Reputation management: Playing heavy with social media and review sites

Amys bakery
The Amy''s Bakery and Bistro social media fail is one of the most dramatic in recent years
Amys bakery
The Amy”s Bakery and Bistro social media fail is one of the most dramatic in recent years

We’ve heard stories about businesses who have failed by engaging in open battles with disgruntled clients through social media, such as the?Amy?s Baking Company Bakery Boutique & Bistro?fiasco in Scottsdale, AZ. (I suppose one benefit of this crash and burn is it has made the place a sort?of tourist attraction — I’ll see if I can visit the store when I’m in the Phoenix area this fall.)

There’s some good solid advice on how to maintain a positive yet effective response in this Entrepeneur magazine article. Peter Gascra writes:

Responding to social-media complaints is absolutely critical for a business. Just make sure you put much more effort into your response than the individual who posted the complaint.

He advocates one of the most fundamental approaches to the problem: Take it offline. You can’t “win” by deleting (on your own) offensive posts, nor can you address the issue by stooping to the level of the attacker. And if there is a problem you need to solve, ?you need to fess up and solve it.

But there is another side to the story, which especially applies for review sites.

I know of at least two businesses (who shall remain nameless here in light of my policy never to identify businesses negatively in this blog) who probably deserve really bad social media/review site ratings — or at least, something less than the near-perfect scores they appear to have earned.

A look into these examples suggests a strategic, if heavy-handed approach. The goal is to prevent any negative reviews/ratings from appearing in the first place.

In the first, someone I know saw the first and only negative review of a contractor she had used personally on a rating site. The company had a perfect score previously (and this perfection is one reason the client used the business.) The review outlined the serious problems with the organization this individual also experienced, so she penned her own review. But she didn’t want feedback or worse further personal contact with the business owner, so used an assumed name in the response. The listing was posted, but was quickly pulled down when the owner contacted the review site and asked for verification that the negative review was genuine.

In this case, the review (truthful, but anonymous), died a quick death — the last thing the consumer wanted was a direct confrontation with the business which she was speaking about. Presumably the other person, who posted the review directly, was willing to take the heat. Most people aren’t.

In the second, an extension of the first, I understand one major renovation contractor goes out-of-the-way to contact personally anyone who posts a negative review, even to the point of having staff or possibly legal representatives visit the homeowners. ?I think lawyers’ letters are also used if necessary. The reviews remain universally positive, even though the story behind the business isn’t so good.

bill cosby
Bill Cosby successfully deflected serious allegations for several years (photo from Wikipedia)

How can this be? We have to look at the public image/reputation and risk management that everyone needs to observe in business. Think, for now, of Bill Cosby. For years, he fended off serious sexual abuse allegations by applying?his public reputation, publicists and lawyers to contain the matter. The women making the complaints were cast as falsifying gold-diggers (and possibly some were). In a few cases, things went further, to the point of legal action and court depositions. Here, he muzzled the complaints with significant financial settlements and gag orders — which held until recently. As long as nothing verifiable was published against him, he was safe from the barbs and attacks, and his reputation remained reasonably healthy.

In other words, if you have an excellent reputation, you want to avoid any significant number of negative reviews. Maybe you could get away with one (or a few if you have a large volume), but you want to avoid the bandwagon effect. It is best of course to solve the problem before getting heavy. But I can see some situations where playing hard-ball has, at least for the time being, preserved the reputation and brand of the affected businesses. Maybe things will come crashing down sooner or later, as has happened for Cosby. But right now they look good in the eyes of the review and social media sites, even though there is grumbling behind the scenes.

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