(Revision Notes: I added a couple of TripAdvisor videos to this article. While they talk about TripAdvisor, they contain good information for handling any online review site.)
The bad news is, you generally can’t get the feedback removed. The good news is that you can use the strategies below to neutralize and in some cases even benefit from a few negative reviews.
Tip #1: Dilute Negative Reviews
The best strategy to counter bad reviews is to dilute them. If you do a good job within your business, and most people are happy, encouraging more people to create reviews is a good idea.
Getting a lot of reviews to dilute the bad ones is an important strategy because the first thing people look at is the number stars you have. They may not even read the reviews if you don’t have enough.
Quick Tip: Use QR codes in your business that point to a review site you are trying to increase reviews for.
Don’t Discount Bad Reviews too Quickly – It’s important to take a step back and honestly evaluate if there is even a little grain of truth in a review, if so it gives you an area to get even better at. It’s an awesome opportunity when you find one of your blind spots.
Quick Tip 2: Reply to every review, good and bad. When you reply to a good review you are able to reinforce it as well as incorporate some keywords. Additionally, you want to use “social proof” language when replying to a positive review. By that I just mean language that emphasizes how other people like your business too.
Example: We are so pleased that you enjoyed the. It’s one of our most popular.
You could replace “it’s our most popular” with “everyone loves our…” or “we get a lot of complements on our…” I think you get the idea.
Assuming a business listing (yelp, google places, etc.) has a link to your website on it, the more search engine friendly it is the better. It will actually give your website a little search engine juice, besides being more likely to come up with someone is looking for restaurants with specific foods.
Tip #2: Reply to Reviews
Replying to negative reviews represents another great way to neutralize them. This is especially true when there is a point of logic you can share that makes it clear the customer isn’t being reasonable in the complaint. That said, you never want your reply to sound defensive. It needs to be fact based, apologetic where appropriate, and above all must not attach the person.
If the person is especially negative/emotional, you may want to write your review as if you are speaking to everyone else. Instead of talking directly to the emotional person. You could give some general information that explains the review to the readers. Example: “This review isn’t by an actual customer. She asked to use our restrooms and became very upset when she found out they are only for patrons.” You can see how it takes the teeth out of the review.
Note: Even a reply like, “I agree, we made a mistake, and we’ll work hard not to let it happen again,” is much better than not having a reply.
Last point, I promise…
I should note that I’m writing this not only as a “marketing guy” but also as an end user who uses reviews to make a lot of decisions. My wife and I are traveling across the country this year, and almost always use popular review sites to help us make our dining, entertainment, and lodging decisions. I can tell you from personal experience the difference between a negative review, with a well reasoned response and one left alone is like night and day.