If you’ve been in business for a while, you’ll surely have faced backlash from dissatisfied customers or disgruntled former employees. Even the world’s largest companies struggle with negative reviews, fraudulent accusations and outright smear campaigns. And the abundance of online channels through which consumers and competitors can vent their frustrations has created a breeding ground for fraud.
But, even as a young entrepreneur with smaller start-ups, there are ways for you to triumph over the negativity. You can always keep pushing your business forward, even when you’re under attack. The first step is to believe in what you’re doing, and understand that attempts to bring you down are usually done because of your success, not in spite of it. Then it’s about assessing why you’re being attacked, and deciding the best way to handle each case.
In this article, I’ll explain why people conduct this kind of ‘complaint scam’ against your business, and what you can do to fight it. We’ll discuss how to build a powerful personal brand that you can leverage to protect your reputation for years to come.
Unfortunately, the internet is saturated with anonymously-run ‘forums’ on which users can post complaints about businesses. These websites are able to hide behind legislation in section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which relieves them of any responsibility for content posted on their sites by third parties.
But by understanding the mentality of these fraudsters, and by knowing what you can do to protect yourself from scams, your business won’t have to suffer.
So why exactly do people post defamatory articles online about businesses and business owners?
When is it fair comment, and when is it a scam?
Representatives of competing businesses sometimes turn to fraud as a means to smear their competitors. Negative reviews can damage a business’s capacity to hire top talent, attain new customers and secure new trading partners. So it’s easy to see why a competitor would post, or commission an individual to post, defamatory content about a competing business. Particularly when they consider it a serious threat.
In some industries, data thieves can leave an organization with enough insights to set up their own competing venture. In these cases, they can attempt to gain the upper hand by posting defamatory content about their former employer. This is a particularly dishonourable way to do business, but it’s something that I have been unfortunate enough to encounter.
Some internet trolls are audacious enough to demand payment in exchange for removing defamatory content that they’ve published about your business. Our companies have been presented with this scam on numerous occasions. But relenting to these scammers only increases the odds that you will be held hostage by the same person again in the future.
The unfortunate truth is that many consumer complaint sites themselves use negative reviews and fraudulent complaints as an earning tool. RipoffReport, for example, has a ‘Corporate Advocacy Program’ in which reviews are updated with mitigating statements in exchange for payment. Other sites will remove reviews completely if a ‘third-party’ panel agrees that the company was subject to a scam. Naturally, they charge a fee for this service.
Posting defamatory comments about a business can also be a means for someone to vent frustration at losing their job. Letting somebody go from one of our companies is never an easy decision, and it’s natural for some to take it badly. But exhibiting emotional fragility on a site like Glassdoor does neither party any favours.
It’s well known that jobseekers who express resentment towards a former employer in an interview can damage their chances of landing the job. And channeling rage into a Glassdoor review only perpetuates a victim mentality that hurts jobseekers from moving onto a more suitable position.
So, if you’re under attack right now, what action should you take?
1. Don’t let it shake you.
You should never let the comments of one individual break your entrepreneurial spirit. Do business honourably and believe in your strategy. Stick to what you do well, commit to your core values and continue to work on achieving your business vision.
Ultimately, defamation and fraud are some of the costs of doing business, particularly when your products are highly visible in the marketplace. You will not find a successful business out there that doesn’t periodically come under attack from trolls and scammers. And when you, as an entrepreneur, are targeted personally, it can be difficult not to take it personally. But being a strong leader is about navigating these attacks and staying on course.
2. Work on your brand.
Not having a strong brand means you are not in control of your company’s narrative. This leaves you vulnerable to attack from negative reviews and defamatory content, which are far more visible and influential without other positive content to drown it out.
Invest in branding and ensure that your company has a solid content strategy. As well as protecting your reputation, a strong brand helps to increase trust in the marketplace, keeps your employees connected to your business vision and creates a more attractive customer experience. When the perception of you and your company accurately reflects the value you offer to consumers and your employees, you will become less vulnerable to defamation scams.
3. Pick your battles.
Every case of defamation or fraud needs to be handled appropriately. Some articles will be removed if you just reach out to the host and state your position in a calm manner. Others require legal challenge, which you might consider to be worth pursuing if the comments are particularly damaging. Google also tends to be quite fair at de-indexing defamatory articles, but sometimes they will just wipe the title text and snippet and keep links alive.
The key is to pick your battles. Some negative reviews are just par for the course. Others are written so blatantly out of malice that readers will just see right through the scam. Do what you can to fight for what is right. But also accept that some articles are not as damaging as they look.
Now, go forth!
Ultimately, ‘complaint’ fraud can be a demoralizing prospect for business owners. It’s difficult to stomach reading something that’s blatantly untrue about you or your business. But by committing to the values that have brought you success in business, you’ll prosper above the scammers.