When it comes to business law, there’s always something developing on the horizon, especially given that so many people are running online businesses.
But all business owners—as well as consumers—should be aware of best practices when it comes to both writing and managing reviews.
By now we are all pretty familiar with the power of online reviews—Amazon, Yelp, Glassdoor and others are leaders in this category and essentially their customers’ sales are driven by word-of-mouth consumer advertising.
When reviews are genuinely positive, they essentially act as free advertising, but even one bad review can ruin a business’s reputation.
Have you ever wondered exactly how serious these reviews can be?
The Legal Case for Bad Reviews
Have you ever found yourself checking out public reviews to find out if a service or product is worth your hard-earned money?
Bad reviews can happen to anyone but they are a part of running any kind of business today.
To date, there have been several instances of people being sued for bad reviews, such as a Florida man who was sued after posting a bad review of a vet.
Or this Texas couple who, in 2016, faced a million-dollar lawsuit by a pet care company after leaving a one-star review on Yelp.
Technically, consumers are protected by the first amendment, but the caveat here is that successful lawsuits are possible, and defamation can be claimed should a customer falsely represent a business.
So essentially if someone lies or accuses the business of an illegal act in a review, they are at risk of being sued.
Opinion Versus Fact
Consumers need to ensure that they are sharing their opinions rather than claiming false facts, or they could be sued.
An opinion might be: The food tasted bad and I will not go back.
But saying something like the food made me sick and I had to go to the hospital could severely harm the business’ reputation and puts it at risk of being shut down.
Even if it is true that the food did make you sick, a better idea would be to speak with a qualified business law professional about addressing this matter if you feel that the case is serious enough to warrant action.
Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP)
When a company attempts to silence the public in the interest of protecting its reputation, this is called a SLAPP.
Fortunately, as of the time of writing, 31 U.S. states (including Colorado) now have anti-SLAPP in place.
These laws are meant to dissuade companies from filing lawsuits in such scenarios and to protect defendants from amassing unnecessary legal fees in the event of a defamation suit.
They intend to protect people such as reporters and consumers who may choose to publish important details about a company for the benefit of society.
Although anti-SLAPP laws can’t 100% guarantee protection from lawsuits, they would, for instance, be employed in order to dismiss such a defendant from a lawsuit early on.
Best Practices for Managing Public Reviews
People usually have a reason to write reviews, good or bad.
And when it ends up on Google or Yelp, it is there forever.
That’s why business owners today need to be extra careful about reputation management. What was once the job of a PR person is now more often the responsibility of the business.
But there are things that both businesses and consumers can do to ensure that they are playing fair—for instance:
- Businesses should address poor reviews quickly and reasonably, offering a resolution to the problem.
- Both businesses and consumers should communicate about unsatisfactory service or products
- Consumers should make sure that any claims they make can be backed up with proof
- Both parties should consider taking a less public route if they believe a serious legal issue is at play
In short, businesses today need to practice active and consistent reputation management as a part of their day-to-day digital marketing and social media strategies.
Businesses should keep on top of all review sites at all times, and respond to negative reviews, Tweets or other published feedback quickly and politely, taking more serious issues out of the public eye.
Get Help from a Business Law Professional
An experienced business law professional can help you navigate problematic situations should you be involved in a defamation threat.
If you’re stuck or have questions about an online review or any other issue, don’t hesitate to call 303-780-7333 or schedule an appointment online.
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