Online reputation is a funny thing. A few glowing reviews can make it look like there is no better place to stay, restaurant to eat at or web designer to use. However, attracting the ire of your customers can send your online reputation into a serious downward spiral before you know it.
Recently a local Bed & Breakfast business told an engaged lesbian couple (Paula Knight and Jane Collison) that they would have to sleep in separate beds as their wish to sleep in the same bed offended their religious beliefs “…and you might have to find accommodation elsewhere”. Paula and Jane are not the type of people who take sexual discrimination lying down and were incensed enough to make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission. The owners of the Bed and Breakfast have defended their actions by saying that they “did not hate homosexuals” but that the business was also their home and they believed there was a place for morals in business.
The backlash has been significant for the Christian owners of the Pilgrim Planet B&B. The media picked up the story, with articles appearing in both the NZ Herald and Stuff.co.nz. Owners, Karen and Michael Ruskin, have been willing to comment to the media and have even gone so far as to place a statement of their position on their website.
While I don’t agree with the way the owners handled the situation, I pity them for the online reputation lashing they’ve been receiving. Only 11 days after the story going public, there are now hundreds of individual web pages reporting on the incident. Not only NZ media but International media, gay and lesbian websites, general forums, individual blogs and religious websites. Considering the increased attention they have gained, you might think that this could be beneficial for them. However, while the publicity will fade in time, the Google reviews that they have incited are going to last a lot longer.
Online Reputation in Tatters
Google reviews are not highly used in the accommodation industry, as most people who review tourist businesses seem to use websites like Trip Advisor or Expedia. However, the media coverage has captured the attention of a different group of people. These are Google+ users who have not visited Pilgrim Planet but are motivated to review them based on what they have read online. The image below is the Google listing for Pilgrim Planet a week after the story broke. Note that there are 12 reviews. All these reviews had been added in the previous week and the total score they are left with is a paltry 2 out of 30.
Eleven of the 12 reviews were very negative. The only positive review seemed to be from someone who knew the owners. The negative reviews were all abusive toward the owners and their beliefs. None of them gave the impression they had stayed at Pilgrim Planet. Here are a couple of the reviews that now appear on their Google+ Local listing.
To be fair to the owners, I checked older reviews from other websites and they were generally very positive. This is an example of how your online reputation can be badly affected by people who may not even be your customers. At the time of writing, only 11 days after the story broke in the media, the number of reviews had risen from 12 to 17 and only 2 were positive. The rest continued the trend above. So what can you do if you get an unfair or fake Google review?
How to restore your online reputation
There are a number of options for dealing with negative or fake reviews on Google+ Local and restoring your online reputation. Here is what I would do.
- Respond to the review
If you have a Google+ Local listing, you or your webmaster should have access to it. When you log in, you have the chance to respond to all reviews and explain your side of the story. Be nice and you can save your online reputation even if a customer has genuinely had a bad experience. We all have bad days and can’t get it right all the time.
- Flag it as inappropriate
If the review is inappropriate and breaches the Google+ Policies & Principles, you can flag the review for Google to check. This would include the kind of abuse seen above or someone spamming or posting advertising or off-topic material.
- Contact the reviewer directly
If the reviewer is someone you can identify, you could always contact them and ask them to alter or remove their review. Sometimes, a review can be written in anger and while they may have forgotten the problem, you continue to suffer the impact. You might even be able to restore your relationship with them.
- Take legal action
If you believe the review to be unreasonable and significantly damaging to your business, it could be considered libel. If your pockets are deep enough, you might consider legal advice.
- Drown out the negative
If there are enough people who think highly of you and your business, you might be able to gain their support to overwhelm the negative comments with positive support. A few negative comments don’t look so damaging when there are ten times as many saying nice things about you. A word of warning… don’t try and add fake reviews yourself, it could result in your listing being deleted.