When was the last time you received poor customer service? Whether it be a holiday from hell or a purchase that didn’t quite go to plan, many react by hitting a company where it hurts the most and publically shame them online. In a digital customer-centric age, online reviews and social media messages can be both a blessing and a curse.
Finding the truth about a company or brand is becoming notoriously difficult across an increasingly complex landscape. Some businesses have witnessed competitors using reviews as a weapon against them to spread lies without the fear of consequence. But, who decides what is an authentic review?
The incorrect removal of negative reviews could leave consumers with a skewed assessment of a business. Get it wrong and you can easily stray into the realms of censorship and the silencing of online speech.
Unfortunately, we are witnessing the rise of a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP). In a digital world where the global community is turning to each other for authentic reviews, SLAPP is a tool being increasingly used to censor, intimidate, and silence anyone from criticizing a company online.
In the past, plaintiffs were not even focused on winning the case. Alternatively, they hoped the tactic of adding fear around legal costs and the embarrassment of being dragged to court would ensure that the customer would quickly abandon any public criticism.
As consumers increasingly began to leverage their online influence, brands attempted to fight back and repress any form of negative feedback. Thankfully, the majority of these lawsuits have been thrown out of court because they impede the freedom of speech.
For example, a dentist who sued Yelp and two reviewers for publishing negative reviews online for causing her emotional distress went on to lose her case. She was ordered to pay nearly $81,000, and the Anti-SLAPP rightly protected the customers right to discuss matters of public interest.
Elsewhere the attorney review site Avvo was also able to recover attorney’s fees under the Washington Anti-SLAPP law. These laws also enabled Yelp to recover attorney’s fees after being sued by a restaurant owner who claimed that Yelps’ review filtering process falsely advertised how trustworthy its reviews were.
Before the days of the Anti-SLAPP Act, being unfairly sued for communicating a message that a plaintiff did not approve of would seldom result in a positive outcome. The defendant would be forced to incur the cost of defending themselves, even when the lawsuit was unfounded.
Thankfully, the Anti-SLAPP Act is proving to be the voice of reason by providing a rapid resolution of lawsuits in the name of free speech. It is hoped that this “loser pays” solution will ensure that plaintiffs reconsider the gamble of filing baseless lawsuits.
The emergence of Anti-SLAPP laws is delivering much-needed protection against those that try to intimidate and silence their online critics. Throwing meritless cases out of court should also mean that we can continue to leave honest and valuable feedback about our experiences with companies without fear of retribution.
It’s no longer just bloggers, opinionated writers, and journalists that have the power to make their voice heard. Online now reviews play a significant role in how we perceive a business, brand, product or service. 68% of consumers admit they often head straight to a brands social media profile to read reviews and 77% will check customer reviews before committing to a purchase.
Social proof is a sign of trust and authenticity. How a company responds to criticism in the public arena and attempts to right their wrongs can also be turned into a positive. With 88% of consumers advising that they trust online reviews even more than a personal recommendation, there are equally as many opportunites as there are challenges.
Most people can spot a fake review within two clicks or swipes. A quick peek at any reviewers Facebook account will reveal more about the person behind the review than many realize too. Anyone that has skimmed a list of reviews on Trip Advisor will know how to spot a difficult customer from a genuine complaint.
Reviews can help with SEO and are increasingly becoming an effective way to convince your customers to click your “buy it now” button. There have even been tests that suggest bad or mediocre reviews will lead to higher conversion rates than showcasing no reviews at all. Why? They not only reveal what you do well but if your audience report areas for improvement, they will also be able to see if you listen and do anything about it.
In a customer-centric age, we have all at some point looked for honest customer feedback before buying a product, service or even a hotel room. We have a variety of platforms, forums and groups at our disposal to find the truth.
The bigger question that remains is why so many businesses are afraid of honesty and integrity online? Wouldn’t it be easier to invest time and resources into fixing problems rather than silencing the voices of their customers?
Negative feedback is nothing more than an opportunity to improve your relationship with the critic and your business at the same time. The emergence of Anti-SLAPP laws to protect consumers can only be a great thing. The saddest aspect is that we needed it in the first place.
Tech Columnist, Writer, Blogger and Podcaster featured in @HuffingtonPost @TheNextWeb @Inc @ZDnet & LinkedIn Top Voice on Technology https://lists.linkedin.com/2015/top-voices/technology?trk=ranking-overview-b-ind#.