Before the advent of the Internet, most people heard about a business through either advertising (TV, radio) or word-of-mouth. Of course, the former told a story the company wanted presented to the public. Word-of-mouth was the often unvarnished opinion of your friends, family and neighbors.
With the rise of the Internet, we have entered the era of “the review.” Google, Facebook, Yelp, Amazon, company websites; you can leave a review about a business or service pretty much anywhere, anytime.
But this doesn’t mean you can just bad-mouth any business you feel did you wrong without fear of consequences. A bride and groom in Dallas, Texas recently learned that lesson when a jury ordered them to pay a little over $1 million to the owner of a wedding photography company after the newlyweds not only left scathing reviews, but also took to blogs to make their displeasure known. And earlier this year, a man who worked in a jewelry store was ordered to pay some $34,500 for a negative review he left on Yelp about a rival jeweler.
This is not to say you should be shy about letting your feelings about a company be known. But there are some simple rules you can follow to minimize the chances that you will be facing a lawsuit for it.
The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth
When writing a review, the truth is your best friend. For a company to successfully sue you, they must be able to prove that you lied about something in your review for the purpose of damaging their business, aka their livelihood. Don’t state things are facts if they are not. Be explicit when saying something definitely happened and make sure you can back up that claim. Don’t write about experiences you heard other people had; stick to your experience and the problem you had with the company.
Opinions > “Facts”
You can give your opinion on what happened; for example “it looked” as if an employee was doing or not doing something, people at the business made you “feel uncomfortable,” or a customer service representative “seemed like they were not interested in what I had to say.” Avoid conjecture and exaggeration. Definitely avoid hyperbole and if you are making an analogy between that business and something else, make sure it is very clear that is what you are doing.
Short and Simple
When your adrenaline is pumping after you feel you have been wronged by a business, it may seem easy to drop a massive essay on a review site about every single thing that is wrong and may be wrong about a business. Avoid this instinct. Calm down and think long and hard about what you want to say.
Keep it short and simple. The more you say, the more ammo a company will have if they seek to get rid of your review or sue you for damages. Explain what happened in your experience and let others who read it decide if it will affect their view of a company. Don’t come across as if your sole reason for writing the review is to do damage to the business’ reputation. You are a customer giving an honest review for the purposes of letting others know about your experience.
Above all, take the high road. Be respectful in what you write or say, even if you feel the company did not extend you the same courtesy. If the review comes up in court, you don’t want to come across as a raving person making wild accusations. You are the one who was wronged and you want a jury of your peers to see it that way as well.