Marketing Insight
Published Article: How to Respond to Negative Online Reviews

Posted on December 12, 2017 at 12:32 PM by Caroline Smyth

Published in the December 2017 Educate Plus Face to Face Magazine.

“Why are people so unkind?“ said the great philosopher Kamahl.

In all seriousness, I’m sure many of you will have already come across negative reviews and comments posted about your school and teaching staff online.

Online Reputation Management, in its simplest definition, is controlling how others see you when they look for you online.It includes such things as online reviews, forum comments, Facebook posts, image uploads, unauthorised use of names, satirical "meme" pages and copyrighted imagery.

Negative reviews are the most common problem we get asked to consult on. Not usually because they are negative, but because they are either untrue, exaggerated and sometimes even defamatory. Here are some strategies on how to respond to such reviews.

Firstly, we think it’s important to reply to most negative reviews. This is because reviews that appear legitimate but remain unanswered signal to other prospective parents that (a) you are disinterested and/or (b) the review may actually be accurate. With this in mind, and even if the reviews are quite old, we encourage our clients to respond.

There are 4 main personas we need to understand when working out how and if a response is required.

Let’s start with Angry Adam. This reviewer feels let down or ripped off by your school. He is usually an ex-parent or ex-student and is already known to the leadership team. Adam wants to be heard, feel validated and bring your school some pain for what he has been through. The way to deal with Adam is to ask for more specific information and take the conversation offline. If you know who Adam is, try to reach out to him by email and ask for more specific information so you can follow up. Our advice is to immediately add a reply to his review after the initial email is sent. It would be something like “Hi Adam, We’re disappointed to hear of your experience at Barrett College. We have reached out to via email to discuss this further. Please get in touch. Regards, Jane (”

A simple comment like this helps balance the review as there is now a response that implies action is going to take place. For a prospective parent, this dramatically reduces the power that the previously unanswered review might have had.

Another persona we often see is Helpful Harry. This reviewer wants to share his experiences with the world so other people can make an informed decision. Our advice in this scenario is to respond with a comment like “Dear Harry, My name is Esther and I do appreciate you taking the time to give us your feedback. We’d like to discuss this further with you so please email so we can work out how best to get in contact. Regards, Esther

Trying to justify or engage on the comments thread will only entice more chatter, which is not what we want to achieve. The aim is to respond briefly and move the conversation offline. We find that personalising (or signing off) your response helps bring credibility and empathy to the situation.

Our third persona is Bandwagon Betty. In 95% of cases, Betty has absolutely nothing to do with your school but jumps at the chance to add her opinion to a cause that has been mentioned somewhere else online or in print. Common examples include building developments that have an effect on the local environment, student or teacher scandals and religious or political positions taken by the school.

It’s important to quickly reassure the writer, highlight the facts (if possible) in a friendly tone and refer then to an official statement to keep updated. If a multitude of Bandwagon Betty reviews come in all at once over a short period, there is a high chance you’ll be able to get these successfully removed.

Finally, Troublemaker Terri is just online to be a nuisance. You can spot Terri as her posts normally make little or no sense, are highly inflammatory or have been cut and pasted multiple times.

Our advice is to ignore Terri and flag the post as SPAM or off-topic. You’ll have good success getting these types of posts removed.

The most important piece of advice I can give is to start fortifying your digital brand today. Most schools have limited to no marketing budget allocated to cleaning up and monitoring their online profiles. If you don’t have the time or specific knowledge, asking your web agency to help can be a good cost effective solution.

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