Anyone with a computer has a virtual soapbox to share their opinions on any topic, including their feelings about you and your firm. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is being oblivious to what others are saying about you. Your clients and potential clients want to see that you are engaged and thoughtful when it comes to online forums. Even when the feedback about you is negative, how you respond can have a positive effect on your reputation.
Here are my top five tips for responding to online feedback.
- If the feedback is positive, say “Thank you.” People like it when you acknowledge and appreciate them. It shows others that you are listening and mindful of your clients’ experiences.
- Stay calm and be respectful. You look professional when you can keep your cool when others are losing their minds. If you have a strong emotional reaction to what someone says about you, take a few hours to calm down and get advice from others before you respond. You don’t want to escalate the situation.
- Take it offline. Invite the person to send you an email or call you to better address the concerns that were raised. This deals with the problem directly and shows others who may be watching that you are diligently trying to remedy the situation.
- Don’t get into a fight. It won’t help you or the situation to tell commenters that they’re flat-out wrong when there is a misunderstanding or a miscommunication. There was a situation in Phoenix where a restaurateur got into a fight with a patron on Yelp. She basically attacked the reviewer. News about it spread throughout the city and people who had never heard of her or her business vowed never to patronize her restaurant as a result.
- Admit when you’re wrong. If you have made a mistake, your clients and others who are watching will appreciate it when you acknowledge you’ve done something wrong, that you apologize for it, that you do something to make up for it, and that you take steps to ensure the problem doesn’t happen again. You will gain respect by taking responsibility. If you are particularly savvy, you might flip the negative feedback into a viral boost for your name like Bodyform did.
Some people use online review sites when they want to rant about you without any desire to remedy the situation. If you’ve been respectful, invited the commenter to contact you directly, and the person hasn’t taken you up on it, at that point it’s okay to ignore them, since there’s not much more you can do. Avvo and JD Supra’s terms of service, for example, prohibit the posting of defamatory or harassing material but I didn’t see anything that suggests you can otherwise get a negative review removed from either site. However, if someone continues to rant to the point of harassment, report it to the website. If a client defames you, consider legal action. Otherwise, don’t feed their need for attention. The online community will see that you did all you could in the situation.
As an added tip, be aware of where people might generally write about you online. Engage them wherever they are writing about you, whether it’s on Yelp, Avvo, Facebook, Twitter, Google, your blog or another site. It annoys me when a business has a Twitter presence and I tweet a complaint to them and they don’t respond. That tells me they’re not paying attention to their customers and don’t deserve my business.
Remember when you speak online, you’re engaging in a public conversation. Act as if hundreds, if not thousands, of people are watching you—because they are.
Ruth Carter is a lawyer, writer and speaker. Her virtual practice, The Carter Law Firm, focuses on intellectual property, social media, First Amendment and flash mob law. Named an ABA Journal 2012 Legal Rebel, Ruth is a 2011 graduate of Arizona State University College of Law. Known for her daring antics and outgoing personality, she is co-founder of Improv Arizona, author of the ebook The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to Get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed, and blogs weekly at UndeniableRuth.com.