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Malicious, defamatory reviews and reports – dealing with the issue

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Posted by Daniel Jennings on 23 June 2015

Daniel Jennings Partner

Business reputation has never been more important than now, with the ability of anyone to research any business before dealing with them; and the ability to circulate to the world bad reviews whether fair or unfair.

Benjamin Franklin said famously “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” Now that might be rephrased “one bad review to lose it”

A recent study by OnePoll, commissioned by Igniyte and reported on by the Daily Telegraph has revealed that more than half of British companies have been the victims of malicious reviews or criticism. The problem has cost one in five organisations as much as £30,000 to put right.

In that poll of 1,000 decision makers, 51% said they had experienced unfair reviews or been targeted by "trolls" - someone who posts inflammatory remarks online. They range from posts by rivals on review sites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor to unfounded attacks on social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

The findings of the poll were that most business owners – 75% - said online reviews were important or very important to their financial and reputational status; one in six claimed that unfair negative posts could destroy their business completely. According to the study many small firms have to allocate budgets to deal with the problem.

According to the poll some 23% have set aside £10,000 and 33% have a £20,000 contingency, a rise of 3% on 2014. Perhaps most disturbingly the poll found that 34% of business owners believe malicious posts were growing in influence.

The proliferation of social media sites means that reviews and posts can be easily shared, causing severe reputational damage, and the study suggest rather than being resolved the problems caused are growing.

UK companies are reported to be spending significant sums of money on dealing with malicious posts. Almost 30% spend between £11,000 and £20,000 a year on dealing with online comments, whether through external reputation management agencies, in-house social media managers, or cash spent on legal fees; and 18% have spent up to £30,000 on challenging malicious, online posts.

Many business owners are reported to remain unsure about how to handle unfair comments online. Some 14% said they didn’t know how to tackle the problem. Almost a quarter of the decision makers surveyed have been forced to take legal action in order to remove the offending content.

A reputation management plan is a vital element for any business now – something we are now regularly instructed to prepare as businesses plan for such events in advance, rather than having to react in the dark. A proper plan, and a proper response to postings is critical – the damage of a bad review can be increased tenfold by a poor reaction. To see the effects one only need to look at the fallout from a Blackpool Hotel “fining” customers who left a bad review. A media storm ensued and that business may never recover from is handling of bad reviews.

We have helped many businesses develop media plans and strategies, and manage bad or malicious comments in many forms; from revealing the identity of publishers and obtaining damages; to managing the media fallout from bad news. Our recent experiences include dealing with publications by the BBC, Channel 5, the Daily Mirror, and multiple websites.

For further information see our Guide to Reputation Management or contact us.

About the author

Daniel advises clients on all aspects of commercial litigation and dispute resolution.

Daniel Jennings

Daniel advises clients on all aspects of commercial litigation and dispute resolution.

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