March 19, 2010
Intellectual Property, Internet & E-Commerce Alerts

Calling For YELP: How to Handle a Negative Review of Your Brand on The Internet
by Kathleen F. Carpenter

Your company has been in business for two decades. One day you read a very negative review of your company on Yelp. Yelp is a fast-growing online review website whose stated mission is to make the world a better place by helping people to connect with great local businesses. However, the negative review of your company also contains damaging false and defamatory information, that could destroy a reputation that took you two decades to build. What to do? Suddenly just one disgruntled customer has a cyber megaphone.

Can you write Yelp and ask them to take the review down?

Well, you may attempt that route, but you are unlikely to have Yelp remove the post. Also, Yelp has come under fire recently for allegedly manipulating reviews when customers advertise on Yelp (removing negative reviews). These allegations are addressed in Yelp’s blog Additional thoughts on last week's lawsuit, or how a Conspiracy Theory is Born. Yelp has an informational blog that assists business owners in maintaining their online Yelp identity – allowing businesses to publicly post a business description, announce special offers, message customers, add photos, track traffic to your Yelp site and more.

In the case of a very disgruntled customer who took enough time to post a negative review, you need to assess the best and quickest course of action necessary to obtain retraction of the false and defamatory information. You must also proceed with caution, as you risk putting gasoline on a fire if you further inflame the customer.

For example, last year, a resident of an apartment owned by a Chicago developer complained on Twitter about mold in her unit and was immediately sued by the developer. The developer’s press release in response stated, “the company sues first and ask questions later.”  Taking that approach may undermine your company's reputation, whether online of offline.

In a recent case, on behalf of a business I was successful in reaching out to a customer that posted a negative Yelp review and having the review taken down, without a lawsuit. Quick tips: In addition to customer satisfaction, consider joining the major social networks with a business membership and take advantage of the benefits. It should also be a part of your company's regular practice to monitor your online reputation and perhaps communicate with the irate customer that slipped through the cracks.  Start monitoring now.  Google is still free.

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