EXTORTION!!!! SCAM!!! That’s how many describe the review site Ripoff Report. Ripoff Report is a for-profit website that many claim runs on the philosophy of being a BBB – “bad” business bureau. The website claims that it serves consumers by providing a platform for anonymous complaints. Having worked with numerous businesses that have been listed on Ripoff Report, I know the frustration that hardworking honest business owners feel when their reputation is being attacked online by anonymous sources. If this is the first time that you have been hit by a tarnishing review on the Ripoff Report, and you are looking for answers, then I hope this post proves helpful.
When you are listed on Ripoff Report, there are two unfortunate truths you must face immediately.
People Will See It
Ripoff Report ranks very highly in Google’s search results and typically appears on the first page when a user searches for your business’ name.
Legal Action Won’t Likely Help
Despite dozens of lawsuits, very few, if any, reviews have ever been deleted from the website.
The founder of the Ripoff Report, Ed Magedson, has defended more than 100 defamation lawsuits since the website’s inception in 1998 – and has never lost a single case. Magedson describes his website as the following:
“The “Ripoff Report” serves people who are concerned about being cheated. This website allows people to be armed with the opinions, comments, and experiences of others like them so they can determine for themselves if they want to do business with certain listed companies or individuals.”
Unlike many review sites, Ripoff Report allows its review authors to remain anonymous by practicing the first amendment that free speech includes the right to remain anonymous.
What Can I Do?
Ripoff Report offers a limited number of ways for businesses to respond to a negative listing. One program called the “Ripoff Report Verified” to restore your business’ reputation, but because it is pay to play. Restaurant or business owners can go through the process to become a Verified Ripoff Report business, where they earn a badge and can display their comments above any other negative complaints. Ripoff Report insists that it is a trustworthy way for businesses to repair their reputation and would complement any other public relations strategy.
Regardless if you intend to play the Ripoff Report game and go through the verification process, there are activities you can engage it to mitigate the damages of a public relations crisis resulting from a devastating complaint or review from the website.
>>Related post: A guide to fake restaurant reviews, and what you can do about them
That Sounds Like Extortion! Isn’t There More That I Can Do?
Step 1: Remain calm
The last thing you should do at this time is to make a hotheaded public statement about the reviewer, the review, or the Ripoff Report website itself. No matter how outrageous, false, or defamatory the review is, your reputation should suffer even more if you demonstrate anger, denial, or attempt to brush off the review. Analyze and examine the complaint, and investigate it thoroughly. Is it valid? Is it fake? Assemble a crisis management team to prepare approved statements and messaging should you be contacted by the media about the review.
>>Related post: How to handle the media during a PR crisis with former Fox 13 Consumer Lawyer Eric Seidel
Step 2: Issue a response
If the complaint made is a valid one, make a public response to them that shows you care about the customer’s experience and have every intention of making it right. Many restaurant owners must juggle between discerning fake reviews from legitimate ones, and their response to your earnest attempt to correct the situation will indicate which category their complaints falls under. Be sure to provide them with a phone number or customer service form so you can not only get more information about the incident but take the conversation offline and out of the Internet’s eye.
Step 3: Put your white hat on
In the search engine optimization world, “white hat” refers to all activities that are legitimately used to improve search rankings for websites, unlike black hat tactics which involve link farms and other shady practices. Issue a PR release about something your restaurant or business is doing, perhaps donating to a charity, hosting a fundraiser, or another activity that is beneficial to the community. If you can generate positive comments from customers and get the attention of the press to cover your story, you will suppress the negative remarks from Ripoff Report and move them further down the search results page.
Step 4: If it applies, consider arbitration or a lawsuit
A recent change to the Ripoff Report’s service is that it now offers a VIP (Voluntary, Impartial, Private) arbitration service which costs $2,000 to file a complaint if the statements are false and can be proven as such. You will need to provide evidence that the facts of the review were false, and there is no guarantee that the review will be removed, as Ripoff Report typically favors the consumer as it considers itself a platform for the public, not business owners.
However, if there are comments of a highly defamatory nature involving rape, violent crimes, or other accusations of that nature, you have the option of hiring a libel attorney to represent you. Your attorney will produce a court order to demonstrate the falsehood of the accusations, and if granted, Ripoff Report will remove the false statements.
(While the author is not an attorney, please bear in mind that this blog does not constitute legal advice. However, research has shown that attempting to sue Ripoff Report will get you nowhere, because it is protected by the first amendment and freedom of speech.)
Step 5: Hire an experienced marketing company to manage your reputation
If your business has been maligned by a negative review on Ripoff Report or elsewhere, you may consider hiring a team of digital experts to monitor, maintain, and manage your online reputation. While it may seem like the end of the world when a customer tears your restaurant apart online, these comments are opportunities to turn your haters into advocates. Contact Absolute Marketing Solutions if you need help repairing, managing, or elevating your restaurant or business’ reputation. We’ll start with a free digital audit and devise a strategy to make you in full control of your brand.