One of the main triggers for local businesses to seek assistance in their brand reputation and review management efforts is often the suspicion that competitors are not playing fair.
In fact, many business owners would carry on without realizing the importance of reviews – until, that is, the fateful day in which they discover a highly suspicious negative review. (For example: Chef Writes Fake Reviews to Blemish Competing Restaurants’ Brand Reputation)
In cases like this, know that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Let’s take a look at a few smart strategies to help you handle – and prevent – suspicious negative reviews.
Prevention: develop brand differentiators
Businesses are more likely to act defensively and feel threatened if they perceive too many similarities among those in their comparative set.
One of the best ways to protect your online brand reputation is to ensure that at all times your offering is unique. A strong brand differentiator will protect your business by communicating to potential competitors that you are not even playing in the same game field.
This is especially important if you are a market entrant in a situation that appears to already be saturated. If this is the case, it would make sense for you to reconsider your business plan, as there are other risks inherent to participating in a market that is already saturated. Among them is the potential of competitive behaviors driving the prices down for everyone, thus reducing margins across the board and placing your business in a vulnerable position.
To put it in simple terms, one of the best strategies to create and maintain a superior online reputation is to be the only one in your category.
Manage reviews and reputation from Day 1
Attacking a business with a strong and vibrant brand reputation is pretty tricky. Which means that if you are managing your online reputation from the start – and that customers are reviewing you well and often – then you are protected against malicious and false reviews by virtue of a strong cumulative score.
In addition, when someone posts something negative about a popular venue on a review site, chances are brand advocates and fans will step up to defend the venue.
Managing your brand reputation is essential to the growth of your business. If done well, it will be self-sustaining and protect itself from anomalies such as malicious, false reviews from competitors, or rants from vindictive customers.
Check out other potential victims
If you suspect another business in your category is out to trash your online profiles, there’s a good chance they are not going exclusively after you.
Spend a little time doing your homework to see if there is a pattern across several competitors. If you spot similar negative reviews within a tight timeframe, then go ahead and take screenshots; you will need them when escalating to the host site.
You may also want to alert the other businesses affected. The chances of false reviews getting removed are higher if multiple businesses escalate in association with a particular user.
Study and compare language and tone
Fake reviews written by competitors and seeded with the intention of attacking your business often follow a pattern. Spend time studying the language, and look for similarities on the part of the fake profile.
If the user has a highly negative review posted to your profile and several positive reviews posted to the suspect business, take screenshots and highlight language similarities. Having these handy will be helpful when asking the review site moderation team to lend you a hand by rectifying the issue.
Respond to the review politely
False negative reviews should be treated with the same level of care and consideration as real negative reviews. Take it as an opportunity to rise up to the occasion and provide the pseudo-customer with the greatest levels of customer care.
Offer a resolution and encourage the reviewer to give you another chance. Your response will serve as a pre-moderation lifeline aimed at telling other potential customers that even when things go wrong, you are committed to each and every customer.
Flag the review
Once you have posted a response in order to protect your image, go ahead and flag the review for removal. Your escalation should be detail-rich and provide as much evidence as possible to help the moderation team side with you and remove the review or reviews in question.
Get more positive reviews to push fake reviews out of sight
Like we said before, a strong review profile with high levels of activity is your best weapon, when and if a fake review is posted about your business.
New reviews will supersede the false negative review, and before you know it, it will no longer be visible in the first page of your profile. Even if it is, the information will be drowned out by multiple accolades from your real happy customers.
Not everybody plays fair. If your business is the victim of false reviews from the competition, know that you are neither the first nor the last to be subject to this type of behavior. With the right evidence in hand, the moderation team from the host site will most likely side with you once you have escalated the issue.