The rise of social media has had a major impact on the words and phrases that Google users search. Today’s savvy internet users are no longer looking for information about local businesses from limited resources. 

Instead, they’re turning to online platforms like Google, Facebook, Reliable Reviews, and Yelp to read real user reviews and see photos before visiting as well as share their own experiences with friends. An increasing number of people are trusting these third-party websites over the word of family or friends when making decisions about where they want to eat or spend their money. However, not all reviews are trustworthy — or even real. 

If you own a business and receive negative feedback online, do you panic? Do you reach out to your PR team? How can you protect yourself from defamation? Read on for some tips on what you need to know about protecting yourself from defamation when it comes to online reviews.

What is an Online Review?

A review is a statement that appraises or assesses a business or product. Reviews are usually written by people who have experienced the business or product first-hand. Reviews are also known as testimonials or product reviews. 

A business review or consumer review is an evaluation of a business, product, or service which may be published online. Reviews are generated by customers or people who have used the company’s products or services. A review is not the same thing as a complaint.

 A complaint is when you tell someone about a negative experience you had. A review is when you write down the details of that experience and let other people know what happened.

How do Online Reviews Work?

Reviews are a form of expression that can either build or hurt your brand. At their core, they are an expression of how someone feels about your business and their overall experience. Reviews are different from ratings and stats online. 

Ratings are given out on a scale and based on a binary one-two rating with no written explanation. While these are useful in some circumstances, they are not helpful for potential customers — especially those who are on the fence about visiting your business. Unlike a review, a rating does not allow you to respond to the person’s comments or respond to any misunderstandings. 

It’s also important to know that ratings are not always shown. Many social media sites choose to show only the average rating from all visitors. This makes it easy for someone to skip over your page without reading any of the reviews.

What is Defamation?

Defamation is when someone makes false statements about you. It can be something as simple as “The food is bad here” to something more extreme like “Employee steals money from the register.” The first statement is an opinion, while the second statement is a fact. 

Defamation can be written or spoken. A defamatory statement is the communication of a false statement that harms the reputation of an individual or business, exposes the individual to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or results in financial loss. 

If you are the subject of false or malicious statements that cause financial or reputational damage, you may be able to take legal action against the person who made the comments. 

Types of Defamation

Defamation falls under civil law, meaning it is not a criminal violation. There are several types of defamation, including the following:

Libel (Written Defamation)

This is when false, malicious statements are made in writing. This can include online reviews, social media posts, letters, or emails.

Slander (Spoken Defamation)

This is when false, malicious statements are made verbally. This can include things like negative reviews posted online or verbally shared with friends and family.

False Light

This occurs when someone makes a false statement that, while not technically defamatory, puts you in a false light that affects your reputation. An example of false light would be an article that misrepresents your company’s findings about a product.

Why did You need to Care About Defamation?

Business owners have the right to protect their reputations. The internet is permanent. Once a defamatory statement is out there, it is almost impossible to get it removed. Harm is a subjective word, meaning that you must be aware of what could harm your reputation. 

You should also be aware of your competitors and what they’re saying about you. With a growing number of reviews, it’s important to monitor your online reputation and respond to reviews. False negative reviews can increase the likelihood of people leaving bad reviews on your business’s Google My Business pages (which can be damaging to your business).

When someone leaves a negative review on your business’s Google page, it’s recommended that you respond to the review. This can help you win customers’ hearts and deflect criticism. If you fail to respond, it could develop into a larger problem.

Can Online Reviews Defamation be a Legal Matter?

If a customer leaves a false review and you don’t take action, it could hurt your online reputation. However, depending on the content, the review could also be defamation.

If the review is false and malicious, and you don’t take action, you could be at risk of being sued for defamation. You also could risk losing customers if they believe the content in the review is true. 

If you receive a defamatory review, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible. If you don’t, you could be liable for damages.

5 Ways to Protect Yourself From Defamation

1. Respond to Every Review

Even when you disagree with a negative review, you should respond to it. Simply ignoring negative reviews is not recommended, though there are some things you can do to protect your brand if you don’t agree with the review. 

Make sure the review is real. Sometimes people post fake reviews to get the attention of the business owner. If something seems off about the review, you can follow up with the customer and make sure the review is real and legitimate.

Respond with a mix of empathy and professionalism. 

If you are responding to a negative review, you want to show that you care about your customers. You also want to show that you are a professional business owner who knows how to react appropriately to all situations.

2. Don’t Panic

If you receive a negative review and you are confident that you provided great service, you have nothing to worry about. However, if the review is false, you need to take action. Passively ignoring the review could lead you to lose customers. 

However, if you take the appropriate steps when dealing with a false review, you could have the review removed from the website. You also could protect your business from potential lawsuits.

3. Build a Relationship With Your Customers

If you want to protect against false reviews, you need to create relationships with your customers. How do you do this? You can start by offering excellent customer service and consistently engaging with your customers via social media. 

One way to create relationships with your customers and protect against false reviews is by responding to customer service inquiries as quickly as possible. If a customer leaves you a complaint via Facebook Messenger, respond to the complaint as quickly as possible. 

This shows the customer that you care and want to resolve the issue.

4. Build Your Brand

You can also protect against false reviews by building your brand. The best way to do this is by creating exceptional content that connects with your audience. You can start by publishing blog posts and creating informative YouTube videos. You can also invite customer feedback. 

You can do this via social media and email surveys. You also can protect against false reviews by cultivating positive company culture. You can do this by creating an employee-friendly working environment, offering employee benefits, and paying your employees competitively.

5. Explore Your Legal Options

If you believe that a reviewer is purposefully trying to damage your reputation, you can file a defamation lawsuit. However, this is a serious legal matter that could cost thousands of dollars in legal fees and even more in damages.

Before you file a defamation lawsuit against a reviewer, make sure that you’re confident that the review is false and that it’s having a real and lasting impact on your business. 

There are other options to explore before taking this drastic step. You can have a lawyer send a cease-and-desist letter to the reviewer. If the reviewer doesn’t respond to your letter, you can escalate the situation by filing a defamation lawsuit against the reviewer.

Another option is to enlist the help of a reputation management firm. A reputation management firm can help you remove the review or make it less visible to potential customers who are searching for your business.

Bottom Line

The internet is cruel. It’s also difficult to control what people say about your brand online. You can, however, control your reaction to negative reviews. Respond to every review, ask customers for feedback, and use that information to improve your business. 

You can also protect yourself from defamation by building your brand and monitoring what others say about you online. Online reviews can impact your bottom line, so make sure you’re prepared when they come in.

Reviews are a critical aspect of your business’s online presence. They can help new customers decide whether or not they want to visit your establishment and they can also help existing customers feel more satisfied with their experience. With that in mind, you want to be sure that your reviews are positive and helpful. 

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