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How to Handle Negative Online Reviews Our PR expert Ivan Ristic discusses how businesses should handle negative comments on social media and review sites like Yelp.

By Ivan Ristic

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Q: How should small businesses respond to negative reviews through social media and on sites like Yelp?
- Dara Khautisen
Chicago

A: Negative social media reviews, especially those that are potentially malicious, are near the top of the list of nightmare scenarios for small business owners and entrepreneurs. But don't panic. The last thing you want is to become the next Amy's Baking Company, the restaurant that became famous for lashing out at customers.

Related: 4 Lessons From the Nightmarish Amy's Baking Company

As a business owner putting your heart and soul into pursuing your passion, it's all too easy to act first in the face of negativity and have regrets later. Hold your tongue.

Before you formulate a strategy for addressing criticism, you need to determine if the comment or review is true. Investigate before taking action. Could this be a competitor spreading a rumour or something that has happened that nobody's told you about? Once you figure out the basis of the comment, follow the below steps:

The statement is factually incorrect: If a statement made is untrue (not just an opinion you disagree with), you have the right to ask for the comment to be removed or retracted. While in theory that seems simple, in reality getting a comment removed can be a tricky.

It can only be successful if you are able to provide conclusive supporting evidence which shows, without a doubt, the comment is factually incorrect. If you can't provide proof, the sad truth is you won't get anywhere asking for removal.

If you do have factual evidence and the site doesn't take down the negative statement or review, you should consider correcting the post in the comments section. Lay out the conclusive facts in a professional manner and don't make it personal.

Related: Got a Bad Yelp Review? Here's What to Do

If a comment is factually true, but negative: Make sure you present your side of the story, and be honest. If you can, add a comment to the post explaining your rational in a non-hostile way and how you plan on addressing the situation.

If you sense a protracted back-and-forth could occur, it's a good idea to try and take the conversation offline. State your willingness to receive any questions or comments through email. Make sure you, or a senior-level staff member, personally addresses the complaint.

One tactic you need to avoid is creating new "personas," or fake accounts, to support your position in blogs, forums and message boards, as you'll likely be caught.

Remember prevention is better than a cure. This situation can often be avoided (or at least substantially mitigated) by ensuring you are tuned into social media at all times, not just when there's an emergency. Cultivate your business's fans to proactively share their experiences and recommendations online. Consumers are smart enough to sniff out and ignore one odd-ball negative review in a sea of positive ones.

What other advice do you have for handling negative online reviews? Let us know in the comments below.

Ivan Ristic is President and co-founder of Diffusion, a communications agency with offices in New York and London. 

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