I made my annual visit to the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business yesterday and presented my talk, “Web Marketing is Marketing” (if you are interested in the slides). But, as usual, my favorite part was the questions from the students. I got one yesterday that I have gotten many times before, but that I haven’t ever answered on this blog, “What if my competitor is fabricating bad reviews?”

What, indeed? It seems like a difficult question. I mean, sure we understand that we want to listen to social media and help customers who have had a problem. [Full disclosure: I serve as Chief Strategist a Converseon, a social media listening company.] But what if one of my competitors is posting those bad reviews of my prized product?

The truth is that you have no way to know. A clever competitor can post a bad review that looks perfectly legitimate: it’s a reputable message board, but it is a very negative review. So what you should do is to answer every comment as though it is legitimate. Most are, but what if some are faked?

The interesting thing about a fabricated review is that by engaging with the reviewer, you will smoke out the faker. Think about it. Suppose you get a review complaining about an awful experience. You see the post, you answer it, and you offer the reviewer a refund or a discount on their next purchase, or any number of compensations for what went wrong.

The average person in this situation would be grateful and pocket what you’ve offered. If that is what happens, then you are done. But if the poster was really your competitor, everything is different. The complainer might sneak off behind the scenes, never to be heard from again, or he might continue to complain, with no offer you make ever being satisfactory. And then, a remarkable thing generally happens. The complainer is told to shut up by other participants on the message board. They aren’t interested in someone who complains all the time, even when the company is going out of their way to do the right thing. Count on most people being fair and reasonable, and things will work out for you.

How about you? Has anyone ever fabricated a negative review about your business? What did you do?

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