Ratings sites, “extortion” and the challenges of reporting on negative issues

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angry construction guy

SLS Construction Wacky WednesdayI’m observing a fair bit of buzz on contractor-related forums and groups complaining about some well-branded (and recognized) ratings and leads generation sites. Mutterings about “extortion” — about the inability to manage negative reviews, and the “removal” of positive reviews; about one-sided contract language, and about the purported lack of ethics and integrity of these organizations abound.

This stuff really reached my desk yesterday when an industry leader emailed me to ask me to investigate and write about these issues.  He, of course, put a “not for publication” note on his personal email to me, and I’ll certainly respect that fact.

I answered to him that I avoid tackling certain issues and stories, in part because a fear of litigation. “Libel insurance” is an expensive and the costs of defending against legal threats for publishing content which business owners consider to be defamatory can be huge. Of course, instigating legal action is also expensive, but when you are a multi-million (or billion) dollar business, you can easily afford the lawyers. I’ve only had one run-in with legal action, when I needed to set myself up for a lawsuit to overcome an unethical competitor several years ago. However, even though I managed things to minimize risks, and the judge ultimately cleared my business (and awarded costs), the overall experience still cost about $20,000 — and lots of stress (and if I had lost, it might have killed my business.)

Accordingly, I’ve set a policy not to publish identifiable negative reports or reviews about any business or individual in this blog. Yes it can weaken the story when there is a scuzzbag (or scuzzy organizations) out there worthy of some negative publicity. However, this reporting needs to be done either by media organizations with deep pockets for lawyers, or indviduals who have nothing to lose (because maybe they have nothing!) to take on the risks.

Does this mean I can’t speak my mind in this place about things that and organizations that could do better? Sure, especially, if the observations are factually-based and reference verifiable sources. But the investigation time and resources have to be managed carefully.

Nevertheless, you should feel free to read between the lines here. If you are seeking leads, you should set up systems to gather them yourself, or be very careful that you understand the rules and contract provisions of the leads service providers (and take any claims and represntations from these organizations with several solid grains of salt.) And if you are in a situation where you are facing review challenges, do your best to keep a positive attitude, maintain your client service guidelines, and within reason — and understanding the concepts of the review services — encourage clients to post postive reviews AFTER they’ve given you their own testimonials, and never in bulk or all at once. (This will set off the flags and your good-news reviews will disappear, quickly.) And if you want to buy advertising with these organizations, be aware that you are ceding much control and independence over own business operations. The choice, always, is yours.

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