Reputation Management

Businesses Suing Reviewers: What Does This Mean for Reputation Management?

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Automotive Social/Flickr

Automotive Social/Flickr

There have been several reports on restaurants and hotels suing reviewers for writing bad reviews. Should this be allowed? What happened in these cases and is it actually better to take action?

Is the customer always right? A number of restaurants and hotels have sued or fined customers for leaving bad reviews on social media sites. In some cases, the establishments were successful—while others suffered damaged reputations and a loss of clientele. So, should you or shouldn’t you take action against negative reviewers?

Fining Reviewers

A previous article on SweetiQ focused on the Union Street Guest House in Hudson, New York and what happened when the hotel threatened guests with a $500 fine for any negative review posted on the internet.

The Union Street Guest House argued that people booking the inn for weddings or other occasions should explain to their invites what type of establishment the Union Street Guest House is prior to an event. In the inn’s own words, the Union Street Guest House’s bathrooms and kitchens “are designed to look old in an artistic “vintage” way. If your guests are looking for a Marriott type hotel, then they may not like it here.”

Although the inn removed any mention of a fine shortly after a report was made by the New York Post, it is understandable why any hotel or restaurant would go to such lengths to help keep its online reviews positive.

Trust and Online Reviews

sweetiqpic2A study by SEO company BrightLocal, ‘Local Consumer Review Survey 2013‘ showed that [tweetable alt=”@bright_local says 67% of consumers read 6 #onlinereviews or less before forming an opinion about a #business.” hashtag=””]67% of consumers read six online reviews or less before forming an opinion about a business.[/tweetable]

For any hotel like the Union Street Guest House that holds events and is not particularly grand or expensive-looking, this can be a problem. Because wedding-goers might tend to associate the word wedding with ostentatious, glamorous and fancy venues, they might think that anything different is an unacceptable setting for a wedding.

What makes this more difficult for smaller, less-glamorous establishments is that people appear to trust online reviews just as much as they would trust personal recommendations made by a family member or friend, according to the same study by BrightLocal. [tweetable alt=”@bright_local says 79% of respondents say #reviews online were just as trustworthy as #personalrecommendations.” hashtag=””]79% of respondents said that reviews online were just as trustworthy as personal recommendations.[/tweetable]

Establishments with different themes or concepts can therefore find themselves receiving undeserved criticism by people who just don’t get it.

Blogger Pays Damages

In France, the title of a blogger’s post had to be changed due to her negative restaurant review being too high up in Google search results. The blogger, Caroline Doudet, also had to pay £1200 in damages as well as payment to cover the complainant’s cost. The blog was entitled ‘The Place to Avoid in Cap-Ferret: Il Giardino’.

The owner of the restaurant explained on website Arrêt Sur Images, “This article showed in the Google search results and did my business more and more harm, even though we have worked seven days a week for 15 years. I could not accept that.”

“People can criticize, but there is a way of doing it – with respect. That was not the case here.”

Echoing the case concerning the Union Street Guest House, the restaurant owners found that the review’s online prominence was hurting their business. Whether Doudet’s review was spot-on or not, should a business have to face such significant repercussions and be judged so strongly on just a few hours of work, by one person’s opinion?

Doudet ran a blog that had around 3000 followers and it was this that helped convince the judge that action needed to be taken to aid the restaurant. Before the amendment of the blog’s title was made, “the place to avoid in Cap-Ferret: Il Giardino” appeared fourth in Google search results for the restaurant.

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