Online Reviews – A Double-Edged Sword

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Online Reviews – A Double-Edged Sword

It seems we’re living in a world where every time we buy something, we’re asked for a review. Personally I find being pursued for my time after I’ve spent my money more than a little annoying, but that’s unlikely to phase the robots pursuing me! Similarly, attempts to find any product or business usually result in a web search providing links to a range of review websites, as well as the suppliers’ own.

At least once a day, I also receive an email from a raft of ‘businesses’ offering me any number of positive online reviews for a fee – usually in blocks of 100 reviews.. Clearly there’s business in providing fake reviews and the world seems to believe them. But what about the ‘real’ reviews – and the substantial damage adverse reviews can do? Do we, as consumers, have a responsibility to consider the impact on someone’s business before we post..? Or are all businesses fair game in a world where we’re pursued for our feedback – and almost every business is claiming to provide fantastic products and/or service?

As an organisation with a lot of people, working at a lot of sites around Australia, very early on (and a few times since over the last few years) we had to be quite explicit in the policies that govern the way our employees use social media. There are concerns of privacy, the security of children and vulnerable people, confidentiality – and finally the inevitable commercial risks associated with reputational damage being done to an organisation as a result of online posts by one of our employees. Fortunately we have a good crew and these days it is an extremely rare occasion that we see any kind of post about their workplace from one of our team.

Then, of course, we receive a certain amount of adverse reviews from our own employees – who decide they want to tear us down for one reason or another. They are almost inevitably people who have received feedback from us after behaving poorly at a client site – and who do not believe we have a right to require them to conform with our policies and procedures. In these situations, our social media team usually contact me and ask if I want to draft a response. My answer is, invariably, No! Why dignify a rant with something that looks like a defence? There are plenty of people out there ranting, so no response means a rant dies a fairly rapid death as it sinks beneath the weight of others unleashing online!

When we allow people to weaponise social media, we give them a significant amount of power that they ought not be trusted with. Of course, visceral online rants tend to act as click-bait, so a person can get a lot of attention – and potentially do a lot of damage – before they fade into the background noise. Preventing them venting impinges on free speech, allowing them to do so allows them to damage to – or even destroy – a business fighting to survive..

So, what to do? I guess all we can ask people is to consider the harm they can do prior to posting – and consider calling or contacting the business they wish to target with an adverse review prior to going online. At a personal level, we could all consider taking the advice my dear old grandma gave me 50 years ago – “If you can’t think of something nice to say, say nothing”.

Or maybe we should just all stop reading online reviews – particularly the adverse ones – and try reaching out and contacting any business we want to consider trading with – or have had an issue with, in person. It’s a pretty good place to start!