Turning Online Negative Reviews into Golden Opportunities

Working with folks in the restaurant industry, with public Facebook pages, it’s natural that I’m going to see an errant comment or two that lean towards the negative or just plain out head-scratching, “WTH?” from time to time.  As the online community manager and social media strategist for more than a few clients, I’m also asked if they can delete these comments.

For the business owner, negative comments on a Facebook page or Yelp review are a NIGHTMARE. For the consumer, they are useful, a form of reputation warfare, and a way to make decisions about the age old question of “what’s for dinner?” 

What I’ve found to be the case with negative comments is that when you ignore OR delete them, you miss an incredible opportunity.

You’re missing the opportunity to engage, keep the negativity on your own turf, rather than out and about on the interwebz, and you’ll miss the opportunity to show the rest of your fans why they love you.

Let’s take a look at Great Food Truck Race winner Jason Quinn and his now infamous “Burn in Hell” comment .  Jason Quinn is a hot shot chef, new restaurateur and winner of the Great Food Truck Race.  Since opening his restaurant in Santa Ana, California, Quinn has received mostly rave reviews, until recently.

Great Food Truck Race winner Jason Quinn is a very hands-on Yelp user, responding thoughtfully to many of the 118 mostly 5-star reviews of his downtown Santa Ana restaurant, The Playground. But as Foodbeast reported, a particular one-star review prompted him to write a raging, expletive-loaded tirade. A few jaw-droppers: “how fu*king cheap are you,” “I WISH I WOULD HAVE PAID FOR YOUR BEERS AND KICKED YOU THE FU*K OUT OF MY RESTAURANT” and, his closing line, “Burn in hell.”  

Wow. Let’s get it out, shall we? However, take a look at that top line. Jason Quinn routinely engages and responds to Yelp reviews. I went back and started reading Quinn’s responses to less than stellar reviews and was blown away. This guy got it right on almost all counts: he’s genuine, appreciative, and makes every effort to make amends, without giving away the farm.

Burn in Hell was an aberration, but not out of character. As Quinn notes, when you start talking about his parents, he gets inflamed.

Burn in Hell or Butterfly Kisses?

Online engagement, and social media in particular, is a big, scary, new territory for many a business owner.   It becomes painfully obvious that business owners mistakenly think these platforms are THEIR platforms to control and monitor, rather than what they really are: a conduit for communication between the customer and the business.  Just as we cannot control human behavior, opinions and the ability to share those opinions offline, businesses are unable to do the same online.

So, what’s a social business to do?  Burn in hell or shower them with butterfly kisses?

Neither.  Here are few things to keep in mind, besides the obvious one of being genuine:

  • Recognize that the moment you step online, you’ve been given an enormous opportunity to listen, learn and engage with your customers and your fans.
  • Use each and every opportunity to respond, whether it’s negative or positive.
  • Understand that even the negative comments are opportunities to gain fans and increase loyalty  – IF you take the time to respond and demonstrate a genuine love of your business and your customers’ experiences.
  • Know that every time you ignore a negative comment you increase an opportunity to lose customers.

To Delete or Not to Delete

From time to time, you might actually have to delete a comment and if you are on Facebook, for example, block a user. I’ve had to do this once while managing a page for a restaurant.  After repeated attempts to engage, listen, and talk with the person offline, the negative comments and abusive language did not cease.  After discussing the situation with the owner and fully understanding what transpired to make the reviewer/commenter take to the Facebook page, we agreed to delete.

After we deleted the comment, the first thing we did was to head to the Facebook page and explain why.  The outpouring of support was huge, primarily because they had witnessed our attempts to address and listen.  Had we NOT been transparent in our attempts however, I’m certain there would have been additional backlash.

If you’re going to be bold, be consistent.

Let’s not discount a little thing called personality. If you’ve worked in restaurants at all, ever, you might notice that chefs can be ‘spirited’. Most all business owners are adventurous and passionate about their livelihood – start messing with that and you can bet that a fiery response could surface.

Since Quinn had been consistent in his attempts to address all negative reviews of his restaurant, and because he had an established reputation from Great Food Truck Race,  the potential for a backlash with Burn in Hell was minimized. Had he not been consistent online and in real life, this Yelp experience could have been a huge disaster.

Online engagement is not always accolades and well wishes.  It can be very real and very challenging, but if done right, very rewarding as well. Go on. Be bold and try it.


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