Not long ago, we touched on the legal implications associated with writing fake positive online reviews for your business, also known as “astroturfing.” 19 New York City restaurants were subject to an investigation. After a year-long undercover effort by the New York Attorney General’s Office, the businesses agreed to pay more than $350,000 in penalties for writing or paying for fake online reviews.
(Check out: “Yelp, New York Regulators Crack Down on Fake Reviews”)
With almost 30,000 restaurants in New York City, it did not come to us as a surprise that, once again, the culinary segment was on the news and in the courtrooms due to issues with reviews posted on Yelp. This time around, however, it was not the city persecuting restaurants to obtain full disclosure on the identity of a reviewer who posted a false, malicious, and defamatory review. A well-known New York City steakhouse is suing Yelp to obtain full disclosure on the identity of a reviewer who posted a false, malicious, and defamatory review.
Sparks Steakhouse is a well-known and highly rated venue located on East 18th Street. The who’s who of New York City frequent the establishment, and everyone remembers it as the place where Paul Castellano, head of the Gambino crime family, was shot. To be clear, the review in question is not the first low-scoring review the restaurant has received. In fact, using the ReviewTrackers dashboard, we counted several one-star reviews addressing various customer service or quality issues.
The review that led to a legal process against Yelp to obtain disclosure of the full name of the reviewer read as follows:
I have personally spit my own saliva into dishes…. Our manager actually condones it to guests who give us attitudes. Just double check your food next time you eat here.
The user name associated with the review was Besfort S, and the review was dated July 18. (The review in question appears to have now been removed from Yelp.)
According to the court records, the reviewer appeared to be Besfort Shala who, per the restaurant’s human resources records, had applied to work as a server and was not offered a position. Mr. Shala denied the charges and even filed a police report indicating that the unknown individual who created the review was impersonating him.
Preventing a Troll
People do foolish things when angry, and the option of anonymity further encourages less-than-civil behaviors. Fully avoiding these types of situations may be virtually impossible, but you can take steps toward minimizing the risk.
The first and most impactful measure is to foster a culture of kindness and respect to everyone, in all situations. The trigger for angry and inappropriate behavior is usually the result of people feeling like someone has wronged them. Many large human resources organizations have policies in place aimed at treating applicants as external customers. When it comes to declining a prospective candidate, stick to the golden rule: treat him or her with the same respect, consideration, and compassion as you would your vendors and other external customers.
Additionally, always be cognizant that each member of your business, regardless of size, is in fact a brand ambassador.
What Can You Do If Your Business Faces a Similar Conundrum?
First and foremost, do your homework. Try your very best to check the facts with your staff and leadership team. Once you have conducted some forensics, remember to keep your cool. Respond to the review in question politely and with the facts. Do not be hyperemotional, defensive, or rude. Proceed to flag the review, and follow the escalation procedures specific to the review site. Take a screenshot for your records, if applicable.
When a review is patently false and your business has a great online reputation, chances are the false review will drown and disappear quickly as your business acquires other positive reviews. Some businesses have such a loyal following that customers will defend the business by personally replying to a false review.
Your goal as a business owner should always remain the same: to do your work with excellence and build a brand that matters to your consumer. If you do this with consistency, then you will find that trolls will matter less and less. The key is to prevent them by delivering superior products, services, and relationships at all levels and at all times.
Also, it is extremely important to be the first to discover issues with online reviews in order to take immediate action. Having the right review monitoring platform can help you identify and triage online reviews likely to tarnish your online reputation. By having real-time notifications you can take immediate action toward finding a proper resolution for the issues at hand.
(Image credit: Sparks Steakhouse Facebook)