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Businesses are more prone than ever to negative reviews thanks to the rise of the internet and social media. But there are still great opportunities in negative press for businesses who react to it in the right way.

Social media gives instantaneous voice to anyone and everyone – so being at the wrong end of bad press is a fairly common predicament.

According to a Small Business Search Marketing study conducted last year by American Express OPEN, 66% of consumers use the internet to find local businesses and 75% of those said they read online reviews of businesses regularly or occasionally.

So it’s critical to monitor what’s being said about your business online – and to know what to do if it turns negative.

1. Be prepared and don’t panic

Businesses are more prone than ever to negative reviews thanks to the rise of the internet and social media. But there are still great opportunities in negative press for businesses who react to it in the right way.

For example, negative feedback can lead to your company fixing problem areas and ultimately benefitting from it. Such was the case for Dell in 2005 when an angry customer started a blog called “Dell Hell” complaining about his “lemon” of a computer.

The posts went viral and prompted the computer giant to review its entire company strategy, establish a genuine relationship with customers, learn to listen and cede control to customers. What they didn’t do was panic.

The worst thing a business can do is act like it is never going to be on the receiving end of bad reviews on Yelp! or negative comments on Facebook. A recent article on Growing Business pointed out that, “The worst time to prepare for a crisis is when you’re in the middle of one”. So how do you prepare? Designate a spokesperson, put them through media training and, most of all, stay calm.

2. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen

One of the worst things you can do after being on the receiving end of negative feedback is stick your head in the sand and fail to respond.

A recent article on Small Biz Trends advised that, “when a customer has a complaint, insisting that they’re wrong in a public forum is a big mistake. Even if you’re convinced that the problem was on their end, you should acknowledge the issue”. And, however tempting it may be, don’t argue with the reviewer. “It’s only natural to feel hurt or angry when someone posts negative criticism about your business. But responding in anger could cripple your reputation permanently because information stays on the internet forever.”

3. Use the feedback constructively

Receiving negative feedback can be a wake up call. Why did it happen? Small Biz Trends advises that the best response to an upset customer is usually to apologise without qualification. “Admit that a mistake was made, and ask what you can do to resolve the situation.” Consistency is important, too, says the article. “When you actively respond to negative online feedback about your small business, other potential customers can see that you’re engaged and that you care about your customers. With a consistent response policy, you can turn a bad online review into a positive outlook for your business.”

4. Don’t engage with trolls

There are people who devote their lives to deliberately targeting various forms of media with abuse and vitriol. According to a recent article by brand advisor Guy Kawasaki, there are numerous ways to deal with trolls without letting them detract from your business. 

These include:

  • Turn off comments in your posts/on your website
  • Ignore their comments
  • Delete their comments
  • Block them permanently

5. Make your customers your advocates

Finally, one of your best defences against negative reviews can be your customers. They can even turn it into a positive. Companies should try to cultivate a community of advocates who will defend it if negative reviews are unfair. Because these people don’t have a vested interest in the company, their feedback is more likely to be trusted by others.

When a loyal customer base jumps to a company’s defence they can stifle the negative word of mouth and stop it from spreading. In fact, this type of online review ‘war’ can be picked up on by the press and ultimately lead to good publicity for the company.

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