What About Fake Negative Online Reviews?

Can we still trust online reviews?

negative online reviewsI have, unfortunately, had more than one client come to me about the need to respond to a fake negative online reviews.

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It seems this is becoming more and more prevalent. And the potential impact is HUGE.

All research shows that people trust the online reviews about your business, and are more likely to buy from you if they see good reviews from other people – third parties talking about how good you are, versus you talking about how good you are.

According to Inc.com, 84% of people trust online reviews as much as they trust their friends.

But it’s becoming more and more common that the reviews online aren’t from actual customers.  This is why ecommerce sites – such as Amazon, and sites selling software, and similar – have a “verified purchase” tag listed next to reviewers who their system verifies as having actually purchased the item.  But physical businesses don’t have this same capability.

Take the case of The Red Hen restaurant in Lexington.  You may remember this as the restaurant that asked Sarah Sanders to leave. I don’t plan on debating this incident here – the interesting piece we need to focus on is the reviews after the incident.

A whole lot of people were offering support to the restaurant by leaving 5-star reviews.  People who had never been to the restaurant, experienced the service or tasted the food, or even knew anyone who had been.

A whole lot of people were likewise leaving 1-star reviews.  People who had never been to the restaurant, experienced the service or tasted the food, or even knew anyone who had been.

In my view, fake 5-star reviews are just as bad as fake 1-star reviews.

I’ve experienced negative reviews myself in the past.  My ballroom dance studio suddenly received a whole slew of 1-star reviews (10 in a row), from names that had never been students.  In this case, it was relatively easy to ask Google to review the ratings, because they were all done by new accounts, all with similar names, none had any comments to go along with the rating, and all within 5 minutes of one another.  Big red flag to Google, and they removed all of those reviews (note neither Google nor Yelp will remove reviews at the request of the business – although they may remove reviews that they deem as obviously fake).  Had those been from actual customers, that’s one thing.  But these were fake (we’re guessing a competitor…), yet still quickly tanked my 5-star rating down to a 2.

I’ve also had clients receive fake negative reviews. One recent client had someone who they had no record of ever being a client, accuse the owner of criminal activities. The reviewer actually lived hundreds of miles away, according to their profile. We immediately recommended crisis management and online reputation management for this client.

Just today, another client approached me with a similar issue.  In this case, my client works with consumers who are buying a house.  Someone posted a 1-star rating, and my client has no record with anyone by that name ever being a client.  What they suspect – a person who was selling a house was unhappy with something, likely something that ended up costing the seller money (either through fixing an issue, or accepting a lower offer).  Keep in mind in this case, my client has a duty to be factual, even if the buyer (their client) or the seller (not their client) doesn’t like what those facts are.  So you have a 1-star review from someone who may have been impacted by your work (which was done correctly) … but definitely NOT your client.

I recommended how to respond online, and also recommended careful consideration about whether to contact the person directly.  It’s very possible, since no remedy would be available to this person who was not their client – not like you can offer a refund to someone who has never done business with you, for example – it would be very easy for the person to get more angry, and then have their friends and family post negative reviews.

Which is exactly what happened with another client who had negative reviews by former a employee. I consulted with was a hair salon that, unfortunately, had to terminate an employee. The employee then left a 1-star rating for the business, stating she was fired because of her race (noteworthy: the owner is the same race as the former employee).  She then had a lot of her friends and family – who had never been customers – also leave 1-star reviews for the business, and the reason for the girl being fired became a bit more embellished each time one of these other people did leave comments (not all did).

This is also becoming more common as some terminated employees realize they may be able to get back at the business that fired them by affecting their reputation online and hitting them where it hurts – losing customers.  This one was a very tricky situation, because personnel matters are usually things you don’t want public, out of respect to the employee.  In this case, the owner went through a full termination process, and fired the employee because she was suspected of stealing plus had documentation of being late, missing shifts without calling in, and other ongoing issues that were not being corrected. I consulted on how to respond to each fake negative review without specifically discussing the reasons for the termination.

This owner also went into an online group and requested people go leave a 5-star rating, which several did – but in my view, these look just as fake as the fake 1-star reviews to viewers.  While it did bring her rating back up, to me it still isn’t ethical. 

Here are a few of my tips on how to respond to negative online reviews:

First, don’t panic.  Negative reviews are an opportunity, not a problem.  If you have satisfactorily resolved the customer’s issue, you can politely ask them if they can update their rating to reflect this.

Smart entrepreneurs know that people won’t trust something that seems too good to be true.  So they also know that some factual bad reviews are actually good for business.

Don’t jump to conclusions and assume you know the customer’s issue.  Be sure to ask questions.  It’s important for the customer to feel heard, and the only way you can hear them is by listening.

Respond appropriately.  Leave a response to reviews when possible – both the good ones and the bad ones.  Thank the good ones for being a customer.  Ask questions of the bad ones and offer to help resolve their issue.

If you’re 99% certain the person has never been a customer and they’ve left a very negative review, state that.  Keep in mind, for businesses that collect customer names as part of the daily business this is possible.  For retail, food, and other types of high-traffic service businesses, this isn’t as likely – and anyone reading your response will know the difference.  But if you’re in a business that definitely has the customer names, simply state ” (person’s name), we do not have records of any customer by your name.  Please contact us directly at ____________ so we can help resolve your issue”.  You can also leave a bit more information in your response if they are stating specific issues, such as your policy.

Most consumers can quickly sniff out when someone’s just trying to trash a business, so your factual response may be all that’s needed.

Ask for the good.  A lot of businesses don’t think about reviews until they receive a bad one.  If you want to bring your rating back up after a bad review, reach out to your happiest clients and as for good ones.

To make it as easy as possible, provide them the link directly to where you want the reviews done.  For example, if the recent negative review was on Google, then provide your happy customers with a link to Google.  If it was on Facebook, do the same there.

If you don’t know how to find these links, feel free to ask us and we’ll direct you to the right spot.

But don’t ONLY ask for reviews on that one platform.  Be sure to have a mix of both, so that while you’re attempting to counteract a fake negative review on one platform, you’re also boosting your review rating on another.

Enlist online reputation management.  For a relatively affordable cost, we provide online reputation management services, in which we regularly check your most prevalent sites where reviews can be made, and respond to both positive and negative – and alert you to any that need your immediate attention.  For most clients, removing the worry of them missing something that could damage their business is a huge weight off their shoulders.

Online reputation management services can also extend to developing a proactive approach for asking happy customers for their reviews.

If you’re interested in learning more about online reputation management and how it can help your business, contact us for a free consultation.

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