How Businesses Should React to Negative Social Media & Reviews

Social Media still scares many businesses both large and small. But hiding from social media isn’t the answer. The real answer lies in embracing it … in all of its brutal, raw honesty.

Not participating doesn’t make people stop talking about you. It just means you aren’t part of the conversation…

Let’s look at the case of restaurant reviews. In the past, small local restaurants had the upper hand. If they offered poor quality service, people would tell their friends–but it would take a while before the message spread. With the emergence of social media, the roles reversed. All it took was one obnoxious, fussy, or overly-particular customer who was active on social media, and a restaurant could meet an early and unwarranted demise. This got so bad it led one coffee shop to overreact and put up a No Yelp Reviewers sign.

However, now that social media has matured, many sites have tools for businesses to respond. I recently came across an example of a negative review …

…we’d gone out of our way to make reservations for 7 of us, and while 3 of us showed up on time, the rest of our party was lost somewhere in Gpoint. At which point the uber bitchy hostess says, we can only hold your table until 9:15pm and then we’re giving it away. We offered to go ahead and order for our lost compadres and apologized profusely, promising that our companions were definitely on their way, but she refused to make any accommodations. She snidely suggested we try to sit at the bar. ALL SEVEN OF US.
Now I’ve eaten at a lot of hoity toity restaurants, but NEVER have I encountered such a terrible attitude from a hostess. You’d think we were trying to get a table at Daniel. And we made a reservation!! This is Gpoint, dude. How do you get off with an attitude like that for a sweet neighborhood restaurant in Gpoint?!?!?! I am never coming back.

Maybe she just needs to get laid.

Now this could have gone poorly. Not responding would leave a big question mark in the mind of anyone coming across the review. The owner could have fired back with guns a-blazing, which would have become a case of he-said/she-said. While doing so would lessen the effect of the question mark, it doesn’t remove it. What really happened was the owner got involved, leaving a measured, honest response:

Hi Joan. I am the hostess, although most people know me as the owner. I just wanted to say thanks so much for making it clear what our super reasonable seating policy is. We do not seat incomplete parties in our 30 seat restaurant, especially on a Saturday night, especially when we have other customers who have been waiting an hour for a table. And, let’s be honest Joan, you and two of your friends arrived at 9:15 for your 9:00 reservation, and the rest of your party was still not complete at 9:25 when I finally gave away your table. Your friend had made the reservation that afternoon for 8 people and I explained to him our rules. He said no problem. Sorry you felt the need to personally attack me about this, Joan. Seems likes it best for all involved that you’ve sworn to never return.

The owner responded perfectly. Anyone who reads both versions will probably believe her and not the whiney customer.

The lesson here is that companies need to understand that review websites and social media sites aren’t going to go away. Not participating doesn’t make people stop talking about you; it just means you aren’t part of the conversation. What businesses need to realize is they have to become part of the discussion and get smarter about how they do it. If you need a detailed plan, one of the best I’ve seen comes from the US Air Force chart for social media engagement. However, it really boils down to 4 key points:

Monitor – Companies need to monitor what’s being said about them on websites like Angie’s list, Yelp, HotPot, Expedia, Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare or any other niche-specific review websites. I like to use Raven Tools, because it’s fairly extensive, and it’s part of my daily workflow. Other similar services include Trackur, Radian6, and Lithium.

Listen – When I worked in retail, one of the important lessons I learned was that, when a customer complained about you, what they are really doing is giving you the opportunity to fix a problem. Too often most people take criticism personally and overreact, turning a bad situation into a worse one. If you listen–and I mean REALLY LISTEN–you’ll see that most customers are telling you what’s wrong and how to fix it …

Respond  & React – Now that you know what the problem  is, how are you going to react/respond and fix it? Yes, some customers are going to expect too much, but those are the fringe cases, not the everyday ones. If you are getting more complaints than compliments, then there is something wrong with your product/service and the way you’re positioning/selling it. You need to react to that problem to prevent future problems down the road.

Amplify the Message – Hopefully some of your customers are saying nice things about you somewhere. What are you doing with those messages? Are you spreading them around? Understand the difference between a review and testimonial and treat each of them differently. At the very least you should have a separate review and testimonial page on your website. However, if you want to be really smart and proactive, ask your customers for permission to republish the testimonials. Then set up satellite websites to do proactive reputation management and point some targeted anchor text at them.

So what are the takeaways from this post:

  • Understand that reviews and public customer feedback are now a part of almost every business.
  • Monitor what’s being said across a variety of websites, and gauge where and when you need to be involved.
  • Identify what are the key places where you need to be part of a conversation–don’t dominate or lead it.
  • Listen to what the customers are saying and realize it’s an opportunity to fix a problem.
  • See if there’s a problem with how you are selling/positioning your service/product that’s creating the negative feedback.
  • Amplify your successes. Make sure everyone knows about them. Use them strategically for proactive reputation management.


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