How to enjoy great PR success, despite bad online reviews

by Scott Douglas

Monday, February 8th, 2010

You’re proud of your business – so why be scared of the big bad internet?

PR agency in Edinburgh illustrates the importance of running a transparent business.

THERE are most definitely businesses which should not, under any circumstances, dabble in social media.

So who, exactly, are they?  The fact is, we all know them – or at least we know their type.

They are the companies whose products suck, whose customer service is rank and who believe their audience is a vast cash cow to be milked dry, as quickly as possible.

They are unpleasant slugs sullying the business plane by leaving behind a slimy trail of dissolved consumer confidence. Fortunately, social media is a salt that is being sprinkled on them liberally.

What shocks me is the number of decent businesses which fear that opening a conversation online will simply open a channel for complaints against them.

Without doubt, the biggest barrier to social media engagement is the worry among business people that trolls, flamers and haters will come out in forces with the sole intent of damaging their brand.


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Whenever a business person raises that concern, I ask a few of my own: Do their products or services suck? Is their customer service is rank? Do they view their customer base as a cash cow to be milked dry as quickly as possible?

You can guess the answer. Most of them look at me as if I am mad. These are people who, on a daily basis, stake their reputations on the quality of what they provide.

It’s no surprise that most SMEs are well run, well-intentioned and proud of what they do. So why should it be such a surprise that the social web hasn’t turned into one giant morass of ill-will, bile and invective aimed at those very companies?

Customers can – and do – let the world know what they are thinking via blogs, Facebook, Twitter and even on business listing and review sites like Yelp. Some people might even be saying great things about your business. Yes, it happens.

Trip Advisor

If you don’t know what your customers are saying about you, how can you react? How can you say sorry when you are wrong? How can you correct the errors? How can you improve? How can you celebrate the praise?

Control over what customers could say was always an illusion. It was a believable illusion when the most powerful tool they had was word of mouth, which would run out of steam after the third or fourth telling.

Now your customers express their views on your business – good, bad or indifferent – to reach countless thousands of people via social networking. That’s countless thousands of potential customers.

Some sectors are already coming to terms with this – notably the hospitality sector, where the power of peer reviews from real diners and hotel guests has transformed how people choose venues.

Last week I heard a story from one hotel owner who was threatened with a poor online review from a customer who sent a garment to be dry-cleaned and it came back with chemical staining damage.

The venue apologised profusely and explained the dry-cleaner was an external third-party and would be immediately dropped as a supplier.

But the customer insisted the hotel should pay for a replacement garment, or they would be getting a highly negative review on Trip Advisor – the website with the tagline, “Find Hotels Travellers Trust“.

The venue was happy to replace the garment, after all they pride themselves on looking after guests properly. With luck, the guest in question did the decent thing and left a review raving about the extra mile the venue staff went to.

However, the hotel owners were genuinely shaken by the threat of a bad review online.  They know the power of peer reviews and how those reviews have already proven the engine room of online shopping giants Amazon (“People who bought this also bought…”) and eBay, where sellers are only as good as their last review.

The good news is that for good businesses, even bad reviews can prove beneficial – and this blog on Bazaarvoice explains some of the reasons why.

A few years ago Bazaarvoice carried out more detailed research which showed many customers actually think businesses with the odd negative review are more credible (no-one really believes in Mary Poppins).

Transparency helps foster credibility. Businesses which have credibility also earn trust.

Trust – particularly in a post-financial meltdown world where people believe other ordinary Joes like themselves more than they believe corporations, governments or the media – is the new currency of business.

This is the new reality for businesses. You have to be involved in the conversation to have any chance of influencing what customers are saying about you. And you don’t just have to accept the negatives; you have to be seen to be acting on them.

If you don’t want to stick your head in the sand, but aren’t sure where to start, feel free to get in touch with us at Holyrood Partnership – and start a conversation that could help transform your business.

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Scott Douglas, of public relations agency Holyrood PR in Scotland

Scott Douglas

Scott Douglas is the co-founder of the multi award-winning Holyrood Partnership, renowned public relations agency in Edinburgh, Scotland.
As well as providing expert PR services in Scotland and the UK, the former journalist heads a team which offers a host of other professional media services.
Those include crisis management PR, photography for business PR, affordable business video, social media campaigns and strategic content planning and delivery for businesses of all sizes.

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