Is That Bad Review a Good Idea?
Customer reviews carry a lot of weight with other customers (or would-be customers). Five-star reviews can bring floods of news customers, while negative reviews can bury a small business.
It’s tempting to fire off a scathing review when you’ve had a bad experience—and it’s almost too easy to do it while still steaming. But think twice before you write that bad review in the heat of the moment—especially if it’s not true. Companies are fighting back and winning lawsuits when false statements made on social media have hurt their business.
A wedding photographer in Texas recently won a $1 million suit against a disgruntled couple whose negative review collapsed her business. Initially pleased with her services, the bride’s attitude changed over a contractual dispute, and the newlywed couple claimed the photographer was “holding their photos hostage.” The court ruling found the claims false and therefore defamatory.
And defamation isn’t “free speech.”
Various online review sites like Yelp have stepped up to champion the First-Amendment rights of consumers to freely post their reviews—good and bad—because it is good for other potential customers (and obviously for their own review-based business). The federal government agrees, and the Consumer Review Fairness Act became law last December, meaning that even if a business contract contains a non-disparagement clause, consumers nationwide have the right to leave negative reviews if it accurately reflects their opinion and experience.
But even this legislation doesn’t protect reviewers who make false statements about a company, claiming them as fact(s), with the intent (or result) of hurting their business. In other words, even if you’ve genuinely had a bad experience, lying opens you up to a lawsuit. If the company can prove it, they can be awarded thousands, or even millions. Is “venting” worth it?
Also consider the effect on the business—especially a small business. A handful of staff and employees, all trying to earn a living (companies are made up of people too). Can your issue or concern be addressed calmly, perhaps in person, seeking a resolution? Even if it can’t, is the grievance important enough to air publicly—even if it can greatly harm the company’s future? If not, maybe it’s better left unpublished—or can be carefully composed later when anger or frustration has decreased.
Ultimately, there are a number of reasons to consider your words carefully before posting online reviews.
- It’s public—anyone can read it, and it may never “go away.” Readers will judge the company, yes, but they may also judge you based on your words. Don’t say anything you will regret later, whether personally or professionally.
- Inflammatory comments can start a firestorm of comments on well-trafficked websites. Consider whether you want to ignite controversial conversation.
- It should be your opinion. Your personal opinion is covered under free speech. But if you claim “facts” that, well, aren’t facts, you open yourself up to trouble.
- Be truthful. Sometimes the truth hurts—and you may genuinely have been wronged. But if the truth is padded with lies (or there is no truth in the statement), that’s libel, and you can be sued.
Online reviews are a valuable resource for consumers, but sometimes we don’t realize how much power a review can hold. So, think twice before you leave that review, and use your power wisely. And also, be quick to leave positive reviews to help support small businesses trying to grow and serve a wider audience.