Deceptive Review Management Can Cause Big Trouble Skip to Main Content

Bribes, NDAs and Fake Photos: How Trying to Strong Arm Online Reviews Can Get You Beat Up

Did you hear about the Seattle plastic surgeon who recently faced legal trouble for restricting online reviews by requiring patients to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) before treatment to prohibit them from posting negative reviews about his practice?

The NDA also required patients to agree to “pay monetary damages to the practice for any losses” if they did not remove negative online reviews.

That’s not all! This unethical practitioner also allegedly:

  • Offered bribes in the form of cash, free services or products to remove reviews.
  • Threatened lawsuits if negative online reviews weren’t taken down.
  • Manipulated patient before-and-after photos to misrepresent the actual results of procedures.

According to Forbes, “Even more importantly than the legal risks, asking patients to restrict their rights sends a terrible message to a doctor’s patients. Basically, it tells patients that the doctor doesn’t trust them enough to tell the truth online. That distrust, at the beginning of an often long-term and vital relationship, permanently undermines the doctor-patient relationship.”

This may seem like an extreme example, but it illustrates a critical point: Online reviews are a primary method of creating

trust and credibility in today’s complex digital landscape. They influence customer decisions and shape the reputation of your business.

Yet, some businesses resort to unethical and potentially illegal tactics like offering discounts or freebies and worse in exchange for silence on negative experiences.

Don’t be tempted by this quick fix. Suppressing negative reviews will not only hurt your credibility but can also backfire spectacularly and lead to legal trouble in the long run.

Deceptive Practices Can Backfire Spectacularly

At its core, manipulating online reviews by posting fake positive ones or trying to bury negative feedback is deceptive.

You’re essentially lying to potential customers about the reality of your products or services. This goes against principles of transparency, honesty and integrity that any reputable business should uphold.

This type of dishonesty when dealing with negative online reviews will lead to:

  • Erosion of Trust: Potential customers are savvy and will definitely see through your desperate attempts to manipulate reviews. Suppressing negativity breeds suspicion and severely damages your brand image.
  • Missed Opportunities: Negative reviews, while inconvenient, often offer valuable insights for improving certain aspects of your business. Ignoring them hinders growth and customer satisfaction.

According to the American Medical Association, “Remember that your online reputation is not destroyed with one bad review … a few bad reviews will not stand out as the norm when there are many good reviews.”

  • Potential Legal Issues: Review platforms have clear guidelines against manipulating reviews. Breaching these rules can lead to being suspended from certain platforms.

Google is notorious for suspending Google Business Profiles that violate its terms and conditions.

Additionally, practices like forcing customers to sign NDAs to suppress negative reviews may violate the Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA) and lead to serious legal trouble.

The financial and reputational damage from these legal penalties isn’t worth the temporary benefit of a rosier online review profile. It’s simply not an advisable or sustainable strategy for your business.

Focus on Building Genuine Advocacy

Rather than looking for shady workarounds, the best approach when it comes to your online review strategy is to deliver consistently excellent products and customer service that generate authentic positive reviews:

  • Prioritize Customer Satisfaction: Make exceeding customer expectations your top priority. Happy customers naturally become your brand champions and will inevitably leave glowing reviews.
  • Encourage Honest Feedback: Actively request reviews, both positive and negative. Use them as opportunities to learn and improve.According to Search Engine Land, “Customers appreciate it when they feel heard. They want to know you are taking their review seriously. The way you respond to a negative review can significantly impact how prospective customers perceive your company.”
  • Be Prompt with Your Response: This shows you value customer perspectives. Furthermore, consider responding privately to reviewers first when appropriate to resolve issues directly.According to Search Engine Journal, “If someone is upset enough to leave a negative review, they usually do it pretty soon after the negative experience takes place. And they’re going to expect a fairly swift response back.”
  • Respond Authentically: Address all reviews, showing customers you care about their feedback. Transparency builds trust and encourages genuine positivity.According to Google for Small Business, “When responding, keep in mind that your responses are public for everyone to read. You’ll want to keep your message short and courteous (even if you disagree with the reviewer), and avoid getting too personal or being salesy by offering incentives or advertisements.”
  • Create an Effective Online Review Solicitation Strategy: Determine your best online review platforms, make it easy for customers to leave online reviews, set up a system to regularly solicit reviews, monitor your online reviews and reward employees who get mentioned in positive reviews.

Best and Worst Practices for Responding to Negative Online Reviews

Build Customer Loyalty Through Transparency and Responsiveness

Bottom line: Trying to game the system with fake reviews may provide a fleeting boost but has devastating ethical and legal consequences.

Maintain your integrity as a business. The positive reviews will follow naturally over time.

By focusing on building genuine customer loyalty, you’ll cultivate a base of advocates who will leave positive online reviews that resonate with potential clients.

Remember, when it comes to online reviews, authentic customer voices are far more powerful than stifled negativity.

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