Trash or Twibel? Business in the “Internet-Review Era”
Bad reviews are all too common in this modern age of internet reviews, and even worse some unlucky businesses get outright thrashed on social media. The internet is a distancing factor, and combined with a sense of anonymity or inability to be held to any real consequences, some people will say the rudest things for all of posterity to see. That’s not a great look for businesses.
In such cases, what does one do?
The first piece of advice: keep proof of everything! Take screenshots or pictures and keep them somewhere safe in case of “libel” or any sticky situations.
In cases of handling customer reviews or complaints, it’s wise to remember that others can see online interactions with customers, so view it as a means of outreach. Apologising isn’t a bad start: even if the customer isn’t “always right”, if they left upset, there may be reason to apologise, if only to prove you care about customer experience! Address the complaints straight-on, compromise as able to keep all parties happy, offer the opportunity for further discussion through other contact methods, and update what you can within company culture or policy to keep the problem from arising again.
What happens if the complaint comes not from a customer, but from an ex-employee?
There things can get a little trickier. First and foremost, be preventative: ensuring no employee leaves a company feeling slighted can head off problems before they can arise. Using HR Best Practices such as having a clear on-boarding process for new employees, evaluating the performance of employees on a regular basis, documenting roles and responsibilities in the business, and defining what happens when expectations aren’t met, can go a long way to making sure expectations on both sides are met and resentments are not left to fester.
Make sure that you handle any severences properly and with care: never without warning or courtesy. “The way you approach this situation can shape the image that your ex-employees have of your business and prevent them from tarnishing your reputation.” (2)
What if it’s already happened?
Stay calm. Along all steps of the journey, stay calm and do not respond or react in anger or upset. Consider if the words are true. There are strong First Amendment rights for speaking against businesses, but these do not hold out in cases of false statements, which would be categorised as defamation, or a “knowingly false statement of fact that is damaging to the reputation of a person or business” (1). It may be considered defamation if false statements or opinions are presented in a public forum as fact, not opinion. People being “mean” does not necessarily equate to defamation and should not be dealt with as if it were, since pursuing a defamation claim against a published truth (or noted opinion) can further hurt the company’s reputation.
There have always been two categories of defamation (slander, which is spoken; and libel, which is written) but this millennium has invented a third: “twibel” – a subcategory of libel – which is not only for Twitter but any “libelous statement on any Internet forum” (1). This can happen over LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Google, Yelp, or Indeed (where prospective employees can find ex-employees and their opinions of your business) or on social media sites ike Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr and more,
What else can be done?
Immediately flag false or rude negative reviews with sites that have flagging options. You may choose – ‘flag as inappropriate’ or ‘problem with this review?’. Be careful to not overuse this option as that becomes suspect. Many websites have policies for not accepting reviews with foul language, threats, and other negative elements. Some companies are catching up with the harm negative ex-employee reviews can cause . Google and Yelp have review policies that state that reviews from former employees are considered in violation of its guidelines.
Beyond flagging, there are options: contact the poster to request voluntary removal, while understanding that whatever is sent to them may in turn be published or met with no response.
When responding to ex-employees or anyone else, be sure to take the high road: thank them for writing, use neutral and calm language with a mature tone, communicate compassion for their plight, formally address the policies in question, remind them of privacy laws which prohibit the discussion of internal matters, and get a trusted set of eyes to review it for tone and content. Don’t get into a long conversation. Sometimes ex-employees are just jerks; other times they may have legitimate points, which you needn’t admit to being correct, but keep an eye on the issues mentioned and work on them to avoid such problems in the future with things like clarified written policies or improved workplace communication and culture.
Try reaching out to the Internet Service Provider, website, or web-host to request removal of the statement. Prior to reaching out it is suggested that you review the website’s Terms and Conditions to follow the correct procedure, contact the right person in the correct position, and cite the specific Terms violations; finally, and only in more dire cases , attain a well-written letter from a lawyer for removal of content. This may lead to removal of the material. Equally, it may be refused without response, or a court order may be requested.
Suing and court fees are generally not advised as the ordeal takes significant time and considerable legal fees. However, if the website requires court order before removal, it may be the only choice. Be aware that the ‘burden of proof’ required of plaintiff, success of acquiring a subpoena, identifying the perpetrator, and getting the material removed) will depend on the jurisdiction (or location) of where the lawsuit is filed. Check before any lawsuits that there’s enough content and impact to prove damage, as reputational damage in cases of defamation often require significant evidence.
If your business has been affected, you can prove harm, and you’ve lost customers or received questions from others regarding the false and negative content, you should be able to get the web-host to redact or remove some or all of the content, especially if it violates their Terms.
Either way, it’s of utmost importance to bury the negative information. This can be done with a twofold plan: (1) removal of the bad review and (2) loading up on positive content for the search engines, including websites, fresh reviews from customers or employees, active social media accounts, blogs, being quoted by various media, getting published online or in print, or otherwise putting the business name out there in positive ways.
It’s always good to run checks frequently. Thoroughly search your name and your company name to find the good (to repost), the bad (to address), and the ugly (to redress).
If you have any further questions about Twibel or online presence in the social media age, reach out to us here at The HR Engineers!