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How Do You Handle Online Criticism?

Has your business been disparaged by online comments, such as a negative Facebook post or a Yelp review?

Do you know how to handle these comments?
 
Having a social media presence is a must for businesses these days.  It allows you to engage existing customers, recruit new customers, and hear directly from both groups.  If you have a new product or are offering a sale, advertising through your social media channels is often the most cost-effective.
 
But social media is also a two-way street.  Unlike traditional advertising, companies cannot control everything that is being said about them.  Many companies have had negative, often false, and sometimes quite vitriolic comments said about them online.  Companies sometimes spend precious time and resources responding to these disparaging remarks.
 
Clients often ask if they can sue the commentator.
 
The answer is yes. 
 
But you are unlikely to win and it will cost you quite a bit to lose.
 
Also, if Congress has its way, there will soon be greater protections for online commentators.  Last month, bipartisan sponsors introduced the SPEAK FREE Act of 2015.  The bill is intended to stop Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, otherwise known as SLAPPs, which are lawsuits that attempt to intimidate someone by dragging them through the court process and increasing their legal fees.  SLAPPs are the types of lawsuits that are often filed against online commentators.  The thinking is that the commentator will rather remove the post than have to spend the money to fight the lawsuit, even if it is a baseless claim.  The SPEAK FREE Act creates a process to delay court proceedings and potentially get claims dismissed if the defendants can show that the plaintiffs cannot prevail on the merits.
 
If you can't sue a bad reviewer, how should you respond to a negative online comment?

*    Drown Out the Noise: Encourage your customers to post honest, positive feedback online.  If you have several positive comments, that one negative comment will get drowned-out, making it less likely that someone actually reads it or, if someone does read it, it will seem out-of-place in comparison to all of the positive comments.
*    Contact the Social Media Company:  If it is something truly offensive or infringes on your intellectual property rights-for example, someone steals the recipe for your secret sauce and posts it on your Facebook page-then you should contact the social media company.  All of these social media companies have terms and conditions, which outline how and when they will remove posts.
 
If you are the target of a negative online comment, contact a member of MacDonald Illig's Emerging Technologies Practice Group to discuss your response.
 
Also, if you know of someone who may be interested in receiving these weekly updates, have that person contact vmadden@mijb.com.