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March 4, 2013

Should I Ignore Those Negative Online Comments?

With all the time and effort you have put into your business, be it a large one, small one, or even a business of just you, would you risk it all by ignoring even one online comment?

As some business owners have unfortunately discovered over time, it just takes one unhappy customer, present or past employee, or even a competitor to turn their business world upside down. When that happens, it can be very difficult to try to right the ship.

Long before the Internet came on the scene, the majority of business owners only needed to concentrate on potential bumps in the road from an in-person visit from the unhappy individual, a phone call, or even perhaps a letter.

Flash forward to today’s age of social media, blogs and online forums, and business owners stand a much greater chance of being negatively impacted by a single comment, especially if they choose to ignore it.

Many Consumers Are Watching

According to a New York University study, 90 percent of consumers who view unanswered online comments think those businesses have a lackadaisical attitude toward customer service, while 88 percent feel unanswered complaints lead them to be less likely to make a purchase with that business.

If you have not thought about the potential consequences from these scenarios — both being the target of negative comments and altogether ignoring them — it certainly would not hurt to think about it now. Having a plan in place to deal with such incidents is simply good business.

Some of the ways you can combat such potential happenings:

Have a game plan — First and foremost, do you have a plan in place to deal with such possibilities? Assuming the answer is no, why not? Why would you put so much time into running your business, yet not be prepared for negative online feedback — most businesses will be on the receiving end of such comments at some point. Just as you prepare a yearly budget, advertising and marketing campaigns, and brainstorm ideas on how to grow your company, you really need a plan in place to deal with those who will attack you online.

Know thy enemy — Those who attack your business online may not be out to physically harm you, but they probably wouldn’t mind seeing some financial harm come to you and your business. The questions becomes, do you know who it is that wants to do this to you before they put their plan in place? Did you fire a disgruntled worker? Have you had one too many run-ins with upset customers? Perhaps you and a competitor have been feuding recently? No matter the scenario, knowing whom you are dealing with makes it easier to address and ultimately solve the problem.

• Address the matter — Once you find you are under attack online, be it in an online forum, a blog post, or even through a tweet or share, you need to take action. One tactic that too many business owners often take is trying to wish away the problem. That approach, more times than not, leads to bigger problems. First, you are letting one or more individuals have their say without a response. Second, the negative comments can take a toll on traffic coming to your site, as potential and even some current customers will be treated to negative news about your company if they do a Google search. Addressing the matter in a professional manner helps you preserve your business reputation.

• Promote the positive — As you defend your company online, accentuate the positive. Let current and potential customers know all the good things your business does, doing this via press releases, blog posts (both on your site and where you may be allowed to guest post), and through social media. This allows positive news to take center stage, while any negative comments and news from others falls lower in the search engine rankings.

• Learn your lesson — Lastly, make sure you learn from any negative online experiences that you and your business come across. Before the Internet, you could often get away with some negative publicity, because there were not archives around for people to track such information. Now, a simple tweet or online forum discussion can be copied and resurrected over and over again, potentially taking sales away from your company. While the reality of the situation may be that you and/or your business did nothing wrong, it is perception oftentimes that comes out ahead.

If your business is going to continue to grow, don’t let some online chatter stand in the way.

Dave Thomas covers small business topics for various websites, including physician reputation management.