If you are a business owner or simply care about what your customer’s are saying about your brand online, you have probably come to the realization by now that online review sites can (and will) make a dent on your revenue if left unchecked. With the upcoming release of “Billion Dollar Bully” the Kickstarter-funded documentary about Yelp’s questionable business practices, people may be wondering why there is any problem for business owners at all, and how much of an impact customer reviews generate online.
“Some studies show that a half-star increase in online ratings may mean up to 19 percent increased reservations for restaurants.”
Other service-oriented businesses, such as dry cleaners, plumbers, electricians, carpet cleaning companies, and others experience similar changes in customer engagement as their online business reputation rises or drops. When a business receives a bad review on a website such as Yelp, the very first question that arises is usually, “Can I delete a Yelp review?”
The answer is… yes, sometimes. Most likely, no. There are some cases that warrant a review removing request, such as profanity or a clear-cut case of maliciousness by a competitor. Yelp and the other major review websites have actively been working to improve their standards, after a Harvard Business School study found that nearly 16% of Yelp reviews are fake. Undeterred, customers are relying on online reviews more than ever, and a recent study has found up to 68% of people use online reviews regularly. Of those 68 percent, 93% are likely to make a purchase decision based on the customer feedback they found in the process.
Online Reviews are protected under the First Amendment
More important than ever in the ever-changing era of digital communication, Freedom of Speech can be a double edge sword. We guarantee everyone a voice, but sometimes it is not in the best interest of a capitalist endeavor to showcase an opposing point of view. But this is the truest case of the First Amendment, as common as sharing with your community an experience at a restaurant, doctor, or bank. Because of the human nature of customer voice, not all online reviews can be counted as reliable. The United States Government has ruled that reviews that are strictly opinion or hyperbole are protected by the First Amendment, but unsupported comments based on facts can be considered libelous.
A good example is calling a restaurant’s bathroom “dirty” or “disgusting,” which would be considered opinion. But an online review saying the restaurant is breaking health codes or lacking licensure is patently false, and can be pushed to deletion by the business owner.
As a business owner or marketing manager for a business, you might feel inclined to contest the validity of an online review. If you feel the review is false or not reflective of your business, you may feel inclined to contact the website displaying the negative review and request a removal. However, before you pull the trigger and submit a ticket to review websites such as Yelp or Google, it is important that you consider other avenues to handle the negative review. The fact is, unless the review is profane and you can prove with very strong evidence that it is false, the negative review is likely to remain published.
Many businesses have gone as far as taking legal measures to have reviews removed due to libelous content. Some of these cases have gone as far as the Supreme Court, only to be dismissed, providing reviewers and review websites significant protection under Freedom of Speech.
Instances when you can control, alter, or delete your online reviews can be confusing, so we put together a handy guide (with flowchart!) to help
What about removing a review that is both bad and false?
In the case of reviews that are patently false, you may have a little bit more leeway to have it removed from your online profile on review websites. Both Google and Yelp offer the option to flag reviews and include an explanation to support the flagging action. Valid reasons to flag a review as false or even malicious include the following:
Conflict of interest: If you suspect someone was paid or wrote a false negative review to damage your business, you may escalate using a flag. Provide as much evidence as possible, particularly if it has become a spam-like pattern aimed at drowning your business with a highly negative reputation.
Sexually explicit, offensive or racist or hate speech: If the review contains verbiage that could be construed as hate speech, or is sexually explicit, you may be able to have it removed via a flag. An example would be a review that negatively highlights the ethnicity of the business owner, or employees of a business, with the intent of damaging their business reputation. If the review contains any language that is negative or seeks to degrade an individual or group of individuals based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, sexual orientation, or gender identity, you may flag the review for removal.
Reviews with illegal content, pointing to illegal activities, or with illegal links: If your business receives a malicious review aimed at promoting anything that is illegal, you may request a flag. For example, someone might indicate that illegal substances may be obtained at your establishment. This would qualify both as false and as promoting illegal activities, and it can be flagged.
Previous examples aside, there are very few instances that allow for the removal of a negative review. The best way to handle a negative review is to become well versed in proper review responses and customer-centric reputation management. If a negative review receives a kind, caring, and resolution-oriented response, it may well turn the tables and result in a customer that is willing to give you another chance. A well-drafted response to a negative review is valuable beyond customer retention; it also serves to persuade potential customers to give you a try.
When a review is patently false, malicious, or hateful, move forward with a removal request. On the other hand, if a review is negative, and perhaps includes inflated and angry commentary, do not remove it. Respond, engage, and work with your customer toward a happy resolution.
Responding to all your online reviews can be a time-suck. There are professional services out there who specialize in this type of work, so we’ve put together a list of the best reputation management companies out there.
In addition to responding to negative reviews, work on securing a high volume of positive reviews. Review velocity will result in drowning the negative reviews by positioning the bulk of your positive reviews in more prominent locations when sorted chronologically or by popularity.
Review removal is just one way to manage and grow your online reputation.
Effective and smart business owners use the whole gamut of review management tools and techniques at their disposal to ensure top rankings on Yelp, Google, and other major review websites.