If you operate a small business, you will likely have established an online presence for the business on various social media platforms and search engines. An online presence is a great way for you to promote your business and any new services you offer. It will also allow you to engage with your customers. Additionally, many social media platforms and search engines will encourage this type of engagement and allow your customers to leave a review; for the good or the bad. Part of operating a business will be receiving and taking onboard positive and negative feedback from customers. This article will detail your options to help address negative online reviews and social media posts including non-legal approaches, and defamation or injurious falsehood.
Resolving the Dispute: A Commercial Approach
Negative social media posts or reviews can have a detrimental impact on your business. Therefore, it is only natural that you will want these removed. Below are a number of practical and simple steps you can take to address the feedback and review.
Report the post or review to the social media platform administrators.
Platform administrators will monitor reviews for inappropriate content, reviews that distort the truth and spam. These types of posts can be removed if reported. However, the administrator is unlikely to remove posts that are truthful but where there is a dispute over the sequence of events.
Contact the customer who posted the review and discuss the feedback.
You can respond to the review from your business account and open a dialogue with the customer. Many online reviews come from keyboard warriors. Therefore, apologising for the experience and offering to address the issue can be a good way to regain control of the situation.
Your response to the review will also show existing and new customers that you took steps to resolve the issue and accepted the feedback. Further, a thoughtful response may improve a reader's impression of the business despite the bad review.
If a customer is threatening to leave a bad review, consider a commercial resolution.
Knowing that it can be difficult to remove a negative review, you should be open to what the customer is asking for. For example, if a customer is unhappy with the service provided and wants a refund, depending on the value of the service, it may be easier and less costly to provide the refund.
While it may be tempting to balance out the negative review with your own reviews or fake positive ratings, this will likely be a breach of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth). As a business owner, you are obligated to ensure that you remove fake reviews because they could be considered misleading.
The above options are steps you can take yourself to put you on track for a cheap and simple resolution. However, sometimes you may come across an issue that you cannot handle yourself. In that case, you may need to consider getting further assistance from a lawyer.
I Want to Get a Lawyer Involved
If someone has left a negative review, you may have legal rights against them. Therefore, depending on the size of your business, you may want to consider a claim of:
- defamation – provided you have less than 10 employees; or
- injurious falsehood – if you have more than 10 employees.
To prove a claim for defamation, you will need to show:
- the matter complained of was published and presented to a third party or made publicly available;
- your business is clearly identifiable; and
- that the conduct was defamatory and would tend to create a bad opinion of your business or damage the business' reputation.
To prove a claim of injurious falsehood, you will need to show that:
- the customer made a false statement regarding your business or services;
- the statement was published or shared with a third party;
- the customer made the post or review with malice, meaning they intended to harm your business' reputation; and
- there has been actual damage as a result of the review.
If you cannot show the above elements regarding the online post, your claim for defamation or injurious falsehood will likely be unsuccessful. Pursuing these types of claims and getting a lawyer involved can be expensive and time-consuming.
Honest Opinion Defence
It is important to note that one of the main defences for defamation is an honest opinion. This means that if the review left by your customer is their genuine experience and their honest opinion, your claim may not be successful. Therefore, you should seek legal advice before pursuing a defamation claim for online posts.
There are a number of simple steps you can take to personally resolve or remove the negative review or social media post. Therefore, you will need to consider what the most commercial resolution will be in your unique scenario. Additionally, remember that legal assistance for defamation and injurious falsehood claims for online posts can be costly and time-consuming and may not get you the outcome you want.