Negative Reviews: The business of managing your social reputation

Roman Schauer

To respond or not to respond

Conversations about your business are happening right now without your permission or input. Sites like Yelp, UrbanSpoon, TripAdvisor, CitySearch and Angie’s List actively seek public opinion. Twitter users are tweeting about you. Facebook users are talking about you with their friends. Marketing research concludes that increased star ratings lead to increased revenues, so to completely ignore these sites
is foolish.

However, not responding to a negative review is a perfectly valid policy. Let me be clear: You don’t have to respond, but please don’t ignore. Use negative reviews as learning tools to make improvements where needed. If you’ve managed to stay in business more than a couple of years you probably hold yourself to a pretty high standard, and it’s likely your customers will come to your rescue online. But even
though you choose to not respond in public, take the criticism to heart.

Don’t panic

Consumers who regularly use review sites are savvy. One or two really bad reviews stick out among many good ones, but don’t dissuade customers. Readers appreciate thoughtful reviews that include a good mix of fact and opinion and discount reviews that are short on substance (“Best restaurant ever!”). Likewise, lengthy, venomous reviews often say more about the reviewer than the business itself. These are the same people who give you the middle finger as they blaze past you on the freeway, careening toward another person’s rear bumper.

If you choose to respond to a negative review, use these guidelines we employ with our clients:

• No tit for tat – If the review is a strong opinion, impolite, or a personal attack, leave it alone. Not everyone is going to like you. Back and forth dialogue will reflect poorly on you.

• Correct the facts – Sometimes people embellish facts to try to support their case. If you see inaccuracies politely correct them. Keep your response short and professional and thank the reviewer for their feedback.

• Correct real problems –
If your business could have done something better, ask the person to reach out to you in person. “I’m sorry you had a bad experience. Please come in and ask for me. I want to learn more about what happened.” Don’t admit to any wrongdoing or offer them anything. Resolve the situation privately. If you can make things better the reviewer may amend their review.

• Ask a friend to read your response – Our subconscious is good at making our best-intended responses sound snarky. Find someone with a good snark detector, have them read your reply before you post it, and listen to their advice.

• Respond to positive reviews – Reinforce positive reviews instead of focusing attention on the negative by thanking those positive reviewers. Be genuine and brief and you may be rewarded with even more positive reviews.

If you see a pattern of negative reviews for your business, look more closely at the cause and make some adjustments – to your service and quality or your customer communications. Strive to meet or exceed your customers’ expectations and you will win their loyalty and their great reviews.


Roman Schauer is the owner of Digital Marketing Department ( You can reach him online at a variety of social media networks or directly through his email

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