The Real Lesson In the Yelp User Review Lawsuit
I noticed on Techmeme today that a chiropractor has sued an ex-patient for posting a negative review of his practice on Yelp. Much of the commentary has been around whether it’s risky for people online to post things that are negative. You might get sued if you’re not careful. Will this case set a precedent for amateur reviewers everywhere?
It’s a good concern, and certainly as we live our lives more online, we (and the law) will have to sort these things out. But I think the real story is this, buried in cnet’s rundown of events:
Biegel [the chiropractor who is suing], who was a “sponsored” advertiser on Yelp and encouraged customers to write reviews on the site, received about as many referrals per month from Yelp while the review was up as before, but fewer after the lawsuit was filed, Blacksburg said, citing Yelp documents.
So, this is a business that thought it understood how to engage with customers on the web, but hasn’t yet learned the core rule: you can’t control the message; you can only control your participation. The most visible company to have learned this lesson may have been Dell, when it issued a takedown request to Consumerist, only to later realize the takedown notice was causing them much more negative backlash than what they were trying to get taken down and later apologize on their blog.
As a brand, you can choose to participate in social media or not. But you can’t make the decision based on whether it’s important that you control what’s said about your brand. You can’t control it in either case. It’s quite likely that at some point someone won’t like you and will say so. You can either let it go or you can proactively address the situation, either by apologizing in response to the negative review that the person had a bad experience, or by explaining the circumstances (hopefully in a non-defensive way). (If you want to be proactive, you have lots of options for finding out what people are saying about you online.)
Lashing out and filing lawsuits in response to negative reviews is unlikely to help your business, even if you’re entirely in the right.
You don’t have to go any further than Tripadvisor to find examples of what works and what doesn’t. Being apologetic and intent on fixing issues might make potential customers feel as though you care and are appreciative for the feedback.
Being defensive just makes you sound like a jerk.