Appeared on June 3, 2015 in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Co-authored by Rich Escoffery.
A wise friend once said: “Having your own business is like having a sick child. You never stop looking in.” Business people know that’s also true of a business of their own as well as one that has been entrusted to them to manage.
“Looking in” now also means logging in.
Half of all respondents in a recent survey by Bright Local said they used the Internet at least six times a year to check business reputations. And 88 percent said they put an Internet recommendation on par with a personal recommendation.
Hospitality and retail are major targets for online critics. So are medical, dental, and professional service firms. Plastic surgeons catch their share of online slights too.
Small businesses know the importance of positive and negative reviews and some are caving under the pressure. An Atlanta barbecue restaurant was caught in the crossfire a few years ago after it decided to post a picture of a customer who did not leave a tip. That decision led to hundreds of negative reviews on its Yelp page. It is now closed. An Atlanta-based chain of restaurants had to call in help after receiving some complaints on their Facebook page about service, prompting others to chime in.
Putting stock in online reviews is necessary due to their broad reach, but the most important action for fighting online attacks should really occur long before the negative reviews start.
Here’s the new business axiom for the Internet: “Use It (the Internet) or Lose It (the reputation).” That means defending your enterprise against an Internet attack. But it also means getting out there in advance to manage the Web to your benefit.
The good news for almost every business is that traditional media outlets are now obliged to feed a 24/7 Internet monster; they’re crying for your news. Community websites add to the demand.
A new hire, a promotion, a speech, a sponsorship (even of a community baseball team), a new office or plant site are all news now.
On the downside: online attacks happen. Whether it’s a negative review by a one-time customer or someone with a grudge writing on your Face-book page, sour reviews have to be dealt with, either by you or an outsider you call in to help.
Sometimes a simple protest or a flood of dilution by the “good guys” in your corner is not enough. In those cases, a legal expert can help. If you do decide to contact a lawyer, keep these things in mind:
› Most postings can be addressed without filing a lawsuit.
› If you don’t know the identity of the critic, a lawyer can use the legal process (a John Doe lawsuit) to uncover his or her identity.
› Before you file a lawsuit, understand your goals. It may be more realistic to get the offending posting removed and ensure that nothing else goes up, rather than winning a big judgment against someone who might not be able to pay.
Above all, remember this: Business bullying is unhappy, even enraging. But it’s only something to be managed. And you know something about managing.