Six steps to respond to negative online reviews - from a legal perspective

The digital economy has been built on ratings and reviews to enable people to ‘window shop’ online. Research by BrightLocal shows that if a hotel's star rating increases from two to three stars on review sites, business goes up by around 33%.

However, it only takes one disgruntled former client or customer to ruin a good reputation by posting a negative review, no matter how false or misleading that review might be, said Alyssa Antcliffe, the principal of Antcliffes Legal at a webinar held by MyTravelResearch.com.

"Usually, what is published online is not intended to be malicious, but is someone’s honestly held opinion," she explained.

However, if brands believe that their business are the victim of unfair, untrue and or defamatory remarks as a result of an online review, they should act quickly to minimise the damage, Antcliffe said.

She suggested six strategies designed to help minimise damage and avoid costly legal proceedings:

1. Contact the website which has published the review to ask that the material be removed,
2. Contact the client or customer who has left the review and try to resolve the issue that has arisen,
3. Request that the client or customer remove the review or write a further positive review about the way the issue has been handled and resolved,
4. Write a short and factual online response to the review addressing the issue, or inform the public that the reviewer’s comments are unfounded and what the facts are,
5. Update your website, publish an article, run a promotion or launch a new product. The aim here is to create online news and chatter that will divert attention from the negative review and add new positive reviews and announcements, and/or
6. Seek independent legal advice.

Don't respond to reviews while you are angry

On the other hand, Carolyn Childs, co-founder of MyTravelResearch.com, said it was vital not to respond to reviews while angry. Make the effort to be unemotional, level-headed and empathetic when responding.

Childs noted that an online response that addresses a complaint in a cool and reasonable way often transforms the negative review into a marketing positive for the travel brand.