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Is all publicity good publicity?

SME’s often rely on word of mouth, internet presence, and social media interaction to generate sales and stand out from their larger competitors. But what happens when something goes wrong, and it’s a complaint that is being passed around rather than praise?


Is there really no such thing as bad publicity?


92% of consumers now read online reviews before making a purchase. This might seem like a good thing, and in fact you probably do this yourself before spending your hard-earned cash. But what’s to stop someone providing a malicious review of your product or service which then has an impact on potential customers’ spending decisions?

Well, the answer is, not an awful lot! And it can be nigh on impossible to get malicious reviews taken down. According to Vendasta, just one negative review can cost a company 30 customers. One of our ER Grove & Co clients recently discovered that they had a three star review on Google.

“I mean it’s not bad, but I feel that we’re a 5 star company – so I had a look and it was from a complete stranger!”, said their CEO.

They reported the review to Google, but there was no option to report on the basis that the person was not a customer, so Google refused to take the review down.

“It irritates me that it’s sitting there at the top of our listing – making us look mediocre, and there’s nothing I can do about it!”

So, if you can’t get these reviews taken down, what can you do? The key is in your response. If the review site allows comments, engage with the reviewer, responding calmly to their specific queries. The point isn’t to get the original reviewer to change their mind, it’s to show other people reading the review that you are open and transparent about your product or business, and encourages them not to take the review at face value. If you know that a review is definitely fake, in your response you can constructively question the reviewer, for example by saying ‘we don’t have a record of that transaction, could you please provide more details so that we can help you.’ This will usually be enough for people to understand that the review is fake.


What about negative social media posts?


The exception to this rule is social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook. Here, replying to negative comments can stir the argument up further and create a whole chain of negative publicity. The best thing to do if you encounter a bad comment on social media is to respond asking the person to call or email you, or asking them to send a private message. This shows others that you are listening to your “customers” but that you’re not interested in a public slanging match.

Some legal protection is now available, with the EU bringing in a regulation whereby businesses can apply for redress when fake online reviews are posted. However, with Brexit on the horizon it is not clear if this regulation will make it into UK law.


If you’ve been a victim of a fake review and you’re worried about taking the steps above by yourself in case you make things worse, you could always hire a PR firm who are used to dealing with these kind of situations. The Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) has a list of firms which you can access here.