What should you do if your photography business gets a negative review online? First, stop! Don't respond. Don't counterattack. No matter how unfair or unjust the review might be, no matter how anxious you feel about it, or how eager to tell your side of the story, the very first thing you need to do is stop.
Stop and think about your response
Take a breath and talk to a trusted person who cares about your business (a marketing person, a coach, a mentor, somebody along those lines). Don't respond until you've done that. It's incredibly hard to be objective when someone is trashing the business you have worked so hard to build, especially when it's untrue or for an unfair reason. As the photographer, you cannot be objective, and you are not going to make the best decisions unless you can get some space between you and the thing that's making you really angry – this online review.
If you don't have someone who cares about your business but is not directly involved in it that can give you objective advice, the first thing I'd ask is why not? You need someone like that for situations like this and lots of other ones that arise. You need someone to bounce thoughts and ideas off of. And I would say maybe the silver lining of a negative review is that it forces you to realize how much you could benefit from a person like that.
Weigh your options and formulate a plan before writing your response
Now, when it comes to actually dealing with a negative review, you have several options. Again, ideally, you have someone who can objectively help you walk through these options. You can just ignore it. If your business already has several good reviews to help soften the blow, this may not be such a bad idea. Depending on who left the review, responding to them might provoke them further. That being said, this is probably my least favorite option. Increasingly, online reviews really matter in purchasing decisions, and I would not want an unfair negative review to be out there.
Another option is you can contact Google, Facebook, LinkedIn or wherever it is posted because they all have a mediation process and try to get the post taken down. It’s not always an easy or quick process, as those platforms want to ensure that they aren’t removing legitimate reviews simply because they make you unhappy.
A third option is to try to talk to the person who made the post and work out your issues with them. Once the issue is resolved, ask them to take it down. That one is, of course, potentially dangerous, but if it works, it could work out in your favor.
The last, and most likely, option is to make an official response to the post. If you're going to respond, it's imperative that you have someone else read through your response before you post it. Don't ever draft your response to a negative review directly in the platform. Do it in Word or some other place where you’ll have time to gather and review your thoughts, and edit it, before posting.
By the way, the same goes for responding to an email that makes you really mad. The worst thing you can do is just fire off a response. Don't tempt yourself to do that. Read through your response in Word and send it along with the original post to the business peer we discussed earlier to get their thoughts on it. Let it sit for at least a few hours, if not overnight, and read it again to make sure you still feel like it's an appropriate response.
There is a right way and a wrong way to craft these responses. If you want to see the right way of doing it, look at hotel reviews. Corporate hotel chains generally do a really good job of responding to complaints. Put yourself in the shoes of a hotel customer and read some complaints that have responses to them and see which responses strike you as good or bad. It's not about your ego or responding to a personal attack. It's about what potential future clients will see and think when they see this review. If you come across as a jerk in your response, you can absolutely make things worse and turn off potential clients even further.
Don't do that.
While it may not feel that way, a negative online review can be a gift since it allows you to show that you are responsive and care about your customers. In fact, there are studies that show that a customer who has had a negative experience that is resolved well tends to be more loyal than one who has always been happy. This, of course, doesn’t mean you need to find ways to upset your customers, but it does indicate that responding well can be valuable to your business. Most people understand that mistakes happen; it is how they are resolved that makes a powerful impact on both current and prospective customers.
Encourage your clients to write positive reviews
With that said, when is the last time you asked your really satisfied clients to write reviews for you? Most happy clients would be glad to provide a positive review, they just don’t think of it without a little prompting. Make it easy for them by providing direct links to review pages on your website, in your email signature and anywhere else that makes sense. Most will be happy to oblige. Keep in mind, though, that it's against most review site policies to reward people for writing reviews, so I wouldn't recommend offering them a discount or some sort of monetary reward for their reviews.
There are plenty of people who love your photography business and would be happy to leave a positive review if you just ask them to. So consider this a reminder to make sure you have recently asked people specifically and individually to write a positive review for your business. And if you get a negative review? Don’t let it ruin things for you. Now you have options for responding that will keep those isolated incidents from overtaking all the positive ones.
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