negatively reflects even worse on your business than the initial negative review."

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