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New Research Offers Insight on Dealing with Negative Online Reviews

I haven’t forgotten about the good old phone book. I know it’s nestled safely at the back of some kitchen drawer. But unless I’m suddenly without internet access or need to prop something up, why would I ever use it? These days, online directories are the preferred resource of consumers who are looking for goods and services.

Platforms such as Google Maps and Yelp connect people with businesses in their neighborhood and offer a convenient way for those businesses to share their hours, pricing details, and other information that may attract more customers. The modern consumer is interested in what other people have to say about your company and will consult user reviews in order to inform their decisions. Therein lies a potentially scary risk for businesses: the negative review. *Cue dramatic orchestral hit*

Naturally, business operators are concerned about the potential for negative online reviews because they are public and oftentimes impossible to remove. However, recent research suggests that negative reviews are not an entirely bad thing, especially if you know how to connect with your audience and respond well. Let’s talk about it!

Connect with the Identity of Your Core Audience

Consumers view negative online reviews as a more reliable source of information than advertising. But don’t assume that everyone takes negative reviews at face value. A study published in the Journal of Marketing suggests that consumers may even respond positively to a negative review when they see their own personal identity reflected in the brand. For businesses, this highlights the importance of portraying a brand identity that their core audiences can connect with.

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This study also offers perspective to business operators and marketers who want to know how to deal with negative online reviews. Brand identity plays a role in how consumers respond to negative reactions online. Therefore, it should also guide how your brand responds.

What values does your brand identity represent? If your values are honesty and authenticity, let those values help determine your response—the words you use and the actions you propose to take. Google and Yelp are public platforms, so just like those reviews, your responses are visible to everyone.

Let your response to negative reviews strengthen your brand image.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to responding the right way. But in general, remember your audience and respond the way you think they would expect you to.

If your response makes the reader feel more closely identified with your brand than the initial reviewer, then you may be able to tilt their perspective of the review in your favor. Additionally, online platforms that display reviewers’ profiles and review histories bring even more scrutiny to a negative review. Ultimately, if consumers view themselves as more socially distant from the reviewer than they are from the brand, they are less likely to perceive the negative review as valid.

Nobody wants to see a negative review for their company online. It can be an embarrassing mark on your record, especially when you have worked hard to cultivate a positive relationship with your customers. But when you operate a public business, especially one that is easy to find with online platforms, you will have the occasional dissatisfied customer.

Whether or not the complaints are reasonable, your response can influence the perception of those who seek out your business online. If you can address the negative reviewers’ problems and regain them as a customer, that’s great! The actions you take to win them back could earn you goodwill among your audience. But even if you can’t win them over—even if all you can do is apologize or explain your side—if you are able to represent your brand identity in a way that connects with your audience, you can shift the narrative in a positive direction.

And of course, never stop farming those positive reviews! Read more: Why Every Local Business Needs a Google Business Profile.

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