Color Me [My Business] Badd – or The Value of a Bad Review

Est. Reading Time: 4 minutes

As social media and traditional internet continue to blur their boundaries, the availability of online reviews has never been higher.  You can read about people’s experiences with given companies in blog posts, on forums, in countless yellow page directories, and even on Twitter or other social media.  Have you searched for you company in Twitter yet?  You may find what your customers are saying about you to be very interesting and/or surprising.  Good reviews offer free online advertising, but bad reviews may be even more valuable!  If the latter part of that statement seems odd to you, read on…

There are three primary benefits that a bad review can offer.  You might be able to think of more, but I think most can fit under these large umbrellas:

  • First, bad reviews add credibility to the good ones.  If I see a product listed on a retail page that has 100% glowing reviews, I tend to take it with a grain of salt.  No company leaves its customers 100% satisfied.  This leads me to believe that these responses are fluff and possibly even bought and paid.  However, a site that shows a product/service to have 85% positive reviews has more credibility.  Here, it is less likely that the site manager is screening or cherry picking reviews.  There is an acknowledgment that the product/service may not be for everybody.  As a consumer, I still learn that the vast majority of the customers were happy with their purchase and the information is more believable.
  • Second, bad reviews show you where your company can improve.  This follows the old adage that we learn more from our mistakes than our successes.  Your customers may see your business much differently than you do.  Learn from this – odds are that one bad review online represents many angry customers overall.  If you are not meeting their expectations, you may have to adjust your business or how you are marketing/presenting it.
  • Third, and most important from a web marketing perspective, ANY review offers exposure.  By reading reviews, SEOs can learn what keywords people are linking with a brand  Getalistic has a good methodology to follow for using reviews to improve your product/service descriptions:  read here.  Sometimes, reviewers will even link to your company’s site.  The search engines do not care that this is a bad review, that link still has clout for your Google rankings.  At the end of the day, people talking about you and your company is far better than being forgotten or ignored.

None of this is to say that ALL publicity is good publicity.  JetBlue was once seen as a legitimate competitor to Southwest Airlines as the king of airline efficiency, but its image still has not fully recovered from stranding thousands of passengers (including leaving planes on the runway for up to 8 hours) after a snowstorm in February of 2007.  This came just two years after Thomas Friedman raved about their efficient information systems consisting of mothers-working-from-their-homes-across-the-entire-country in his best seller The World is Flat.  It turns out that it was a great system…as long as everything was working perfectly.  When it fell apart, the results were disastrous and JetBlue saw its stock price fall 70% over the next year.

Take all this advice within reason.  If you are getting 5-15% bad reviews, use them to build and improve your business.  If you are getting 80% bad reviews, go back to school and learn a new trade.

Finally, I leave you with this takeaway – encourage all your customers to write and publish reviews online, even the dissatisfied ones.  Put a link to your Twitter or Facebook feed on your site, or send people to your favorite yellow pages directory and ask them to review their experience.  Do not try to act as a censor (provided that it is not obvious spam or an attack from a competitor), encourage free expression and feedback.  Your ego may take a hit, but your business will love it.

-EW, follow me on twitter: @ejwestksu