Online reviews have emerged as an important decision-making tool for consumers, especially for restaurants and service providers. Now they also have to dodge the impact of fake negative reviews.
A recent study reports that 16 percent of restaurant reviews on Yelp are fraudulent and often are extremely negative.
With the stakes high in the court of public opinion, here are some steps to take to fight back:
Even if a review is nasty and possibly even a plant by a competitor, be respectful. Someone else's bad behavior doesn't have to dictate your demeanor. Showing respect makes you look like the confident adult in the room. Don't make excuses or be defensive. Stick to the facts and look for a win-win solution.
Even if the review is clearly fraudulent, responding to it publicly is still a good idea. To customers, you look responsive and engaged. People who consult reviews quickly learn the real from the fake. Your willingness to respond to the fake says more about you than the catty comments of the fake reviewer.
Post as much of your own content as possible. Add photos and make sure all information is filled out properly. If you are a restaurant, definitely include a menu, with daily specials and prices so people have clear expectations. Be sure to include a link to your website. Your well-done content can outweigh sloppy negative comments.
Make sure you have a good quality, mobile-friendly website. Many of the people checking out your business will go to your website on a mobile device. Make sure what people want to know is easy to find in your website's mobile format.
Be Everywhere You Can
Have a presence on other social media networks. Facebook pages can often come up very high in search results for restaurants. Make sure your Facebook page is complete, accurate and updated regularly. It is also important to follow sites such as Foursquare and Instagram to see if people are checking into your business.
Report any reviews you believe are fraudulent to Yelp. Yelp has been accused of allowing businesses to pay to remove bad reviews. That's not a good idea. But it you have nailed a fraudulent review, press hard to have it removed.
All of these steps beg the question of whether a business should be active on social media. The answer is absolutely, unequivocally yes. Conversations are going on. You need to tune in. And when a bad or false review appears, you need to respond — either to fix the problem causing a bad review or reporting reviews that are fraudulent.
Your customers are counting on it.