In today’s digital economy, word of mouth has become a more prominent source of information for consumers in their buying decisions. As such, businesses need to take the time to implement practices that will help them thrive online and leave an impactful impression on prospective customers.
These measures can include investing in advertising and marketing campaigns, developing an effective website, or creating social media accounts. But there’s another way you can stand out as a business: by incorporating online reviews on websites like Yelp and TripAdvisor (or any other platform your target audience might frequent).
In this blog post, we’ll detail why trust matters when it comes to customers, the different types of online review sites you should consider using, a few examples of lawsuits related to online reviews, and how you can incorporate them into your business from a legal standpoint.
Why Trust Matters When It Comes to Customers
Online reviews are crucial for businesses trying to get listed online, since the information about their products and services may not always be conveyed effectively on their website.
For example, if you’re a new hair salon in the area, potential customers may have questions like, “Is this salon qualified to perform hair removal?” or “Does this salon specialize in hair removal?” These questions may be answered on your website, but if not, customers may turn to online reviews to get answers. These reviews – whether positive or negative – can help them make a more informed purchasing decision.
After all, customers would rather purchase from a business that has the majority of its reviews be positive, as opposed to one with mainly negative reviews. This is because, fundamentally, people trust positive reviews more than negative ones.
The Rise of Online Reviewing Platforms
Given the impact that online reviews can have on consumer decision-making, you may be wondering how platforms like Yelp and TripAdvisor became so popular in the first place. What’s most interesting about this topic is that these websites rose to prominence before smartphones and social media were as prominent as it is today.
The website Yelp was created in 2004 and launched the following year. TripAdvisor, which was originally focused on travel, came along in 2000, and the first reviews began showing up in 2001. But the two were effectively the only options available until social media and smartphones came around.
Facebook became available to the public in 2004, while Twitter, Instagram, and Google Reviews all came onto the scene in 2006. A few years later, in 2010, the first commercial release of Apple’s Siri virtual assistant came out. These advancements – particularly in social media – helped push online reviews to become more mainstream, as consumers didn’t have to go to specific websites to read them.
Popular Online Reviewing Platforms
There are dozens of different online reviewing websites to choose from, each with its specific focus and method for displaying reviews. Here are a few popular examples:
Yelp is the largest and most well-known online reviewing platform; it gets more than 65 million unique monthly visitors and has more than 148 million reviews. This site allows users to rate and review businesses in a wide variety of industries and allows business owners to respond to reviews and write their reviews.
TripAdvisor is another site that lets people review businesses, hotels, and attractions. TripAdvisor has over 500 million reviews, and it’s one of the top 10 most visited websites in the world. This means that if you have a hotel or any other kind of business that’s open to the public, you’ll likely want to be listed on TripAdvisor.
It’s not as easy to get listed on TripAdvisor as it is on Yelp, but it’s not impossible. And if you do get listed, you’ll likely see a huge surge in traffic. Most TripAdvisor users are coming from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
Amazon features product reviews and ratings by both Amazon Prime users and non-Prime users. Reviews are featured prominently on product pages, and they’re also available on Amazon’s website and mobile app. Amazon also allows business owners to respond to reviews and offer customer service to those who leave reviews.
Aside from the online review platforms, businesses may also engage with the help of Reliable Reviews which is a Software as a Service (SaaS) based solution that constantly adds and enhances features to grow with the internet and the industry. Small businesses, multi-location, and enterprises will find the right combination of features to drive your business up.
It is a robust resolution to cultivate and manage your customer feedback and online reviews. With dozens of options, and customizations, to satisfy your customer experience goals. Some of the options are:
- Generating Review & Feedback
- Reputation & Review Monitoring
- Marketing & SEO
Defamation as a Common Subject of Lawsuit
Because online reviews are an open forum for people to share their experiences, there’s the potential for them to become overly critical, disparaging, or exaggerated. When a review crosses a line and becomes untrue or damaging to a company’s reputation, it becomes a form of defamation.
Defamation is any false statement that harms someone else’s reputation or character. There are three types of defamation: slander (spoken), libel (written), and false light (when something isn’t technically false but the way it’s presented is damaging to someone’s reputation).
You can use this flowchart to determine if what you’re reading is defamation. If so, you can report it, and it might be removed.
Types of Defamation
There are three types of defamation, which are slander (spoken), libel (written), and false light (when something isn’t technically false but the way it’s presented is damaging to someone’s reputation). Let’s take a closer look at each below:
Libel (Written Defamation)
Libel refers to false and defamatory written statements. It can appear in many different forms, including slander, malicious comments on social media, false statements in news articles, and fake reviews on online reviewing websites. Not all written statements are libel, however.
To be considered libel, a written statement must meet one of three criteria: It must be false, it must damage your reputation, and it must be published. If a written statement meets any one of these three criteria, it’s considered libel. A written statement is considered false if it isn’t factually accurate.
Slander (Spoken Defamation)
Slander refers to false and defamatory spoken statements. It’s a false statement that’s spoken aloud and heard by a third party. It can include false accusations, false rumors, fake reviews, and false statements of fact.
Slander is considered spoken defamation. It’s a false statement that’s spoken aloud and heard by a third party. It can include false accusations, false rumors, fake reviews, and false statements of fact.
False light refers to a false statement that isn’t technically false but is misleading or presented in a way that’s damaging to someone’s reputation. It can often come across as a “reduction to caricature” where an individual or company is portrayed in an overly negative or unflattering light.
False light is a false statement that isn’t technically false but is misleading or presented in a way that’s damaging to someone’s reputation.
Examples of Lawsuits Based on Online Reviews
Businesses have been suing customers for both positive and negative reviews since the rise of online reviewing platforms. But in recent years, this has become a much more common occurrence.
The most notable example of a lawsuit involving a negative review happened in 2014 when the owner of a New York health spa sued a customer for $750,000 after she left a negative review online. The customer wrote about her experience at the spa, in which she said she felt “exploited,” “taken advantage of,” and “duped.”
The business sued the customer, claiming that she violated its terms of service, which stated in part: “By posting any such comment, you understand and agree that you are forfeiting all rights to any financial recovery in connection with any such comment.”
One example of this is a case from 2016, in which a judge ruled a Virginia dentist had no legal grounds to sue a patient who left a negative online review. The dentist had claimed the review was defamatory, but the judge disagreed, saying there were no false statements in the review.
In April 2019, a jury awarded a large settlement to the CEO of a California cannabis business, who had claimed Yelp had violated his First Amendment rights by removing positive reviews from his business’s page.
One of the main reasons a business owner may decide to take legal action against a reviewer is because of false statements in the review. If a review is false, defamatory, and damages a company’s reputation, it might be a good reason to file a lawsuit.
Handling Fake Reviews Before Filing A Law Suit
If you’re served with a lawsuit for false or defamatory remarks in an online review, your first step should be to seek legal counsel. There are a few things you can do in the meantime, however, including:
Responding to the Review
If you feel the review is false or misleading, you can respond to the review in the hopes of correcting the reviewer’s statements or getting the review removed.
Requesting a Retraction
If you feel the review is false and you’ve attempted to have it removed, you can request a retraction. Be careful with this approach, though, as it could make the reviewer more resolute in their statement.
Online reviews can have a significant impact on a business’s bottom line. Therefore, providers of goods and services need to take advantage of them by actively soliciting feedback from customers.
This can be done by placing a comment box or button on the business’ website, asking customers to leave feedback on review sites, or even by giving customers the option of emailing in a review or testimonial. More importantly, businesses should be cognizant of how reviews can impact them.
Therefore, managers, owners, and business executives must pay attention to what’s being said online about their company. Hopefully, this blog post has helped you gain a better understanding of the role online reviews can play in your business and provide you with a few tips to get started.
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