The business world is becoming increasingly transparent due to the rise in social media and review sites such as Trip Advisor for accommodation, Urbanspoon for restaurants, Amazon for books, Rotten Tomatoes for films and so on. Despite what most business owners fear, it’s not actually isolated negative reviews which kill brands. In fact, there’s evidence to say the opposite applies. Consumers aren’t stupid – they know that no product can possibly satisfy everyone, all of the time. According to an article by in 2012, 68% of consumers trust reviews more when they see both good and bad scores. Another study showed 30% of people suspect censorship or faked reviews if there aren’t any negative comments. also found that prospective customers who go out of their way to read bad reviews are 67% more likely to convert to paying customers than the average shopper.

In my book ‘Flawsome’ I talk about the benefits a company can experience by encouraging feedback from its customer via reviews and conversations on social media platforms like Facebook. I talk also about the drawbacks of NOT embracing reviews, but I never mentioned one of the drawbacks of review sites, and that is fake reviews.

Fake reviews have been a hot topic in the news recently. According to Nielsen Research, 71% of Australians base their purchasing decisions on the reviews they read. With the ability to affect the buying decisions of 7 out of 10 potential customers of a company, scammers have a huge opportunity to bring a company to it’s knees. Businesses are frequently tarnished by fake negative reviews from disgruntled employees or competing companies, or can even be unfairly held to ransom by unhappy customers.

While isolated negative reviews can benefit your business, here are some things you can do to help protect your business from a plague of faked negative reviews:

1. Claim your directory listings. The first thing you can do to get on top of negative reviews is to moderate them. Many business directory websites have a review function and it’s very possible to have a listing and not have notifications of reviews and enquiries directed to a key person in the company. Start by finding out where your business is listed and make sure you’re receiving the appropriate notifications.

2. Report fake reviews. If you discover a review you believe to be fake (that is, not from a paying customer) you will often see a link somewhere like “Flag as Inappropriate or Suspect” together with a place for you submit your reason why. This prompts the review site to open up an investigation on that review which would require the reviewer to provide evidence of their proof of purchase. Review sites won’t just remove reviews that a business doesn’t like, but it is in their best interest to help you weed out fake reviews.

3. Check their policy for reviewers. Even if a review is from a real customer, but is suspected to contain false statements, this can also rectified. Many review companies will have a “Fair Play” policy for their reviewers and can remove reviews that don’t meet its criteria.

4. Respond to the reviews. While it’s very easy to respond to negative comments on social media sites, many review sites also allow businesses to publicly respond to the reviews and tell the company’s side of the story.

5. Sit back and let the review site handle it. Sometimes you won’t have to do anything. Many review sites run content verification checks. With such a site, inappropriate terms or phrases, names mentioned or inflammatory language will automatically trigger an investigation. Flagged reviewers are subject to IP address scrutiny and other measures to prevent them from logging in with a different account and posting multiple negative reviews.

Of course, the best ways to protect your business against negative reviews are to:

  • Run it with integrity and good conscience;
  • Market to a niche so you can weed out the people who won’t like your product or service BEFORE they experience it;
  • Treat employees with care and understanding and
  • Play nice with your competitors – treat them with respect and tolerance.