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The Cost of Unfair Negative Reviews and the Importance of Online Review Management

An unfair negative online review can cost a business as much as $46,000 a year.

That’s the estimate from a study of companies in the UK that have had to deal with reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor, as well as negative customer feedback on social media sites like Twitter, Foursquare, and Facebook.

In the US? Expect the average to be similar, if not much higher.

With the popularity and influence of online review sites on the rise, research studies estimate that over 12 million businesses in the US are looking to engage with consumers on review sites and customer feedback platforms, fueling a market that’s expected to spend approximately $5 billion this year alone on reputation and online review management.

Reviews can cause “severe reputational damage”

The UK study, which was reported by the Telegraph, also revealed that 51 percent of business owner respondents had experienced unfair reviews or received reputation-blemishing negative comments from “trolls”.

Of these, 14 percent admitted that they wouldn’t know what to do in order to tackle the problem. In fact, approximately 25 percent of those surveyed were forced to take legal action to remove offending content.

“The proliferation of social media sites means that reviews and posts can be easily shared, causing severe reputational damage,” wrote the Telegraph’s Rebecca Burn-Callander. “Gauging whether a post is ‘unfair’ is a subjective art, but (more businesses spend) on their efforts to control malicious online comments, whether through external reputation management agencies, in-house social media managers, or cash spent on legal fees.”

The trend mirrors what’s happening in the US, where many cases of local businesses suing review-writing customers have been documented in recent years.

Just a few months ago, a shades and blinds company filed a lawsuit against a husband and wife for writing a negative review on online review site Yelp. Also recently, Texas realtor Jeremy Wages filed suit against Yelp user Lin L for defamation and asked Yelp to reveal the identity of the reviewer. And in 2012, housing contractor Dietz Development LLC sued Jane Perez of Virginia for a critical Yelp review.

Online review management tips

Still, taking legal action is not necessarily the most effective of online review management tactics. It can backfire, such as what happened to this guesthouse owner and this Florida apartment complex.

If your business receives an unfair negative review posted by “trolls,” best industry practices include the following:

  • Flag the review. If you have reason to believe that the content of the review is false and malicious, follow the procedures and submit a report to the host review site. If the review is in violation of the site’s terms of service and content guidelines, you can expect that proper action will be taken.
  • Don’t fight back. Most savvy consumers will be able to discern whether a review is fair or unreasonable. So avoid fighting back and writing an angry review response that might spread – instead of extinguish – the fire.
  • Generate new positive reviews. While waiting for the host review site to take action on an unfair review, spend some time requesting feedback and reviews from happy customers. This should help you strengthen your brand reputation and minimize the impact that any negative comments may have on your business – more so than a lawsuit can.

Migs Bassig

Migs is the Content Manager for ReviewTrackers. He's a creative writer who has helped numerous companies communicate more effectively online, and he loves sharing his local marketing knowledge to help brands and business succeed.


  1. Guy Cleveland

    Flagging is always the first best option when reacting to a review that is clearly unfair. Companies like yelp have gotten a lot better about handling unfair reviews. Litigation – even just threatening it – should always be taken very seriously and avoided at all costs.

    • Almira Keefe

      Honestly, there shouldn’t be a need for anyone to consider litigation anymore. Most of the issues can be worked out within the platform itself now and most people take everything online with a grain of salt. The one exception might be if a competitor tries to slander you with fake reviews.

  2. William Hudson

    I have to say that running a business with all 5-stars reviews can certainly take its toll. Up until recently that was my situation, and I can tell you that each new review was always very stressful for me. I now have two 🙂 and can safely say that I’m cured from my obsessive fear of a bad review.

    But, I agree with all thee points from the article. I’ve come to realize that a bad RESPONSE to a negative review can do much more harm to your business than the review itself. Especially if you always strive to excel at what you do. So, just keep up the good work and stay dignified, is my motto 🙂

  3. Susan Armand

    You can not prevent bad comments, its just how the world functions. Going to litigation because of a bad review doesn’t really make sense anymore. As the article suggests, better generate more positive reviews. Litigation case, no matter if you are right or not, have tendency to create negative publicity. So my advise, keep your big guns holstered and use honey 😉

  4. Heinrich Sture

    If the overall score is above 4 stars it doesn’t matter if you have a couple of bad reviews. Intelligent customer will immediately recognize an unfair negative reviews. Those just happen and it’s important to flag them and not to respond in a bad manner. A rude response could make more damage than the actual review itself.

  5. Janet Krakowski

    So, you are telling that even a honest bad review can be flagged? What if the bad review was well deserved and the owner flag it? The site will remove it and everyone will think that the business have none of bad reviews. Isn’t that cheating?

  6. Martin W

    The world has given all merchants the proverbial middle finger, The problem is some businesses can get spammed by bad reviews by one person who opens multiple accounts as happened to our business, there is not enough regulation and control on this, it damages good will that is VERY expensive to acquire, our politicians are totally asleep at the wheel on this issue, and its like the world has given all merchants the huge middle finger, and told them “thats too bad suck it up, lose your livelihood, if you die as a result of unfair or malicious online content then thats just too bad, no one is accountable anymore, the stress business owners feel now due to this damaging review phenomenon is at an all time high in our history, but no one seems to care except the business owners themselves who must endure this heart breaking unfair expensive damage to their livelihoods that support their families, business is not predictable anymore but a crap shoot, its such a sad sad time in our history.