“I hate you…and now I’m going to social media about it.” Those are horrifying words, indeed. Getting positive reviews on social sites is the holy grail to owners and management because it means you are doing something right and someone took the time to write about. But when your brand is on display for the world to see, this can be good and bad. And you don’t control it. Your clients, customers, employees, and even passers-by now speak with a voice louder than a street corner fanatic with a megaphone.

The COLLOQUY 2011 Word-of-Mouth study found that 26% of the general population agreed they were inclined to advise friends and family about bad experiences with brands and that they were “far more likely to spread a bad experience as good one.”

A study done by MarketingCharts.com showed that 95 percentof consumers were inclined to share a bad experience they had with a company while 87 percent would share a good one.

With so many channels to leave reviews on: Yelp, Google, Facebook, YellowPages and, not to forget, personal blogs and industry-related forums, a bad review is going to appear somewhere. But fear not, there is an answer to what you should do in these times of battling against negative reviews and protect your company’s reputation.

It is impractical to think that you can please all the people all the time

When you have a bad experience with a company you want to tell someone anyone who will listen! It just feels good. It is self-gratifying. It’s the American way. The world must know when pickles were included on what should have been your plain hamburger! And shame on the sporty, teenage girl taking your order…forever shall she be banished to the depths of fast-food service hell for her blatant indiscretion!

No matter how expletive-laden your recollection is, your friends and peers listen. They pay more attention to it than they do experts and critics. Everyone has experienced this from both sides.

Your negative reviews are hurting you. Now is the time to take action.

The most effective way to battle negative reviews is to take action, quickly and effectively.

  1. Responsiveness is key: It is imperative that you keep your ears and eyes open for any “reviews” or online comment about your brand or customer experience – no matter how tedious this sounds. Knowing what and when something is said to you will be imperative for you to respond quickly. Responding to reviews from three months ago will make you look indifferent, or even worse, incompetent. In fact, 78 percentof people who complain to or about a brand on Twitter expect a response within the hour.
  2. Get personal: Nobody wants to read a robotic sounding response. Make sure that the message you deliver is real and human and in the tone of your brand. Use real people’s names from your company and be willing to be transparent. That means owning a mistake if it is yours to own.
  3. This isn’t a shouting match: Even if the review is completely outrageous based on what “really” happened, now isn’t the time to point fingers and fight back. Defending your brand and company doesn’t mean accusing the other person. Make sure your responses directly reflect the person’s situation and their point of view. You may not see eye to eye on what happened, but taking the high road will be way more valuable in the long term.
  4. Listen to what is being said: More often than not, people will get on the bandwagon if they see one person leave a negative review about something. So, listen to what is being said and look for a root cause. If everyone is giving negative reviews because of one particular receptionist, maybe it’s time to have a talk with that receptionist. Responding to reviews is step one. The next step is creating a clear plan of action to address the root problem internally.

At the end of the day, brands are not the only ones in charge of their own destiny – customers are too.

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