Seeing Stars: 3 Misconceptions about Online Reviews

It’s amazing that, in this day and age, so many businesses still don’t understand the realities of online reviews. Case in point: A company that, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, went after a local couple for $3,500 for posting a negative review about the service they received.

The result? Not only did a federal judge decide that the couple didn’t owe the company the money; he actually ruled that the company was liable for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and other violations.

Hopefully, readers of this blog know that going after a patient who posts a negative review is almost always a bad idea. (In a nutshell, unless a review contains a demonstrable lie, it’s considered opinion and therefore can’t be considered defamatory.) Nevertheless, the above case suggests that misconceptions still abound, a subject Gradiva Couzin and Jennifer Grappone tackle in their recent book, “Five Stars: Putting Online Reviews to Work for Your Business.

Among the misconceptions they explore:

Only angry customers write online reviews: False, since the vast majority of online reviews are positive (82% according to Bazaarvoice.com, 87% according to DemandForce). Likewise, doctors who worry about an angry mob of whiners and gripers can relax: The fact is most aesthetic consumers don’t go online to complain but to find support and a sense of community.

One negative review could bury my business: Also false. People who read online reviews are savvy enough to filter review content for authenticity, unreasonable expectations and other red flags. As long as you have a counterbalancing number of positive reviews, bad reviews can add credibility (nobody’s perfect) and offer helpful insights that can help you manage customer expectations and drive the right customers your way, say the authors.

It’s pointless to respond to reviews: If your intent is to argue or attack, then yes, you’re better off not responding to a negative review. More often, though, responding offers the best opportunity to right a perceived wrong, an effort that, in many cases, will prompt a reviewer to change his or her review to reflect your willingness to engage. The alternative is to let your detractor get the last word which, needless to say, is a surefire way to rev up the misconception machine all over again.

Doctor Takeaway

The benefits of online reviews are real; the risks, not so much

Letting the fear of a bad review stop you from embracing the ongoing digital conversation is a mistake better left unmade. Reviews are mostly positive, they build trust and they have a positive impact on search engine results. Likewise, responding to them adds a human element to the online experience, proves you’re listening and provides an introduction to your practice to others (i.e., other potential patients) who are following the discussion.

About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including NBCnews.com, Expedia.com and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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