Reputation Management Dilemma – The Review From Hell

This post recently showed up in the forums:

Link to your local Google+ page
Business name (as it is in your account): Bakersfield Funeral Home
Business location: 3121 19th Street, Bakersfield, CA 93301, USA
Business telephone: 661-871-8080
Business category: Funeral Home
Website: www.bakersfieldfuneral.com

An ex employee is trying to hurt the business after being fired for unprofessional misconduct. They made a fake google account and posted an abusive comment on our google listing and Google+ business page. Can you remove the comment and block his IP address from posting on our listing and Google+?

I followed the link to the local page and found this devastating (and only) review:

review-marijuana

He is in the funeral business so the obvious advice of asking your clients for additional reviews seems to be (wildly) inappropriate. “Gee I know that your loved one just died but if you were happy with the funeral would you mind leaving us a review?” or “Rate your funeral on a scale of one to ten, ten meaning you are willing to leave us a review.”  A clear non starter.

The only idea that struck me as reasonable was to encourage the businesses he does business with to add reviews from the G+ Pages per this David Mihm suggestion.

As Miriam Ellis noted to me in an email: Okay – that is truly terrible! Kind of made me wonder, if this is an ex-employee, if they actually made all of these details up or if any of it was true. 

Which is exactly the problem with this sort of review (assuming it is by an employee). It leaves the impression that it could possibly be true which really complicates the matter. Because of the way it was written it is very unlikely (although possible) that it would be removed by Google. If it is a fake employee review then the ex-employee really knew how to write it in a way that would be convincing.

Let’s assume that it is an employee. And that it is untrue.

What would you would suggest?

Is there a possible response that can be crafted to the review? What would it be?

Is this the rare time that legal action might be recommended?

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Reputation Management Dilemma - The Review From Hell by

15 thoughts on “Reputation Management Dilemma – The Review From Hell”

  1. What I’d probably do if this happened to me:

    – Add photos of the place to the listing that would specifically display the areas mentioned in the review. Do the same thing with the business website.
    – Consider hiring a photographer for a Business Photos session.
    – After all this is up, write something in the line of: “As it is visible from the photos on our profile (and elsewhere on the web), the description of the place this user provided is untruthful. We believe this review has been left either by mistake, or by our competitor. It has been reported to Google for removal.”

  2. @Nyagoslav

    I wonder if there is a state inspection system that he could request a visit from? And then quote the report.

    Your photo idea is a good one although some of the claims are related to off site activities.

  3. Thanks Nyagoslav and Mike. Took 2 of the 3 suggestions that immediately came to mind.

    1. Refutable Pics that you can link to in your response.

    2. Inspection Agency – even if there’s not, then have a news report done by reputable local station that would provide WAY more someone hiding behind a 60 second review.

    3. A little tougher – (you don’t want to turn this into a tourist attraction) but open the doors to private tours so people can come see for themselves.

    My jaw dropped as I kept reading through that review. I guess it could always be worse, but that one’s pretty bad…

  4. Howdy Mike,
    I had a similar situation occur with a client where an employee of five days was disciplined and then quit. The ex-employee launched a social media campaign against my client and complained to the state regulatory agency overseeing my client’s business. My client had and still has lots of great reviews, but impact of an avalanche of negative reviews, written as an insider to the business, was terrible.
    What did we do? The owner posted even-tempered responses to each of the reviews. Because the reviews alleged illegal conduct, several websites agreed to remove or filter the reviews. We were able to hide and block the former employee from the business Facebook page. My client’s lawyer sent the reviewer a cease and desist letter, but did not sue. My client also passed the inspection by the state regulatory agency with flying colors.
    What to do here? You hit one of the problems faced by this business in asking for reviews and another problem is that most of the clients are older and may not be review or social media savvy. However, a funeral home that’s been in business for awhile often serves generations of families and the business owner should be able to come up with a short list of five to ten clients who might be willing to and young enough to help. Explain the situation to these friends of the business and ask them to help by leaving great reviews in defense of the funeral home business reputation. Of course, provide the boosters with links to the targeted reviews websites and give them instructions for leaving the reviews.
    As for suing? Is the reviewer judgement proof? I would suspect so. Another difficulty with defamation suits is proving damages — how much business did the funeral home lose due to the reviews? If defamation per se can be proven, the plaintiff does not have to prove damages. The definition of defamation per se varies from state to state, but in Texas it is “statements that (1) unambiguously charge a crime, dishonesty, fraud, rascality, or general depravity or (2) that are falsehoods that injure one in his office, business, profession, or occupation. Main v. Royall, 348 S.W.3d 318, 390.” Are these statements defamation per se? Possibly so, but a cease and desist letter from a lawyer might be all I’d recommend against a judgement proof defendant.
    Thanks for discussing this great topic, Paul

  5. # Nyagoslav your suggestion is very creative, and makes a lot of sense… responding to the ‘accusations’ with facts; and your response is written in such a way as to quell some of the fears that many would have after reading the review. Perhaps leaving off the “It has been reported to Google for removal.”… just in case Google didn’t remove the review, and it’s still up months later. People may think, if Google didn’t remove the review after it was reported, maybe it’s a ‘real’ review.

  6. While I agree they can’t ask or reviews like some other businesses can as well as asking or reviews from family/friends as @paul suggested, they could try very casually and very briefly mentioning that business is down due to a fake review in Google lately.

    Also the review is a little over the top and so pictures and video of the building looking in great shape as others have suggested would almost make the review look like a joke.

    Could also try to get another business or two in the same town that has fake reviews and approach the local news with the problem.

  7. Assuming the review is fake and the funeral home is a really good business…

    1) If this is a fake account, Google will probably filter it soon. So don’t respond to it. Just leave it alone.

    2) A good company will have lots of people that deal with it that aren’t direct customers and would be happy to write positive reviews. Vendors, accountant, other local businesses in the community, etc. people like to help good people out so just start asking for helpful and honest reviews from these other people.

    3) Don’t make a big deal about it. Just like people aren’t going to write reviews about their funeral experience, I doubt a lot of people are going to go to Google+ to find a funeral home. So don’t make a public fuss about it and draw attention to it.

    4) Get out in the real world and network. Talk to pastors/priests, nursing home administrators, doctors, nurses, etc. these are probably the people that are going to be most influential in this kind of decision.

    5) Be great. People don’t make decisions in a vacuum. Provide great service (regardless of your industry) and word will spread. Not to be crass but a dead person isn’t the only person at the funeral. Make sure everyone that attends sees how respectful, clean, and caring you are and you’ll be fine.

    Of course, if the review is true, then people are probably already aware of what’s going on and no amount of Google/Yelp triage is going to help.

  8. Lots of great ideas and notes taken, thanks!

    Also, as a former Sr. editor for a newspaper, I first caught onto the terrible grammar, punctuation, and spelling (cringe). So, though key phrases from the review do stick in my brain, just the fact that the review was nowhere near professional grade (or even that of somebody who’s educated) would also cause me (as a consumer looking for a funeral home) to figure it spam or false anyway.

  9. Is google now filtering reviews in such a way to identify that review, and to also take it down? What parameters is it using?

    Very creative ideas above. What a conundrum. This type of review does not violate google’s review standards. It reads like a real review…..whether it is or isn’t.

    While yelp is often seen as odious or problematic, in the event this is bogus and in the event this is the only review by this person….this is where yelp’s filter on new reviewers can come into play in a favorable context.

    Meanwhile the ideas above are creative and excellent.

  10. I’m not aware of any ‘filtering’ of G+ accounts to see which are ‘fake”. However I see some SMB’s getting 100’s of reviews (where the competition have 3, 6, or 12 reviews). For example a plumbing company, where the majority of the reviews are from accounts with nothing more than a headshot and basic info about a person who does live in the area of the plumbing company. (I checked by searching for other listings of the name in the area). The reviewers have little to no one in their circles (& vice versa). It could be that they created an account just to write a stunning review about their plumber who fixed their toilet. But after writing so passionately about the plumber for xyz company, in xyz city, (keyword after keyword in the review) they never bothered to write another review about anything? I look at the reviews for some of these companies (who are hooked up with aggressive SEO firms), and wonder how it’s all coming together. Sometimes I’m just too trusting ;-)

  11. I could be wrong but I’ve got to think that now that Google has unified logins across all their assets (Google+, Gmail, Google Docs, etc) it should be easy for them to identify a valid account holder vs a bogus account.

    Even if someone doesn’t maintain their Google Plus page and has only written a single review, Google can tell from their active Gmail usage that they’re a legit person.

    In the example Mike listed in the post, my assumption was that the person created a single Google asset account to just write this one review. If that account never really accesses any more of Googledom, those reviews have to be pulled down, right?

    Side note, this is the big advantage Google should have over Yelp – Google has a lot more information on people writing reviews – especially if they’re Gmail users.

  12. We do local shout outs about and for local businesses and have come across businesses owners that needed to take a more proactive roll in monitoring their reviews.
    Some legit and some not. Getting business owners to take a proactive part in their reviews online can be challenging to say the least.

    The cease and desist notice from an attorney sounds plausible in this case and might work.

    Yet on the other hand getting high profile people in the local community to help respond to this in an honest way would have its merits as will.

    Video rebuttal from the accused party (maybe using hangouts on air?) and possible a press release before driving traffic to that video could get it ranked if needed to get the message ranked.

    Personally we’re considering informing local business owners of “Get Five Stars” (http://www.expand2web.com/getfivestars/) to help them monitor their reviews.

    I have no association with this company (yet). But when you see the professional approach and how the system works it’s a no brainier. Especially for only $29 @ month.

    Just saying … :-)

  13. I’ve always felt that from a business owner it’s best to provide an honest response. Some thing like: “We feel the assessment of our facilities in this review was unfounded and invite any one to view our premises at any time”.

    Also, it might be a good idea to post several pictures of your facility into the G+ profile, link your G+ profile to your YouTube channel where you have a “facility tour”

    I also agree with Google’s suggestions:
    https://support.google.com/places/answer/184271?hl=en
    In fact, I’ve always thought that if a business owner responds professionally, that would be how they would respond to me if there were an issue to arise with my service/purchase.

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