Please note that this article is not legal advice, in any way, and if you ever need legal advice pertaining to a situation such a negative review, or a fake negative revew, we advise that you seek the appropriate legal counsel.
Have you ever had a negative review written about your vacation rental property or business? One that you felt in your heart was a fake?
You take pride in your company. You’ve done anything and everything in your power, dedicating yourself to providing the absolute best possible experience and customer service.
Then one day, while typing in a Google search for your business name, you find one of the harshest reviews you’ve ever come across. And it’s all about your company!
Or maybe it’s not just about your company, and it’s also about your property. Or they’ve attacked you personally. Or even worse, the review is a combination of all three!
There are plenty of other sites out there, known as "shaming platforms", allowing anyone to post negative reviews about businesses, regardless of their factual accuracy, and have no other purpose than to harbor these negative reviews as a method of generating traffic and generating revenue via ad space or by offering questionable services that border on the line of disgusting and what many people have accused of being extortion.
And while some vacation rental listing sites are creating safeguards against this sort of thing within their own platforms, there are a lot of them that still have some pretty dodgy/loose policies when it comes to guest reviews.
Your first reaction is most probably be fear.
What's happening? Who is attacking me? Is this a one-time occurrence or will it continue to happen? What kind of affect will this have on my business?
Then comes the disgust.
Why would anyone be doing this to me? How could someone do something so terrible to me when I've done nothing to them?
And what usually comes after that, is anger.
Who is doing this to me, and where can I find them?
The truth is all three feelings are completely natural. We are human after all.
And don’t worry, it happens to the best of us.
Your reputation isn’t necessarily tarnished just yet. It all depends on the actual review itself, and how you react in response to it that counts.
Below, we'll walk you through the step-by-step process you need to follow if you want to successfully overcome the negative impact that fake reviews have on your reputation.
Step One: Take a step back and soak it in
BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING, it’s extremely important to determine whether or not there's any truth to the review. Even if there's a possibility of the tiniest tidbit of of truth to what the fake review is saying, you need to reflect on it.
Because the last thing you want to do is hastily post a response that just ends up adding fuel to the fire.
The wrong response could end up turning what could have been an opportunity to create a positive, into a never-ending uphill battle that could even potentially destroy your business' reputation entirely.
So take a deep breath, and follow these next steps;
Step Two: Dissect the review in detail
First: Was the review actually posted by an actual guest? or is it anonymous?
You might not remember all of the guests that have come through your properties (side note; we can help you with that).
So double check within your past, active, and potential guest lists, to see if anyone with the poster’s name is in it. even if there's the slightest chance that the reviewer's name could be in any of your past guest lists, it has just become a customer service issue that you will need to be address appropriately. (We explain how to do this a little lower down.)
Sometimes people use fake names to hide behind their malicious intent. And if nobody by the poster’s name is in any of your past guest lists, take note. Because there is a chance that you might be dealing with a fake review. Your 1st red flag.
But if the review is completely anonymous, you’ll have to dig a little deeper.
Second: Does the review describe an actual event, property, or person? Or is it vague, without any real mention of specifics?
If the review is describing an actual event, that you can recall, even if their claim is grossly exaggerated, or even if you disagree with the reviewer’s opinion, then it's obviously real.
And if that's the case, then it's just a simple customer service issue that you'll need to address appropriately.
The good news is you most likely won't need to need to get any lawyers involved (unless it's really bad), because it will probably be easier to simply turn the situation into a positive one. (We explain how to do this a little lower down.)
But if the negative review is obviously vague, too general to be authentic, and calls no mention to any specifics of any actual event, product, or service offered by you, your chances of dealing with a fake negative review just got a little higher. Your 2nd red flag.
Third: What kind of wording is used in the review?
Does the negative review truly read as if it were written by a person who has actually experienced poor customer service with you or your company?
Or does it read a little more like it was written purely for search engines and defamatory reasons? Let us explain…
If it reads abnormally harsh, vague, with a lot of keyword repetition and aggressive sentences spelled out in all caps
(ie: “your company name” + "reviews" + "you company name" + "scam" + "fraud", etc...)
then the review was most probably written deliberately for search engine rankings, and with malicious intent. Your 3rd red flag.
Step Three: Determine the underlining reason for the review.
You've basically got 4 possible scenarios .
1) Despite your initial thoughts, it's actually a real review.
Does the review hold merit? Was it a simple misunderstanding that the reviewer took too far?
Even if you completely disagree with it, is it from a real person claiming to have a real problem with your service?
If you happen to conclude the review is real, no matter what reason, you’ve got to address the review head on with a professional, well thought out, real, and personal response.
If the review is detailed and precise, it can be good to tell your side of the story. Address each concern with your side of the story, but keep a calm, with a professional tone in your response. And whatever you do, do not disclaim the reviewer in any way. In most cases less is more. Especially when the review is vague.
It’s good to offer your personal time in order to help understand and resolve the situation. Write your response in a way that you are not only interested in making things right, but that you’re also more than happy to do so.
And lastly, it’s good to put a face to the company. Not necessarily in the literal sense with a picture, but your name, with real contact information including a phone number and valid email address, so that the reviewer or anyone else reading the review may contact you or the company directly.
Sometimes people forget that companies are made of real people and you need to remind the them of that fact.
So if your contact info is there and your willingness to help is shown, chances are that reasonable people will contact you to see for themselves, and use an online platform as a last resort.
2) It was just a simple mix-up
It's possible that the review was actually meant for a different company.
Believe it or not, this sort of thing actually happens! People get confused all the time and sometimes make mistakes.
3) This was a on-time deal, posted by someone you know.
Wether it's an ex-employee, or whoever it may be, that person decided they wanted to bash you, and your reputation online in order to "get back" at you for some reason or another.
The good news it, the one review was probably all they needed to get their frustrations off their chest.
That said, you're still going to have to tread lightly if you don't want to cause any more damage to yourself.
4) You're being targeted by your competition
This one is obvious. Unlikely, but it happens.
5) You're being targeted by a fake review scam
Is it a fake?
Is it a past acquaintance deliberately attacking you and/or your company’s reputation with false negative reviews?
Or are you the victim of the new, up-and-coming fake review scam?
If you happen to fall into this category, you’re not alone. Many companies, as well as individuals have been victim to this type of activity.
We wish you didn’t have an uphill battle ahead of you, but unfortunately, you do.
Most vacation rental companies, or any type of small business for that matter, don’t necessarily have the means to pay a team of lawyers $750/hr each to fight something like this. Nevertheless, it’s in your best interest to seek out some sort of legal counsel to help.
It is imperative that you first read the review site’s terms of service before you post any response. Often times, posting a response on the site will bind you to their terms & conditions, which might contain clauses that will limit your ability to get the review removed. And if you find such a clause, it’s up to you to determine whether or not to post your response. Just know that you have no idea how long it might take for the situation to be rectified… and that’s if it ever does...
So if you decide to draft up a response, you should write it just as you would for a real review. Your response should show the world that you are truly willing to help resolve the situation, and any situation for that matter. You never know, but the review could very well be real, but just an anonymous one disguised in terrible syntax and illegibility.
The next step is to directly contact the admin of the website that is hosting the review, and nicely tell them about your situation. Your goal here is to try and get the review taken down.
What you want to do first, is to go to the site’s terms of service or review guidelines, and find any proof that the review violates their rules.
In your email to website’s admin;
1) BE POLITE. Anything but might work against you and you definitely don’t want that.
2) Give a link to the particular review, along with the rule(s) that the reviewer broke,
3) Offer thorough details to back up your claim, including quotes and whatever you can find.
4) And the hardest part is to offer anything else you might have on your end that can help to prove your story that the review is fake and/or libelous.
The issue you will most likely run into is that negative reviews can help to grow a review site’s user base in more ways than one. And removing negative reviews, no matter how true or not, can ruin their credibility.
So in most cases, all you can do is hope for the best, and pray that your response will help minimize the damage in the meantime.
Try not to spend all of your time, money and energy trying to fight them.
Once you have done what you can, it's time to move on and continue to focus on your day to day, and growing your business.
Part of the damages fake reviews cause are when you start to stress, spending so much time, effort into trying to fight them. It's just another way for them to win, it's your best interest to do what you can to let it go.
Online reviews are all about public perception. Whether the bad review is right or wrong, true or false, or even a competitor out to tarnish your hard earned reputation, you have the ability to change minds and re-establish your credibility for those that read the review. And it’s done simply by turning a negative, into a true positive.
Fair or not, review sites and vacation rental listing sites will pretty much do what they want when it comes to customer reviews. But there is always a way to make it known that you truly care about your customers, and the sooner you do that, the better it will be.
PS: If any readers have any experience with reviews that they would like to share, please tell us about it by sending in your comments HERE.
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