Thursday, February 6, 2014

Negative online reviews - don't panic.

The internet has made many more products accessible to a worldwide audience, and with that exposure has released an previously unknown level of vitriol from a certain segment of the population - the perpetually dissatisfied. While it's true that regular people will leave real reviews of negative experiences they've had with a company's products or services in order to help other customers avoid having the same experience, it's also true that there are customers who will never be happy and love to complain.

If you have a fledgling business, or even an established one, it can be upsetting to read negative reviews of your company online. The internet is a public space after all, and criticism is unpleasant. The natural reaction is to become defensive and offer reasons (or - let's be honest - excuses) to a dissatisfied customer - anything to quash the negative and move on. Some businesses, like Amy's Baking Company of Scottsdale, Arizona have taken negative reviews particularly badly and thrown epic tantrums online or threatened to call a lawyer and sue for libel.

But before you panic and go off the deep end, realize that negative reviews aren't always a bad thing. For a well known company with an established brand, yes, negative reviews are something to handle carefully because bad publicity can result in diminished sales, brand tarnishing, or even boycotts. But smaller, more obscure businesses or brands often benefit from bad reviews because they bring their companies to the attention of people who would not have known about them before.

Research done at Wharton assessed the effect that bad reviews had on book sales and discovered that for popular authors bad reviews were a negative, but for "relatively unknown authors, bad reviews caused sales to rise, by an average of 45%. This held even when the criticism was extreme." What's more, over time people would remember the name of the author or book, but forget the negative reason why they remembered it - so negative reviews ironically created positive brand building for these authors over the long term.

The curiosity factor also plays a part. An experience that causes so much emotion in one reader or user is bound to create interest in another.  "Anything but ordinary!" is one consumer motivation.  People will try or buy products that other people dislike too, when they already know their tastes differ, particularly if the review is sufficiently detailed. These people may decide to leave a positive review later if their experiences differ to "set the record straight."

Consider this, then, the next time your business gets a negative review on Yelp or Amazon, and assess your strategy for how to deal with negative reviews accordingly.

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