Reviews are here to stay, and that’s a good thing. But how do businesses defend themselves from those who would abuse the review system for their own ends? In this three-part series, I offer practical advice on how to handle Yelp bombing campaigns and how to mitigate their effects. In part one, we look at how to prevent, and initially respond, to weaponized reviews.

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(image courtesy of http://pexels.com )

Nobody in business likes getting bad reviews. Anyone who pours their heart and soul into an enterprise can feel dispirited, and treated unfairly, when receiving criticism; particularly when you have not been given the chance to try and resolve the issue.

Like it or not, reviews are here to stay. They are a fact of doing business today. To deal with everyday review issues, I highly recommend Jay Baer’s excellent “Hug Your Haters,” which I reviewed here.

Unfortunately, however, there are people who try to turn reviews into a weapon. This is usually achieved by posting multiple reviews, sometimes across multiple platforms, using multiple different accounts, giving the impression of a serious issue or to destroy the businesses review platform rating. This can be to extort money and / or services, or as an act of revenge. This kind of review warfare is also sometimes known by the term “Yelp bombing.” This series, hopefully, will give you some grounding, and tools, to help protect yourself, and your business, from weaponized reviews.

It is important to recognize the difference between a Yelp bombing campaign and a review going viral. If something is going viral, it is because strangers like, or are outraged by, what they see or read. When it comes to a concerted attack, there may be a hope that the attack will become viral, but it is originally perpetrated one person, or a small group, trying to exert influence. This could be a customer, a former employee, a competitor, or just a bully trying to change something about you or your business.

Prevention

It is a cliché, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Have a complaints procedure for your clients. Empower your staff to solve small issues before they turn into big issues. Listen, learn, and respond to your reviews. Try to divorce yourself from the idea that you are right and they are wrong. It does not matter if you win the argument in your place of business. If you turn your customer into an enemy, and they then bash you online, you have lost.

Usually, apologies cost nothing. Make them sincere and swallow your pride. If the dispute cannot be resolved with an apology ask a simple question: “how much am I willing to pay to not have this appear on Yelp or other review sites?” Whatever the answer is, there is your budget for resolving this complaint.

Obviously, you have to have claimed your business on all the major review platforms. Going through this in detail is really outside the realm of this article; however, you should receive an email, or alert, anytime someone posts a review on Yelp, Google, or Facebook. I would also strongly suggest that you have a Google Alert running for mentions of your business name, names of key personal, or anything else that someone may use to identify or describe your business. You can setup alerts here: https://www.google.com/alerts

Stay away from controversial subjects with your online presence. Businesses should standup and be counted for causes and ideas they support, but go into it with your eyes open. With any controversial subject, there is the potential for someone to become upset and try to change your stance by methods other than debate or no longer giving you their custom.

Assessment

Despite your best efforts; however, you find yourself a target of a Yelp bombing campaign. It is important to note, that while the term “Yelp bombing” has become a generic term for an online review attack, Yelp is actually the platform you want this kind of attack to take place on. Yelp tends to have the best tools and resources for a business to protect itself. I am not a big fan of Yelp, you can read my feelings about Yelp and why I dislike their business model here, but when it comes to Yelp bombing they really do have their act together.

The first signs of a campaign against your business will usually be you being alerted to, or reading, a 1-star review. Speed is of the essence. If the review is seemingly out of nowhere, then reach out to the reviewer apologizing for their experience and asking if you can help to resolve the situation. If the platform allows it, message the reviewer privately. Don’t be afraid to ask them for their name so you can look into the matter.
If, despite your speedy response, more reviews are posted, then you have genuine situation on your hands.

First, breathe.

It is easy to feel panicked and that events are completely out of your control. You need to be the one with the cool head. People undertaking a Yelp bombing campaign are not doing so from a particularly rational place. This usually shows up in the writing and the nature of the complaint.

Read the review(s). Does the client have a point from reading the review? Is it a good story? If you were not connected to the business would you want to learn more? Remember right and wrong does not enter into your assessment of the campaign. What you need to assess is whether the story has “legs.” Is what has been written true? If someone reads this who knows nothing about your business will they believe it? Get other people’s opinions – this will help bring some perspective. If you make the assessment that the reviewer has a point and that the story has legs then there is the potential for it go viral, which is what you are trying to stop.

First Responses

Do not, I repeat, do not be in too much of a hurry to tell your side of the story. However, while it is important to not to lash out immediately with why your customer is “wrong, crazy, or clueless,” it is also important that your response is prompt and the correct response.

If the reviewer is not communicating, then start to craft a public response that addresses your position in very general terms and that you are happy to engage further via a different channel. I am a big proponent for email as this new channel. Email keeps the communication out of the public eye, unless someone posts it, it takes the heat out of conversations, and it gives you a written record. I know others feel that responding by a phone call, or even meeting in person, are better solutions. I would suggest that you choose whatever you are the most comfortable with.

Your response should be read by multiple other people and you should all agree that it is reasonable, conciliatory, and addresses the reviewer’s primary complaint. If the campaign against you has legs, and starts to go viral, your response will also be featured so it is important that the response is the right one.

It should also go without saying, that you should never retaliate. You need to be the adult, and it needs to be clearly seen by any 3rd party that you are conciliatory, level headed, and just trying to resolve the issue.

If you have stories, or additional tips on how to solve Yelp bombing / review campaigns, please let me know in the comments. If you have an ongoing issue, please feel free to reach out to me.

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