As a digital marketing agency, you have a responsibility to your clients. Each of your customers expects you to deliver results and manage their brand effectively, ensuring that positive buzz takes the lead over bad press or damaging write-ups.
The question is, where does that leave your agency when your customers receive poor ratings and reviews on platforms like Yelp? Should you try to censor and remove negative comments about their businesses? Or is there a better, more productive reputation management strategy that your agency can leverage instead?
In an era where online reviews are gaining more influence over consumers, the stakes around owner responses are likewise getting higher for businesses. A misguided or incohesive review reply strategy puts you at a sharp disadvantage against your competitors — and could cost you as much as $143,000 in additional revenue over the course of just six months. If you want to drive growth, increase revenue, deliver better customer service, and gain a stronger competitive edge, your agency must establish clear — and effective — tactics for dealing with negative reviews of the brands you represent. In this week’s post, we’ll examine whether censorship is ever a useful review management strategy in 2022 — and, more importantly, whether there’s a more profitable approach.
Should You Censor Negative Reviews or Low Ratings?
In most situations, businesses have minimal control over the content of their online reviews. For example, here’s a quote taken directly from a Google Business Profile (GBP) support page: “Report only reviews that violate Google policies. Don’t report a review just because you disagree with it or don’t like it.” (“Google doesn’t get involved,” the article also notes, “when businesses and customers disagree about facts.”)
Yelp uses different language but takes the same stance, writing, “Yelp is a community-driven site, and removing photos, reviews, or other user content is not something we take lightly — we generally allow users to stand behind what they write. It’s also important,” the platform, like Google, points out, “to keep in mind that Yelp doesn’t take sides in factual disputes.”
Yet it isn’t just Yelp, Google, or other review platforms that take a hard line against censorship — there are also federal laws that protect “people’s ability to share their honest opinions about a business’s products, services, or conduct,” such as the Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA). The CRFA is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) — and violations can be met with hefty fines.
Even though review platforms and federal laws both ban review manipulation, that doesn’t always stop business owners from trying, leading some researchers to analyze the effects of online review censorship. That was the goal of one study published in 2021, which sought to “examine the impact on consumers’ brand perceptions when negative reviews are censored.” To accomplish this goal, “Two experimental studies were conducted to assess whether censorship of a negative online review, in the form of removal by the company, weakens brand relationship quality (BRQ) dimensions.”
The study’s conclusions were clear: the research revealed review censorship to have “a damaging effect on BRQ,” suggesting that censorship is worse than just unproductive — it’s actually counterproductive. On the other hand, the research also showed that “a response from the brand or a fellow consumer can yield more favorable outcomes than no response at all or deleting the negative review,” which we’ll discuss more in the next section of this article.
These findings led researchers to make a clear recommendation to businesses: “Brands would be wise to avoid removing negative reviews as the potential downside could be substantial.” The study also warned about the potential for “a consumer backlash,” noting that “an online forum [ like Reddit or Facebook ] can also be used to bring attention to a brand’s censoring of negative reviews” (for instance, in the form of screenshots captured by the reviewer prior to deletion).
Not only does review censorship worsen consumer opinion, as the study demonstrated, but it also creates a second issue: when a negative review is removed, so is the opportunity to leverage it to your advantage, a subject we explored here. For example, a recent Yelp survey revealed that — perhaps surprisingly — close to 90% of consumers “are more likely to look past a negative review if they see that the business has responded to it and adequately addressed the issue.” If you remove bad reviews, not only do you lose visibility — you also lose your chance to:
- Control the narrative and present your brand as a caring, responsive company that prioritizes great service
- Reassure and retain the upset customer
- Convince review readers, who might not otherwise learn about your business, to give your business a chance
Review censorship violates the law, breaks GBP/Yelp rules, worsens consumer opinions, and eliminates opportunities to engage with consumers in a positive and productive way — in the rare instances where review platforms even permit it to occur. In short, it’s not the best strategy for successful reputation management. So what approach should you take instead?
How to Deal with Bad Reviews: 3 Review Reply Strategies for Agencies in 2022
We’ve established how and why review censorship is harmful to your business. The next step is to identify some alternative reputation management strategies, so that your agency can handle bad reviews more productively in 2022. Like it or not, you have minimal control over customer feedback — but by taking the right actions with your response, you can make negative reviews work for you instead of against you. Here are three of our best tips for replying to your worst reviews.
Never use generic response templates
If you start with a template, make sure to pepper in details that customize your response to the original review. Using the reviewer’s name is a great start; but ideally, you should get even more specific, such as referencing part of their review in your response. For example, if the review complains about slow service or unreturned messages, you can say, “We’re sorry that you did not receive a prompt follow-up call from our team” in order to make your response feel more personalized. Read more about the power of response personalization to discover why this strategy is so valuable in 2022.
Always apologize for a bad customer experience
Maybe the reviewer is exaggerating details, omitting details, or getting details wrong — but from a customer service standpoint, what really matters is how the experience made them feel, not the technical accuracy of their review. Even if you disagree with the reviewer’s comments, you should still offer an apology for the negative experience. You can apologize without accepting blame by choosing your words carefully — for instance, saying, “We are sorry to hear that you were frustrated by your application experience,” instead of, “We are sorry that our website was not working properly for you.”
Make sure you provide a solution — not just an apology
Nobody leaves a review because they hope or want to be ignored. On the contrary, most negative reviews reference a specific issue or problem, such as poor customer service, dissatisfactory conditions (like mold or noise), and problems related to billing or fees. This gives you a perfect opportunity to offer a solution, assuring the reviewer that your team is there to help fix the problem and improve their experience. This can help immediately control the damage to your brand, while also reassuring other consumers that your business is trustworthy and engaged. The best way to provide a solution is to:
1. Clearly state that you’re there to provide assistance. Depending on the tone and specificity of the review, you can either explicitly ask the reviewer to contact you (e.g. “Please reach out to our leasing office so that we may…”), or suggest that the reviewer contact you (e.g. “We encourage you to contact our office if there is an issue that we can assist you with”).
2. Provide an email address and/or phone number where you can be reached.
3. Close out by reiterating your gratitude for the feedback and your commitment to working out a resolution. For example, you can say, “We look forward to hearing more from you soon, [ Reviewer Name ]!” or, “We appreciate your comments, [ Reviewer Name ], and look forward to discussing how we can help improve your experience.”
One final word of warning before we wrap up this week: faking your positive reviews is just as harmful as censoring your negative reviews, a topic that our response scribes explored in depth here. If you want to avoid penalties and maintain credibility with consumers, review authenticity is key — whether the comments are positive or negative.
Schedule a Demo of Our Review Reply Service for Digital Agencies
Get authentic reviews — and curate your responses — with ease and flexibility. Shout About Us provides the full suite of review management solutions for digital agencies, including automated review generation, custom review response, and online review management through our integrated custom dashboard. Our review response service ensures that all reviews receive personalized replies within 24 hours, while our secure dashboard empowers you to monitor your reputation.
Emily Homrok is a freelance copywriter with more than seven years of writing experience. She joined the Shout About Us team as a content strategist in 2020.