Protecting Your Reputation Online
Your customers are probably looking at online reviews before deciding whether to purchase your goods or services. According to a Forbes article, as many as 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. (How Important are Customer Reviews for Online Marketing? by Jayson DeMers, published Dec 28, 2015.) Ignoring a damaging review can directly affect your bottom line. Reputation is frequently rated the top strategic risk for companies, with over 40% of companies reporting that their revenues or earnings were impacted by negative reputation events. Warren Buffet has said “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”
Reputation attacks can come from many sources including actual customers, competitors, disgruntled employees, and activists. These attacks can happen online in various forms including negative reviews, consumer complaint websites, social media, blogs, and online forums. In some cases, search engines return gripe websites and negative reviews high in search results for a company, meaning potential customers may be exposed to an attack on your reputation before they find your website or contact information.
The majority of reputation attacks can and should be handled from a business perspective – directly deal with the unsatisfied customer to resolve their complaint, encourage good reviews to balance the negative, or simply ignore the comment. Marketing professionals can create strategies to neutralize the effects of the comment. However, in some cases the negative reviewer will never be satisfied and the ongoing reputational damage is too great to ignore. In weighing potential legal responses, you should consider the degree of harm caused, whether it is likely a one-time event or the beginning of a campaign, your budget and the risk tolerance of your business, and whether you can afford not to have the content removed.
Removing the offending content might be accomplished by:
1. Convincing the author to remove the content.
- Carrot approach: Often proactively identifying complaints, apologizing for any inconvenience, explaining mitigating factors, and offering to remediate the problem can resolve the problem and begin reparations to your reputation.
- Stick approach: If other options fail, a demand letter from your attorney may obtain the result you are looking for. This should only be used when you have legal grounds for any demands made, and you must weigh whether you will be perceived as a bully or a victim. Always consider whether the author was exercising Free Speech rights under the first amendment or engaging in defamation.
- Anonymous attackers: In many cases legal tools can be used to identify otherwise anonymous comments left on message boards or review websites, particularly where the attacker has crossed legal lines. Even anonymous comments on message boards can often be traced back to a specific service provider, and then to a specific home, office or computer.
2. Contacting the website or host to remove the content. Websites and hosts will generally remove copyright or trademark infringement, threats, obscenity, private information, or illegal content, or other content that violates their terms of service or posting guidelines.
3. Obtaining a court order addressing the content. When the author or host of the offending material fails to remedy the situation, bring claims against the attacker, not the website host. It can be difficult to prove damages, but in some cases damages are presumed under the law. Before filing a lawsuit, you must ensure there is a legal and evidentiary basis for claims against the attacker.
If you have any questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.