By Richard Harrison, UK Managing Director, Reputation.com

California has introduced a law that bans companies from punishing customers who post negative reviews online. The fact that such a law is needed is troubling in several ways (and yes, it is needed as one hotel threatened to fine brides for $500 for every negative review left by one of their wedding guests).

Businesses shouldn’t be trying to restrict free speech. Customers have the right to their opinions, and the right to share them online. Yes, negative reviews can be damaging for businesses, but only if they are handled badly.

Negative reviews are an opportunity. They offer businesses the chance to engage with customers over something that the customer is passionate about. Negative reviews offer businesses the chance to show that they aren’t faceless entities. They are a concept fuelled by a group of people who are every bit as susceptible to making mistakes as we are as customers. It gives businesses a chance to put the problem right.

By trying to shut down the critical reviews, all businesses do is send customers three messages: we’re not listening, we don’t care about your experience or opinions, and we value our needs above our customer’s.

Reputation needs management

Start-ups, and fast-growth businesses have limited resources to manage their reputation online. Responding to negative reviews takes more time and thought than saying “thanks” to those who leave positive comments.

Businesses don’t have to be internet savvy or social media obsessed to be affected by this. People will share their opinions of a company, even if it doesn’t provide a forum for them to do so. They’ll go to Yelp, or Twitter. They’ll write blog posts and publish photos of the offending product. No business can truly be offline. All businesses must be prepared to managed their online reputation.

This doesn’t mean trying to silence the negative reviews, or bury them. People don’t expect perfection; they expect action. By responding positively to these posts, the business not only helps to salvage the damaged relationship with one dissatisfied customer; it shows potential customers that it might make the odd mistake, but it will do anything to try to fix them.


Think of it like a staff appraisal. How would you react if a member of your team read their annual review, took on board all of the positive comments and ignored the negative ones, maybe deleting the bad comments before signing the review document and giving it back to their manager?

This is what you’re doing by ignoring or trying to get rid of negative reviews. These people just want to see what you would want to see as a manager.

That the feedback has been understood, that it has been appreciated, and that changes will be made as a result. They don’t want excuses, divisiveness or inaction.

All reviews, good or bad, can help businesses make better decisions, and ultimately be more profitable, by identifying areas where customers consider them weak or unhelpful.

Five things start-ups can do to manage their reputations online
1. Ask customers to review you
2. Monitor what’s being said about the business online
3. Respond to negative reviews as soon as you see them, even if it’s just to say that someone is looking into the matter (of course, making sure that someone is looking into it!)
4. Show appreciation for people who help develop your business by pointing out areas for improvement
5. Be seen to act on the feedback. Acting on negative feedback isn’t a display of weakness, it’s a sign that the business listens and really cares about what its customers have to say.