Internet review sites – friend or foe?

It seems one thing is for sure – Internet review sites are here to stay! Have you ever looked up the ratings for a hotel or restaurant before you went? Did you believe what was written about that establishment? I think that most of us would answer yes to both questions, but I also believe we have become a little more discriminating when reading internet reviews. It used to be that most everything that was written on the Internet about a business seemed believable. Now that these sites have been around for a while, we have learned to be more cautious. When reading reviews, most people read several reviews to get a sense of the majority opinion.

Instead of looking at Internet review sites as your enemy, I suggest that you try to use these review sites to your advantage. First, you need to know what is being posted on the Internet about you and your practice, and the sooner you know that, the better. One easy way to do this would be to set up a Google Alert. All you’ll need to do is go to the Google search engine and type “Google Alert” in the search box. At the top of the results, you will find instructions from the Google website on how to set up a Google Alert. For your Google Alert search query, you can enter your doctors’ names, practice name, or any other keyword or term you wish, and when something is published on the Internet containing those words, you will receive an alert. A warning though—Google Alerts may not be 100% reliable. Some Internet postings may slip through without generating an alert, but it is certainly better than nothing. Best of all, it is free. Be sure to check your Google Alerts on occasion to ensure they are active and up to date.

Make the rating sites work for you

You can also use something known as dilution. Basically, the concept is to encourage clients to write positive reviews about your practice so that, if there is a bad review, it will be pushed down, or diluted, by all the good reviews your clients have posted. I suggest you print a card listing the URL’s of the review sites that are most popular in your area. Include something such as, “We appreciate your business. If you had a great experience today, would you please write a review and post it on one of these websites? If you did not have a great experience, please let us know immediately.” You will be amazed by how many clients will be happy to write reviews about your practice and post them online. Some practices have even established a kiosk in their reception area where clients can check their emails, look up pet information, subscribe to pet insurance, or write a practice review!

Some rating sites have become sensitive to this and seem to censor responses they receive, especially if they are overwhelming, so be careful. However, in most cases, it is a very good strategy to dilute or push down any negative reviews the practice might receive.

What do you do about negative reviews?

If you are in business, you can pretty much be assured that, sooner or later, you will get a negative review. As the saying goes, you can please some of the people some of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time. So, what do you do if a negative review is posted about you on an Internet rating site?

The first thing I would do is try to determine if the review was valid or not and who wrote it. Unfortunately, some negative reviews are written by disgruntled employees. If the review is not valid, but instead was written by someone trying to hurt the practice, write to the administrator of the Internet review site and inform them of this fact. Some review sites are very responsive to this, others not so much. If that doesn’t work, try to figure out who wrote the review. Again, if it is a disgruntled employee, you might write to that employee and inform them they are defaming your character and request that they remove the post, or you will turn the matter over to your attorney. If the employee does not remove the post, contact your attorney. However, you will probably find there is not much the attorney can do since you would need to prove damages and it would be costly to pursue litigation. Yet, if nothing else, the attorney might send a letter to the employee that could persuade them to remove the posting.  

If you determine that a negative review was written by a client, then investigate the case to figure out what went wrong. Once you have all the facts, contact the client and try to communicate what happened from the practice’s point of view. In most of these cases, negative Internet postings were caused by miscommunication. If we call the client and discuss the matter with them, many times, we can resolve the problem and the client will voluntarily remove the posting from the Internet.

If none of the above works for you, then you have three options. You can just leave the posting alone, try to dilute it, or you can write a response to what has been posted. Some Internet review sites will allow you to respond to a negative posting. If you do decide to respond, be very careful how you word your response. If you come off too negative or as a “know it all,” it may backfire on you as readers may get the impression that you have something to hide or were somehow in the wrong. The best tactic here is to not attack the writer, but instead, say something like, “I am sorry that you had this experience at our hospital. It is never our intention to have any client leave our practice without receiving the very best healthcare for their pet and great customer service.” Then go on to explain your side of the story, but again, do it in a non-argumentative fashion. Just state the facts and let people make up their own minds about who was “right” and who was “wrong.”  

On several occasions, what can happen is that a bad review posted about a practice causes many other clients of that practice to come to its rescue. Clients take it upon themselves to post on the Internet review site, condemning the negative review while showering the practice with praise and accolades. Now that is a bonded client base! By the way, if this happens to you, be sure to contact those clients and express your appreciation for their support.

Hire a company to protect and defend you

Some companies have sprung up that promise to protect your online reputation. I have had some limited experience with several of these companies and, personally, I’ve found them to be expensive and not very effective. In fact, some of the solicitations I have seen from them almost appear to be more blackmail than anything else. I would be careful of companies that make statements such as, “if you don’t do this…these negative things will happen to you.”

There are other companies that, through social media, will take positive comments made about your practice and get them posted on your website and some of the Internet review sites. I have found several of these companies to be very successful in diluting negative responses and getting positive reviews posted. They can also help you respond to negative reviews in a way that can build your image. The big difference is that the “negative” companies market themselves as reputation management companies and the ones I have found to be more successful market themselves as social media and website optimization companies.

It’s here to stay

As I said in the beginning of the article, Internet review sites are here to stay, and likely will become even more prolific and influential. Don’t bury your head in the sand and hope they go away. Become more aware, more Internet savvy, and communicate more than ever before.  So, get your Google Alert set up, keep an eye on the Internet review sites, and start asking the clients that know you are amazing to write a review and post it. Be proactive and don’t wait for a negative situation to occur.

Mark Opperman, CVPM
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