You’re Damned If You Don’t Respond Appropriately to a Poor Yelp Review or Online Post.

Posted: January 15, 2014 in Lawsuits

We live in crazy times for businesses. Any crackpot with a computer and internet connection can say anything that they want about your business in an online review, on social media, etc. That’s the unfortunate reality for today’s private businesses. The crackpots may even attack the business owner personally. Even worse, there is little you can do to stop it and, in many cases, you can’t even get it removed (I won’t bore you with a treatise on prior restraints of free speech). But do not take a defeatist attitude. Like getting sued, poor online reviews are now just a part of being a successful business. Below are some ideas on how to deal with them.

If you operate your business in such a way as to avoid angering the crackpots, you will get less negative posts. If you treat everyone with the utmost respect and avoid pointless disputes, you will be ahead of the game. At the very least, if you communicate your policies, services, fees, etc. in as much detail as possible, you avoid surprises and avoid upsetting the crackpots. Doing so will also put you in a much better position to defend yourself, either in a court of law or the court of public opinion.

But no matter what, you will still get bad reviews from crackpots, from competitors posing as your customers, or even someone who just doesn’t like you or one of your employees. The more successful you are, the more you become a target. If the review is purely opinion from an actual customer, consider responding to the review in a professional, non-defensive way. Consider what you can learn from the feedback. That doesn’t mean that you have to agree with some or all of the review, each one must be assessed on its own merits. If you believe that the review was not written by a legitimate customer, you should say that as well, and also contact the review service (Yelp, Google+, etc.) to try to have it removed if possible.

If the review or post contains outright lies of factual statements, not just pure opinion (this can be a fine line), or if the review comes from one who is not a legitimate customer, you may have legal claims. You should consult with a lawyer to see if you have actionable claims and what your options are. These could include a lawyer’s letter to the offending crackpot, working with the review service to remove the review, or as a last resort, a lawsuit. Crackpots may think that they are anonymous and that they cannot be sued for writing false statements about a business on-line, but that is simply not true. A lawsuit should be your last resort, but if you are considering it, find an experienced business litigator and discuss your options. You should also consider a public relations professional to deal with the immediate impact on your business. In fact, public relations should be an ongoing part of your business planning.

The above is not meant to be legal advice, but is merely general information.

By Adam P. Whitney, 617.338.7000

 

 

 

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