How to fight negative Web reviewsNovember 17, 2008: 1:02 PM ET
How do I deal with unfair reviews of my business?
By Adriana Gardella, Fortune Small Business staff editor
Although you don't specify, I am guessing that you are troubled by reviews posted online - a plague among small-business owners (FSB tried, unsuccessfully, to contact you for details). If so, don't overreact. Instead, the first question to ask yourself is, "How much harm is the negative review actually causing?" says Anthony Wingrove, an attorney with Spencer Fane Britt & Browne in St. Louis.
"If a negative comment is isolated, it holds little sway in the court of public opinion," adds attorney Lance Raphael of the Consumer Advocacy Center in Chicago. "The solution to 'flaming' is not to sue, but to respond creatively." Raphael recommends that, after consulting with your attorney, you respond to the complainer with thanks and - gasp! - an apology, even (or especially) if you are not in the wrong. This is your chance to address the grievance, while possibly bringing the truth to light.
Can't stomach that option? Wingrove suggests that you begin a positive campaign by inviting loyal, satisfied customers to post reviews. For starters, it will make the negative comment less noticeable as it moves down the list. "People generally don't browse multiple pages of reviews," Wingrove notes. This tactic will also ensure that your griper is outnumbered by your fans, furthering the notion that whatever might have gone wrong was the exception to the rule.
If those strategies fail and your business is truly being damaged, litigation is an option. But Wingrove cautions that various factors, including the difficulty of tracking down an anonymous poster and the need for you to defend against any counterclaims that may be filed, will make your legal expenses difficult to predict. Something else to think about: You mention only that the reviews of your business are "unfair." They must be more than that to result in potential liability for the poster. When it comes to proving defamation, you'll typically need to show that damaging and verifiably false statements were made. Mere opinions are generally not actionable, nor are true statements.
This column provides general information only and is not intended to replace the services or legal advice of an attorney. Always consult a lawyer regarding any specific legal concerns, as laws vary from state to state.
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