Online reviews serve many important purposes. At their best, they’re a true online version of “word of mouth.” Potential customers can see what others have said about the company and then make a determination for themselves. Online reviews can provide accountability. When a business does a good job, the public deserves to know. The public deserves to know when a business does the opposite of a good job, too. However, sometimes these reviews can be weaponized by those with malicious motives. When that occurs, online marketers have a responsibility to do right by their clients: protecting them.
An Example From Our Case Files
A client of ours received multiple negative online reviews. This was a surprise to us. This client has all kinds of five-star ratings, the highest possible, across a multitude of sites. Our client’s online reputation was essentially pristine. However, we became even more bewildered when we actually looked at their online reviews. The positive reviews were well-written and erudite. They used specific examples and detailed explanations, all coming from profiles with multiple reviews across many industries.
The negative reviews, however, were different. They weren’t as specific, nor were they as detailed. However, what they lacked in specificity they more than made up in vitriol. To say these reviews were negative was an understatement. They were essentially verbal land mines, designed to go off any time someone looked for the company online.
We’ve found that folks tend to react more to negative reviews than to positive ones. After all, when we go looking for a company on Yelp or a similar site, don’t most of us look for the negative ones first? That’s just human nature. Of course, there was something about these reviews that was off and didn’t feel right. Our suspicions were confirmed when the client showed us an email they received.
The Definition Of Blackmail
Our client showed us an email that basically said: “We’ve left very negative reviews for your company. Pay us $XXXX and we’ll take the reviews down.” Obviously, that’s blackmail. On top of that, it’s a real violation of what online reviews are supposed to be. They’re designed to be what regular people think of the business: not what some online scammers can get out of the frightened and confused business owners.
So, we went through the process of getting the reviews taken down. We were able to do it in a quick period of time so that our client was able to keep doing their job without having to worry about these reviews. There’s no real way to quantify how much money the client might have potentially lost from someone seeing these reviews. How many people went looking for online reviews, found these fraudulent ones, and then decided against doing business with our client?
I’d love to tell you that this is the only time this has happened to a client of ours, but it isn’t. This is a problem across the internet. There are too many places that are committed to posting fake reviews and then blackmailing hardworking people. What can make this even more challenging to deal with is that many of the places that do this are overseas. So, it’s not like we can call the cops on them or something. You have to take other measures to do right by your clients.
The Responsibility Of An Online Marketer
As digital marketers, we can craft front-facing, online brands of our clients. Obviously, you want to work with them as much as possible to make sure that it exactly fits how they want to present themselves to the world, but in the end, how they’re seen online is, in many ways, the digital marketer’s duty.
That’s why it’s so important to take down these reviews as they appear. Your clients can’t spend all of their waking moments going through their reviews and doing something about these obviously fraudulent ones. By that same token, they shouldn’t have to deal with these wild blackmail schemes, either.
The truth is that our client became a target essentially because they were good at their job. Because our client had so many five-star reviews and such a great online reputation, they became a better target. These scammers aren’t going after someone who’s already struggling, as they have little to lose. However, someone who’s doing very well, who has high rankings and ratings, and isn’t used to something like this, and a blackmail campaign can hurt.
When you’re making your digital campaign for your clients, keep in mind how important online reputation management is. The best online ads campaign in the world is only as good as a company’s online reputation. If someone does something to hurt your clients’ online reputation, then you should do something about it. If a company gets bad reviews, hey, maybe it was just them getting a bad review. But if there’s something wrong about it, you want to take the steps to do right by your clients.
What You Can Do
If you find one of your clients or even yourself in a similar situation, there are some actions you can take.
You want to keep your response time as fast as it can be. When a possibly fraudulent or negative review goes up, don’t waste any time. Address it directly. Ask them to reach out to you or provide proof. That said, you always want to be human, too. Treat the interaction like you would any disagreement with someone whom you wouldn’t want to offend in real life: speak respectfully, but be honest and firm. Don’t hesitate to flag the review, either.
Online reviews are a powerful tool. We shouldn’t lose them to trolls, scammers or worse. As online marketers, as we look after our clients, we can make a better internet for business owners and consumers alike.