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With the staggering shift to all-things-digital, restaurant owners now more than ever are forced to learn restraint, especially if a customer posts an online complaint for the public to see.
That's why it's important to develop a "neutralizer."
"A good approach when reading these reviews is to build a mechanism of not taking it personally. You need a neutralizer. Strip off the personal stuff and get to the nuts and bolts," said Dan Simons, partner at the Farmers Restaurant Group. "It's important to not be defensive, but rather how to be prepared and respond."
Simons, along with Adele Cehrs, CEO and founder of Epic PR Group, and attorney David Wachen, shared some tips on how to be prepared for online attacks during a National Restaurant Association webinar presentation Wednesday.
Top 10 online complaints
Simons broke down the top 10 online complaints about restaurants, which include:
"Since social media gets into hot topics, you get really specific complaints," he said. "And you wonder who has time to write such a long review. But those Yelpers are really valuable to your business."
Murky legal territory
Although you may feel defamed if a negative online comment is posted to a busy site, that doesn't necessarily mean you have a viable legal case against the poster. Wachen said there are a lot of grey areas when it comes to online speech and very few lawsuits brought on by a business have been successful.
He suggests adopting a social media policy that makes it clear who is supposed to speak for the company and who is not. Also, if a news organization has picked up a story based on negative posts, don't ever say "no comment."
"The piece is going to run anyway, so you may as well have a voice in the article," Cehrs added.
Wachen said that if suing is not the best option, there are other avenues to take. Getting your attorney on board early and perhaps issuing a cease and desist letter are two such resolutions.
"Suing is usually the last choice and often we don't get there because it's difficult to win cases with protected opinion versus defamation. If someone calls your service 'lousy,' you can't prove that. It's an opinion," he said.
If negative comments really spiral out of control, a business can be faced with, what Cehrs calls, a SPIKE moment — Sudden Point of Interest that Kicks up Exposure.
"SPIKES are when the whole world stops and everyone starts paying attention to your brand," she said, pointing to examples such as Amy's Bakery and Susan G. Komen. "You can't prepare for everything. What you can prepare for is where you're the most vulnerable, and you get that information from online reviews."
To take advantage of that information, be sure to avoid spending too much time hashing out why the negative comments are unfair. Cehrs said time wasted having such a conversation would be better spent responding and resolving the issue.
Also, gather all of the information so you know exactly what's going on, and assign a person of action to respond on your company's behalf.
Importantly, hire someone to monitor online chatter about your brand.
"If you tell me it's not in your budget to hire another person, I will tell you that you can't afford not to," Simons said. "Whether you have one, 50 or 1,000 restaurants, this is scalable."
The person in charge of navigating the conversations should also be tasked with responding quickly.
"People like it when someone engages them. They may start off angry, but that will turn around so fast if you respond to them directly," Simons said. "You want to drive the momentum."
Here are 10 suggestions from the panelists on how to be best prepared when inundated with negative online posts/comments or reviews.
Photo provided by Wikimedia.