Dietz vs Perez: When things get out of hand with online review sites

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Dietz Perez Angies

Dietz Perez AngiesThe ongoing legal battle of Dietz vs. Perez is a reminder of the risks and consequences when things don’t go right with online review sites.

In this case, a suburban Washington DC area consumer posted a scathing review on Yelp (and others report she also posted on Angie’s List, though I cannot see the review there now), asserting that the contractor had not only screwed up the job, but stolen her jewelry.  the contractor responded by suing for defamation. As the case moved through the courts, public interest groups joined the consumer after an apparent initial “win” — and the rather serious allegations remain on Yelp, with an equally powerful response from the contractor. Notably, this is the only Yelp review of the contractor:  The contractor says he hasn’t used nor needed  the review sites for his business (though he asserts in his original filings that the negative review cost him $300,000 in business) and Yelp says other comments have been scrubbed because the service rules are that first-hand impressions are the only ones to remain in place; and public comments based on the media publicity because of the litigation need to go.

I’ll stay clear of excessive factual interpretation on the merits of the case here, inviting you to read some of the relevant articles as well as the reviews.

First, check the actual Yelp review and the contractors’ reaction here.  Then, you may find interesting the relevant Washingtonpost.com story.

Consultant Shawn McCadden (Shawnmccadden.com) has gathered several stories based on this tale.

Obviously, you can see this story from several angles.  Based on Dietz’s response to the original review, he may have reasonably felt he was dealing with the client from hell.  The client’s perspective might be this: I just reported truthfully my experience, and now have to defend a massive lawsuit (and clearly the consumer has won some high-level support from the ALCU and Public Citizen.)

Probably the best defences against these sorts of risks are:

  • Know and appreciate the power of the review sites and realize that if you have no reviews there now, and the first one is negative (justified or not) you will have an uphill battle in fixing things.
  • Be aware that the review sites are businesses — you can expect solicitation calls and marketing efforts to purchase additional services, especially after you receive one or two sincere positive client reviews.  At the moment, I don’t think that genuinely positive consumer reviews will be removed or downplayed if you buy into the services’ marketing gambits — there is probably a “Chinese wall” to maintain the review integrity — but you’ll still be fending off sales reps.
  • As I noted in yesterday’s construction marketing ideas blog posting, I think your best defence is to focus on gathering and posting sincere positive client reviews on your own site. These should be genuine, not faked, ideally video, and the more the better.  You won’t need to induce some of your clients (and I recommend you don’t, unless you are very careful, and make sure that you do it one-on-one and on a very gradual level) to post positive reviews on the third party-commercial sites for some of them to sincerely and publicly express their appreciation for your service.

If you receive a negative review, take a close hard look at whether there is any substance to the matter, and if there is take the high road, accept responsibility, and let readers know how you have sought to make good.  If the negative review is unfounded and malicious, of course, you have a bigger challenge — one for which frankly I don’t have a satisfactory solution, because clearly the litigation approach takes you down some rather serious and potentially extremely expensive and disruptive paths. 

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