If you have been one of the many Bainbridge Island organizations that have been requiring customers to wear a mask, or asking for proof of vaccination, your digital business reputation may be under sneak attack from un-earned negative reviews posted on Facebook, Yelp, Google, Instagram, TripAdvisor, etc.
These attacks are coming not only from American ‘customers’ but increasingly also from other countries, especially those in Europe. As part of an organized digital global crusade by anti-maskers and anti-vaxers, restaurants and bars have been prime targets, but any business is considered fair game.
At first the one-star reviews were typically direct rants about masks or vaccines, making them fairly easy for Yelp and Google algorithms to identify (or remove when business owners reported them directly). But, especially in the case of restaurants, the attackers have recently become more sophisticated, posting legitimate-sounding false complaints regarding poor service, beetles in the salad, or even roach sightings.
It’s pretty amazing to consider someone trolling the web, relishing in taking down a random business in another part of the world that they have never had any personal connection with, just because the owner was trying to protect customers and employees from a deadly pandemic.
So what can you do if your business has been targeted?
First of all, log in to your business account on each platform (you have one of those, right?), and/or reach out to their management via contact pages directly and ask them to take down the post(s). Vigilance is key – try to have someone check your key online accounts at least once a week to monitor what is going on. Turn on notifications where possible to find out when new reviews are posted.
Yelp and TripAdvisor have been pretty responsive to this issue, Facebook and Google not so much. Google will act if they consider that the review content is off-topic, like a rant about personal freedoms in a restaurant review. But a beetle-in-the-salad complaint is harder to get rid of, because in a moderator’s eyes it also might possibly be not fake. Persistence can bring results, but sometimes you will find yourself fighting a faceless automaton, one that will literally not listen. Repeated messages may trigger an actual human stepping in, but if not – recruit some humans of your own.
One thing you can do is ask your friends and loyal customers to write new positive reviews – new reviews appear at the top of the page of reviews, so the more you generate, the more swiftly the negative ones will be outnumbered and eventually drop off the bottom. If 95% of your reviews are four and five stars, most readers will realize that there might well be something fishy about the others. Bad actors are an unfortunate fact of digital life, but hopefully as all businesses are able to safely reopen fully, this form of attack may pass.
Everyone at the Bainbridge Chamber hopes this never happens to any of our members, but we would be interested to hear of any local business being targeted, what methods were attempted, and which (if any) were successful in dealing with the problem. We are standing by to then pass on those tips to the community at large.