The power of the positive and damage of the negative

So, you have ‘given an hour’ and helped someone to get online for the very first time. They have subsequently spent every waking hour surfing the net and finding all sorts of useful information that they never knew existed, yet alone was accessible at the click of a mouse.

They have found old and new friends on Facebook, their house on Google StreetView, they’ve studied Twitter in bewilderment, they’ve gone to Amazon (because “they sell books, right?”, and quickly realised they sell almost anything you can think of!) and they’ve even started looking for next year’s holiday.

Your friend has also discovered that not only can they buy lots of things but they can find out what everybody else thinks about the book/car/hotel they’ve chosen because there are reviews on the website they are looking at.

The Internet truly is an amazing thing and for those of us in business it is an unbelievable tool, opening up markets and massive potential audiences.

But here’s the rub. No matter how hard you try, you can’t control what people say about your business online and there are plenty of forums for them to have their say. This can be amazingly powerful when they are saying positive things, but negative comments can really hurt you. Remember Michael McIntyre’s sketch about our obsession with searching through hundreds of positive TripAdvisor reviews in order to find one bad one?

Naturally, some people use this power to their advantage. Competitors are just as free to post on public forums as your customers, so they can cause mischief for you. Other people post fake positive reviews on their own listings to make themselves sound better.

All may be fair in love and war, but it certainly isn’t in business.

So, TripAdvisor decided to do something about it and has introduced a new Red Flag feature which warns consumers of activity that the site deems “suspicious”. Sounds good, right?

Not to Deborah Sinclair, the owner of Riverside Hotel and Restaurant in Evesham, Worcestershire. She has started defamation proceedings this week against TripAdvisor, requesting the disclosure of details that have given TripAdvisor cause to use its “red flag” feature on her hotel’s TripAdvisor page.

The page shows a red box featuring a warning sign and red text, stating that TripAdvisor has “reasonable cause to believe” that the hotel owners or affiliates “may have interfered with traveller reviews”.

Whether they have, or haven’t done this, is not known but what is clear is the immediate damage that the red flag will do to her business’ reputation. Nobody will trust any of the positive reviews and therefore their bookings are likely to plummet. No wonder they are taking action.

The lesson from all of this – you cannot control what people are saying about you so concentrate on running your business and providing your customers with an excellent service instead. Encourage your satisfied customers to leave reviews online and then, no matter how hard your detractors try, the positive comments and recommendations will always outweigh the negative ones.


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