No company can afford to ignore bad online reviews and complaints.
The longer a bad review festers online, the more damage is done, says Greg Turner, vice president of Ball Consulting Group, LLC, a strategic communications firm in Newton, Mass.
Bad publicity from local media also must be addressed. “The ‘no comment’ response usually is viewed negatively and never goes over well,” Turner says.
When you get bad PR, you must act quick but thoughtfully. “Stop a moment, prepare, and respond truthfully, without delay,” says Laurie Batter, owner and president of Carlsbad, Calif.-based BatterUp! Productions, who specializes in marketing for the aquatics industry.
When dealing with bad reviews, professionals must devise two strategies — the public-facing and the private. Dan Lenz, vice president of All Seasons Pools & Spas in Orland Park, Ill. has had two experiences with negative comments on Yelp and Facebook.
In both cases, he says, the criticism was unjustified, but he still had to respond. He communicated privately with the customers to address their concerns. On the social media sites, he issued an apology, a polite summary of the facts, and an assurance that the company is committed to customer satisfaction.
“Battling publicly is not going to make anyone look good,” he says.
When it comes to the local media, managing negative stories should begin before it even occurs, Turner says. If you have established a relationship with local media over time and have earned their respect, they are likely to bring that respect to their coverage. “Part of handling bad PR is having lots of good PR,” he observes.
If your company does receive negative coverage, Turner recommends, “be responsive and as open as you can, while reaffirming your business strength and values.”
Negative publicity may focus on the products you carry, rather than your company.
The California drought has wrought plenty of this type of coverage over the past several years. In addition to lobbying against restrictions that often come as a result of the drought, retailer Lynda Sisk worked to educate officials and the public when hot tubs were restricted in the California cities she serves. Her basic message: Hot tubs require an insignificant amount of water, the water remains in the tub for months, and then it can be reused in the garden once the chemicals are removed.
The vice president of Hot Springs Spas of Santa Cruz & San Jose spoke at city council and water department hearings, contacted government representatives, wrote an editorial for the city newspaper, was quoted in news articles and appeared on local television news. Hot tubs came off the list in one town she serves. They remain restricted in the other, but Sisk hopes they’ll be removed soon due to the lessening of statewide restrictions.