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 three, we look at other tactics undertaken by Yelp bombers, other than just posting reviews, and coming to a resolution. You can find part one, on prevention and initial responses to weaponized reviews, here and part two, on preventing and then handling a weaponized review campaign going viral, here.

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

Other Tactics

Reviews are not the only weapons that can be used in an online attack.

An out of context video, or audio recording, from inside your business, can be used as the cornerstone of an online attack. YouTube or Facebook will be the usual place to host these. If the people who have been recorded did not give their consent, and there is not a significant public interest in the subject matter, then privacy concerns will usually allow you to have these videos removed. This is not a quick process so some kind of measured response will need to posted in case the recordings start to have legs. In addition, each state has different laws with regards to the surreptitious recording of others. It may be possible to prosecute someone who has made a recording without the knowledge of those being recorded.

Facebook Live, and other live streaming services, are really beyond the scope of this article; but I wrote about my concerns about how these platforms can be used here. My only suggestion for handling situations, where these platforms are being used to essentially blackmail, would be to get the police involved at the time of recording and then deal with the fall out which is likely to take the form of a Yelp bombing campaign.

With a concerted online attack on a business, impersonation of official sites can become an issue. Misuse of your logo and / or name should be able to reported as a Terms of Service violation, particularly if the purpose is to confuse the public as to whom the site / page actually belongs to. There may also be trademark and copyright infringement issues that social networks can be particularly sensitive to. If there has been misuse of your name, or logo, you may find that social networks will respond quicker to these issues over privacy and other concerns.

Resolutions

All online attacks, even the ones that go viral, will burn out.

The issue becomes what is the damage while it is burning, and what might be the lasting impact. The internet is littered with stories of those who have had their lives ruined over a stupid tweet, or an off-color joke. Jon Ronson’s book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” which I reviewed here, gives some excellent background to the phenomena of internet shaming and its consequences.  In the veterinary world, there have been bullying campaigns that have led to businesses closing and even to suicide. It is important to get help and stand as part of a community.

For businesses, the good news is that while they cannot be complacent, they tend to fair better than individuals. It is hard to imagine a company getting worse press, for good reason, than United Airlines. However, they are still flying and the month after they dragged a passenger off an oversold flight their stock reached a record high.

A disgruntled customer, who launches a Yelp Bombing campaign, may be open to a financial settlement, or that may be their motivation in the first place. This can be difficult territory, and can be filled with potential landmines. Does the customer have a case? Other than being upset, is what they are asking for reasonable? These are things that only you and your team can answer. Remember it is not about who is right, it is about resolving the issue. If a Yelp bombing campaign has taken place I think it is sensible to get a lawyer involved, to ask for posts to be removed, and to have a document that states that the matter is resolved. If there has not been a campaign, but just a bad review I feel that you should steer clear of such arrangements, unless the customer is being very unreasonable, as they can look bad when the client posts them online.

If a business cannot settle an issue that has led to a Yelp bombing campaign, then other than playing “whack-a-mole,” it may just be a case of keeping your head down and waiting for it to burn out. If the campaign is malicious, and has real world consequences, then suing is an option. A photographer successfully sued a couple who launched an Yelp bombing and media campaign against her, effectively ruining her wedding photography business. It is important to note that in this case there was a clear campaign, clear damage, and the judge found a clear and genuine attempt by the photographer to resolve the issue. It is always an option to consult with a lawyer, but be aware that if your attacker has nothing to loose, or money to burn, this might be an expensive way of doing not a lot.

While having a review issue, or even a Yelp bombing campaign, it is easy to feel the world is coming to an end. It is not. That is not to detract from how difficult these situations are to weather, but it is important to get some perspective. Reach out to your peers, even your competitors, you’ll be surprised how supportive they will be, even if your business made a mistake. You are not alone. It might be a tough day, week, or even month, but people lose interest, news cycles move on, and clients still need your services.

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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