Nothing can derail your business or brand quite like negative press or reviews often can. So, how can your business or brand best combat those negative reviews, PR or press? Well, we have looked to the incredible CarolRoth.com contributor network of business owners, experts, advisors and entrepreneurs to share their best tips for turning negative PR into a positive for their business. Their answers are presented below in no particular order.
You may notice some similar ideas listed, but I kept them separate, as something in the way one is framed may resonate differently with you.
1. Tips to Counter Bad Press
Take a step back, carefully analyze situation.
Identify all the shortcomings on your part that may have resulted in negative press.
To acknowledge shortcomings is the first step towards rebuilding relationships with any aggrieved party.
Make corrections, whatever it takes.
Make sure that everything is out there for everyone to see. As criticism and outcry is in public, a brand’s point of view should also be in public and it helps greatly if anyone wants to know the other side of story.
2. Give Them a Place to Vent
On the websites we build, we include a feedback form where people can share their experiences, good and bad. Our clients promote the form by putting links to it on their business cards and posting signs throughout their offices. After a person submits the form, they get a message thanking them for the feedback and giving them a name and phone number for someone they can call if they want to discuss anything further. Having this system in place helps reduce the number of bad reviews tremendously.
3. Stop the Leak
The good news about bad news is that it does have an expiration date. Bad PR fades out of public eye just like positive news, as long as the bad news comes out all at once. Never attempt to cover up bad news. A cover up could prolong exposure to public criticism. Be honest and release the bad news all at once to preserve your credibility.
4. Leverage the Bad Press
The knee-jerk response of most people hit with bad press is to shrink into a corner or disappear from the public. Instead, leverage the press attention by calling various reporters from other media outlets. You will find the original story "opens doors" to other reporters wanting a twist to it. They want the "inside" story and they want it from someone within the company. Your version should mitigate the bad press to some degree; at least you got it on record at the right time.
5. Truth Will Out
Transparency and forthrightness are the weapons of choice when dealing with a hostile or negative press. Lying, vicious responses, a resort to baiting or casting aspersions on others will not allow the press to put you in a minimal negative position... openness and honesty often will. Be sure that the information you share is absolutely accurate.
6. Get on the Positive PR Train
The key to controlling the negative press is to try to minimize the damage. Put out as many positive stories as possible. Focus on positive social media posts, blogs, video blogs and press pitches, even if they are small stories. Every bit counts!
7. Truth. Transparency
Once upon a time, we had a client who cheated us out of a lot of money and then, threatened to post negative reviews about us online if we didn't complete his project for free. He was a bully and bullies can't be entertained- you have to stop them. So, my response? Bring it on. We're open and transparent over here, and truth will out. Anyway, this guy who was threatening us? He disappeared when confronted with the paper trail of the truth.
8. Take it Like a Man/Woman
I'm reminded about the time James Worthy was caught soliciting a prostitute. The second person that called him was his former coach Dean Smith and he said face the music like a man; that's what you have to do. You have to face the music, you need to look at the situation and look at it from not only your eyes, but also from the person who is providing the bad PR from their eyes. Make sure you stand up there, you tell the truth and you move forward; you must also have yourself a fantastic PR person!
Christopher Carter of Approyo
9. Be First
Get your story out first. Get ahead of any negative press. Be factual. Do not mention the negative news that is about to hit. You can never win playing catch-up. Do not be caught in a lie or false statement. Maintain your integrity at all costs. You can never get it back after it is gone.
10. Try to Learn from it
Sometimes, you get feedback that is purely mean-spirited and meant to hurt you; sometimes, you get feedback that's constructive and meant to help. Try to make good on the bad review or feedback, but if it appears the complaint is meant just to hurt you, ignore it. It will eventually go away. If it's genuine, do your best to satisfy the person so they leave with a good impression. You can't win every battle, so pick the ones that ring true to you.
11. Practice Saying "No comment"
To help prevent bad publicity from becoming even worse publicity... here are some very essential rules of the trade:
1) Practice saying "No Comment"
2) Practice saying "I'll get back to you on that."
3) Refer the problem to your management or your attorney
4)...And, perhaps the most important rule is this: "If 60 Minutes is at the door, don't let them in!"
12. Stay Professional
Business owners are understandably upset when someone maligns their company. However, lashing out at critics does far more harm for your company image. If you do need to publicly respond to negative press, do so in a constructive way. Stay professional and consider what outcome you are looking for, making sure that your actions align with achieving that outcome. Responding out of anger or frustration only makes things worse.
13. Listen, Understand, Engage
The biggest issue that we have with most of the brands on social media is that they do not listen. They blast away, telling people how wonderful they are and how to get on their email list, but they do not listen or respond when people reach out.
Do not be that company. It is amazing how many negative comments can be avoided completely or mitigated through listening to and responding to them in a positive way. Be the brand that cares about their clients and is responsive. It pays dividends!
14. Always Respond with Respect!
We haven't had a lot of bad reviews or press, but when we do, we always respond with respect. We let our customers know that their opinion matters. When we engage them, we are strategic. Whatever action we decide to take puts us in a better position for success and recovery. We don’t simply try to get the last word in.
15. Damage Control
You want to do damage control. The more damage control you do, the less effect the negative publicity will have on your company. We constantly monitor the web for negative reviews of our firm. Whenever we receive a negative review, we immediately contact the client to see what went wrong. A lot of times, the client just wants to be heard and as soon as you hear them out, they will happily remove the negative review. And, if a reviewer is not a legit client, other action will be taken.
16. Act Swiftly and Decisively
If criticisms are deserved, tackle the issue head-on. Many companies beat around the bush or make excuses before admitting fault. But, acting swiftly and decisively shows that you care about the issue.
Make the necessary changes. Tell the world what you did. If it's a crisis, overcompensate in your improvements. Instill confidence in your customers that you are (still) worth doing business with.
17. Offer a Different Team-member
Preventing a client from leaving us frustrated is the easiest way to combat a bad review - by not allowing it to occur. We train on good client experiences, so the rare distraught client usually boils down to them not understanding the details of what’s going on. Rather than continuing to drill in the same info from the same source, we transfer the call to another employee or manager who may be able to explain it in a different way. I’ve seen this flip a person’s attitude immediately.
18. Don’t Go for a Quick Fix
Focus on finding the right solution. It's easier to respond immediately to the negative comment online, but be patient and try addressing the complaint offline first. At the very least, contact the person personally. Here’s the deal, you can’t allow your emotions to get in the way. Take your time when responding, ask the people you trust for advice and never ever copy and paste the same message.
19. Embrace it!
Remember when you were a kid and if someone teased you? When you got mad, the teasing got worse. When you laughed with them, the teasing stopped! Bad press isn't too much different. If you're dramatic and defensive about it, it gives the piece credibility. If you embrace the hatchet job and have a sense of humor about it, then people will actually believe you when you say it's not true. This method works especially great on twitter! Retweet the haters... they can't stand that!
20. Address Bad Press Head on
For negative press, I usually advise businesses to respond immediately to the source. If the negative publicity comes in the form of a bad review, the business owner needs to address that head on in a professional and polite manner. If the negative publicity stems from an article, contact the journalist and first ask that person: Did you reach out to me for comment? If so, I would have addressed the issue. However, I will do so now and then, go point by point refuting the negative points.
21. Close the Loop on Feedback
Listen to the feedback before you respond. Remember, the author is voicing the concerns of customers that didn't make time to provide you with feedback. By listening, you show your customers and the author that you value their input and that you want to create an experience that delights them. But, it’s important to close that loop when you write your response; tell the author what you will do to rectify the situation. And, always thank them for the feedback.
22. Growing from Negative Reviews
My best tip for combating negative reviews is to start by researching what happened and respond in a polite, personalized manner, while attempting to diffuse the situation and fix the problem. Simply ignoring a negative review can look bad from the public’s perception. We want to fix the problem from a fundamental standpoint. If we’re able to use negative reviews to make ourselves better, then we can continue to grow as a business and serve our customers more effectively.
23. Prepare Your Spokesperson
When dealing with negative press, make sure you have the proper spokesperson who is ready to tackle the situation. Being prepared will allow the spokesperson to clearly articulate information and also answer questions calmly. Running different scenarios and practicing different questions and answers can also be very beneficial.
24. Use Social Media Profiles
Often, if you have negative press attached to your brand, websites with this information will appear when people search for you online. This can have a huge impact on how people perceive your brand and often, these sites can steal a lot of the traffic that should be going to your own site. The best way to reduce the visibility of these sites is to create more of your own sites or social media profiles, as these will have a good chance of ranking above the sites with negative information.
25. If You Mess Up... Own Up
My one piece of advice is to apologize if you mess up. We aren’t perfect, everyone makes mistakes and frankly, we live in a very forgiving society. If your company does have a blunder in customer service, a bad review with merit, simply own up to it, admit to the mistake and learn from it. People aren’t looking for excuses, they are looking for results. It is a philosophy frankly that you can use in business, as well as your personal life; we learn more from our failures than our successes.
Bill Fish of Tuck
26. Timing is Everything!
The longer it takes to acknowledge a problem and fix it, sometimes correlates to even worse reputation backlash. Being proactive and getting ahead of the problem can prevent the spread of negative perception about your company. Just be sure you have a game plan in place. Responding too fast without considering all of your options could hurt you in the long run.
27. Don't Fear Negative Reviews!
Take these as opportunities for your business to demonstrate the caliber of its customer service. Be helpful, polite, and don't take the bait if a conversation becomes antagonistic. People reading the review, later on, will be able to recognize that someone's concerns have left the realm of sanity if that's the case!
28. Learning From Your Mistakes
The old adage goes "any press is good press". Meaning, any publicity is good because it's garnering attention. It's all about how you handle the negative press. For example, engaging in virtual fights on the Internet would be a bad way to handle things. However, listening to others and remembering that silence is okay could be helpful in a negative press situation. Hearing what others have to say can be a learning experience. Take what you hear and use it to turn the experience into a positive.
29. Build a Digital Fortress
Businesses can be ambushed by bad press if they have a weak online presence. I recommend aggressively expanding your digital fortress. By leveraging all of your owned web assets— your main website, blog and social profiles— you’ll begin building a protective cushion around your brand in which you control your story. Most of the major social profiles carry significant ranking power with Google, which can help push negative articles off page one where people are less likely to find them.
30. Bad Reviews & Freebee Seekers
When a bad review about your business appears online, it’s important to quickly post a response to address the issue. However, never post offering something for free to remedy the situation. That can attract others to post fake negative reviews to get your free offering. Rather, post a professional, rather than an emotional or defensive response, and ask the person to contact you to discuss further. This guarantees that you communicate your authentic professional self to potential customers.
31. Turn Negatives into Positives
Turn negatives into a positive by acknowledging their statement, but not the premise of their statement.
For example, if you get negative feedback that you're overpriced or a rip-off, state that you are more expensive, but that this is due to your business having a higher quality product or service, more experience, more proven results, extensive testing, better customer service, etc. These statements, of course, need to be factual in order to be effective.
32. Always Look to Educate
My advice to turn negative press into a positive is to educate, whether in person, over the phone or online. Through explanation and understanding between your business and the critic, you can reach a human nerve and soften the situation.
33. Make Them Fall in Love Again
TAKE IMMEDIATE ACTION
Do whatever is needed to rectify the situation.
OWN UP TO IT
As the head of your company, it was your responsibility. Issue a press release stating the facts and answer all the relevant questions truthfully and factually.
Your image has taken a hit so, more than ever, pay special attention to how you present yourself in public.
REVISIT YOUR MARKETING STRATEGY
Factor this in moving forward. What can you do to recover? What was the lesson learned?
34. Turn Negative PR into Success
Listening and empathy are critical for handling negative press. For example, let’s say you own a restaurant and a food critic leaves a negative review on Yelp or TripAdvisor. You need to find out what went wrong. Often, negative PR comes down to an unhappy customer who wants to be heard. If you take the time to listen and try to rectify the problem, you can turn a negative situation into a success story. By listening to your customers, you can learn about how you can improve your business.
35. Facing Negative PR Straight On
Recently, a former business founder was accused and found guilty of child rape and was sentenced to 90 days of house arrest for rape of a 5 year old. The company he founded came out with a statement dealing with the issue straight on, difficult, as the current CEO is the founder's son. Calls on social media were to boycott the company. The reality is that the company has not been run by this man for years.
Being direct garners respect and possibly saves the company's reputation.
36. Acknowledge Bad Press
The best way to combat negative press/review/PR is to "Acknowledge it".
Acknowledge the bad press and then, explain your side of the story, if the press has got it wrong.
If they are right and you have indeed made that blunder, then apologize.
Genuineness works, always.
It shows that the business or brand has a heart and is not just a robot, existing purely for its gain.
37. Turn Bad Press Into Good Press
Compensate for the bad press by flipping it on its head. Regardless of the nature or subject of the bad press, the way to spin it into a positive is to take it to the other end in terms of extreme. If, for example, your company is coming under fire for neglecting the environment in its manufacturing processes, announce a new environmental initiative program to encourage customer recycling. If a recently launched product was defective, announce a full recall of the product along with the promise.
38. Keep Calm and Carry On
Sometimes, silence is the best way to combat negative press. If it's a fixable situation, then addressing it head-on can work in your favor, but if it's something out of your control, keeping mum may get you out of trouble sooner. Instead, focus on offering the best in customer service and customer satisfaction. Highlight the good your business is doing and the animosity around the negative press may dissolve on its own.
39. Human Touch Prevails
Customer Reviews are SO important and not to be ignored. I always follow up on reviews, good or bad. Recently, I received a 1 of 5 on a Facebook Review stating "Worst Pizza Ever! they use fake cheese". I responded immediately with that Human Touch, asking what was wrong, what can we do to make HER experience better and provided facts that we only use 100% real cheese. Then, I offered a free replacement pizza. She accepted. The next day her Facebook Review was changed to a 5 of 5 "Best Pizza Ever!"
40. Know How to Resolve Issues
Whether you’re dealing with a bad review or a critical article, the key to responding to negative coverage is acknowledging the complaint and your desire to make things right. That doesn’t mean kowtowing to every upset customer, but it does mean demonstrating you’ve carefully considered the situation and have developed actionable steps toward preventing similar negative experiences. Customers don’t like corporate talk; just own up to any mistakes made and remain transparent.
41. Maintaining Customer Success
As a SaaS company, customer satisfaction is critical to our success. Product reviews provide insight into how our products are working and customer satisfaction. In the event of a bad review, we prioritize responding quickly, addressing the user’s pain point(s) and designing a plan to fix it. We take the pain point to our product and development teams to design and build a solution to improve overall user experience and help other existing and future customers from experiencing the same issue.
Laura Hamrick of Xactly
42. A Big Right Can Help a Wrong
One of the best tips we can give is to first understand what happened. Quickly pull together a diverse group of problem solvers & figure it out. Was the negative PR the result of a wrong decision, poor communication or haste? Or, was it the result of an honest mistake, an unintentional comment or action that took a bad turn?
Once you know the reasons for the bad press, don’t make excuses; make the situation better. Learn from mistakes by doing something good that is worthy of positive press.
43. A Business Worth Working With
For negative reviews on a public site like Google My Business, Yelp, or Facebook, the best approach is to tackle it head-on. If you have something to apologize for, do so in a respectful and succinct manner. Addressing the concern publicly shows the rest of your potential customers that you're still a business worth working with, as you don't hide from problems, you fix them with integrity. You can also offer some compensation. That can turn an unhappy customer into a loyal customer.
44. Bad Press is Good News
Negative press provides a delightful opportunity to share your brand promise. Effective responses to these negatives will deliver the strongest and most credible messaging possible. Own it, embrace it and show the world your impeccable character. The public seeks information to learn what to expect when trading with your business. While no one expects a business to be perfect, we do expect you to take responsibility for your mistakes. Respond using the T-R-E-E-P-A paradigm and you win.
45. Pay Attention to Reviews
With Google searches growing by the day, it’s become important for companies to monitor reviews left on their Google Business listing. This is an interesting cross between SEO and PR. Negative reviews could deter potential new customers who have found your business online. If you suspect a review is spam, Google allows you to report these. In the case of a legitimate unhappy customer’s remark, reply to their comment and calmly address their issues. Alternatively, offer to discuss offline.
46. Own it & Correct it Swiftly!
We’ve all had that lone negative review at some point. Their expectations of us didn't deliver as intended. First thing I do is respond them publicly on their review. I follow up with a call & if they answer, I express my concern for them & how we may have failed them. This gives me the opportunity to correct anything & change the experience into a positive one. If I can’t resolve it, like I couldn’t recently, I mail out a return check for the dispatch fee & a handwritten apology.
47. Bad Reviews are Opportunities
If you've done significant business, you have at least a handful of bad reviews. Use this as an opportunity to communicate with current customers and show potential customers how you make things right.
48. #Crisis Communications Plan
Unplanned events can have a devastating effect on businesses. Crises such as cyber breach, damage to stock, illness of key staff, layoffs or IT system failure could all make it difficult or even impossible to carry out your normal day-to-day activities.
At worst, this could see you losing important customers and credibility - and even going out of business altogether.
When an emergency occurs, the need to communicate is immediate... Prepare a crisis communications plan to combat bad press.
49. Read the Reviews!
Never let a bad review or bad press go unaddressed. Listen to the person, get to the root of their issue and be accountable to any mistakes made. Apologize. Reply in a humbled, human way and show you’re taking steps to be better in the future. Being real can help build (or build back) trust with anyone reading your response. While you’re at it, read between the lines and look for actionable insights for your company. Negative reviews suck, but they’re also full of valuable, usable feedback.
50. Enable Damage Control
When sending a press release, I suggest linking to it with a short link you have control over. If it is received badly, you can edit or delete the destination URL to limit the damage and protect your brand.
By using a URL shortener that can change the destination, if something detrimental is accidentally shared, it takes just seconds to redirect the link to other content -or an apology. This is useful if you can’t take it down from a third-party platform or a client’s website right away.
51. Review the Terms of Service
Your first port of call should be to look at the terms of service for the website. You may be lucky enough to find a small clause that can protect you. Depending on the nature of the content, the website's terms of service can offer an opportunity for you to have the content removed. Specifically for review sites, Defamation, The Misrepresentation Act, Code of Conduct and the Right to be Forgotten can be used to combat unsavory reviews.
52. Bad Press: New Opportunity
If you received negative press for your business, it is best to view it as an exciting new opportunity to grow. If you are successfully building customer relationships by solving their problems, news will travel just as fast than negative experiences. Listening and reading bad reviews can be beneficial to grow as a company, allowing you to have the advantage to tackle the issue head-on. Be direct and gather as much valuable feedback in order to create a solution which can lead to positive press.
53. Best Defense is a Good Offense
We've been fortunate in our ten years of business that we haven't had to spin any negative press. But, we've seen others in our space recently try to deflect angry reviews and it looks unpleasant. The way we've avoided this is by making quick, thorough, transparent customer service and high quality the #1 priority. If you know your limits, don't over-promise, deliver on your word and address customer issues head-on, you should be able to stay in the good graces of the press and review sites.
54. Put Your $ Where Your Mouth Is
We've all seen the PR walk of shame that brands who screw up have to take. "This does not reflect our company values" yada yada. The biggest recent example of turning a negative into a learning experience is Starbucks. When one bad apple spoiled their bunch, they shut down the chain for company-wide diversity training. This was a strong response which cost them millions. Starbucks paid more than lip service and made actual changes to their company culture and (hopefully) the community at large.