Engage with negative online posters, or not? That's the question

Many of the companies I have spoken with don’t really know when — or how — to engage with people leaving negative online comments about them. To engage or not to engage with the users of online review sites can be a tricky dilemma. Handled correctly, you may come out smelling like a rose. Handled incorrectly, you could do irreparable harm to your reputation.

Compounding the problem, the Internet has grown more social. Potential clients look for reviews not only on specific products or services, but also on the companies that are offering them. Because these reviews will most certainly influence the consumer’s purchasing decision, having a clean online reputation — or at least being engaged with online reviewers in an appropriate manner — is paramount to any online marketing efforts.

Here are some best practices to follow when it comes to engaging, or not engaging, with online reviewers:

Don’t over-engage online. If someone leaves a negative post about your company on a review website, make sure to keep your response brief, should you decide to respond at all. Long responses, in which you try to explain what happened or correct inaccuracies in a post, never end well. First, it gives the poster a very public platform to continue complaining about your company. Second, search engines like Google thrive on new content, so every response you post will drive the negative review higher and higher in search engine results, where it’s more likely to be seen.

My advice: Only respond to a negative post once and keep your reply short. For example: “We apologize that you were dissatisfied with your project. Your satisfaction is very important to us. Please call us at (555) 555-5555, and we will do our best to address your concerns.”

This will show others who read the post that you care about your clients, and they will see that you’re offering a resolution. Additionally, encouraging them to call you moves the conversation off-line, which is exactly what you want to happen.

Reasoning with the unreasonable. George Carlin once said, “Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.” The reality is there may be some negative posts that you simply shouldn’t respond to. Some posters are so outrageous that it is better to ignore them. Responding to them only helps make their arguments appear more credible.

If the post is so ridiculous that it is simply unbelievable, the best course of action may be to not respond at all.

My advice: Read the site’s posting policies and consider alerting the webmaster to any policy violations the post contains. Most reputable review sites want only good, credible reviews and will, in some cases, take down reviews that are deceitful, harassing, etc.


Quick Tips:

  • Don’t keep clicking on the link to the site that contains the negative review. This may artificially promote that site in search listings.
  • When responding to a negative review, never use the name of your company. Doing so will make the post more relevant to your company name, again promoting it in search results.
  • If the post contains language that is libelous, copyrighted, etc., you may have legal recourse. If you can get a judgment, Google can delist that site.

There are many effective tools you can use to monitor your brand online that will give you useful insights about consumer sentiment. Mention.com, for example, is a media monitoring tool that offers a free trial. Utilizing a tool like this one can help you quickly identify positive and negative online posts about your company with minimal effort.

Killing with kindness. In closing, resist the urge to argue your point, tell reviewers that it was not your fault, etc., as this never ends the way you would like, even when you’re in the right. This is the best advice I can give anyone combating negative reviews online. Instead, focus your effort on making posters feel that their concerns are being heard, as that’s what they desire above all else.


Chris Behan has more than 16 years of Internet marketing experience. As president of Socius Marketing, one of the country’s largest Internet marketing firms, Chris provides customized solutions to unique marketing challenges. He also educates businesses during his frequent appearances at national conferences such as IBS and The Remodeling Show, where Chris reveals what does and doesn’t work when investing in an Internet marketing campaign.