Anti-Buzz Internet

Anti-Buzz: Streisand Effect

newface-620x461My father has frequently posted on the issue of negative online reviews and what to do, (or not), about them. The matter is a complicated one. You have businesses suing Yelp, Yelp suing businesses, businesses suing reviewers, and, of course, disaster. The general advice has consistently been to avoid overreacting, or even to simply ignore negative reviews. We have heard from you that this is not always easy, so this week I come trying to convince you keeping your cool really is the best course of action.

It is a frequent irony that those who wish to silence something only end up calling more attention to it; if you are in heated argument with somebody, consider how well telling them to shut up goes. There is a term for this: the Streisand Effect, named after, yes, Barbara Streisand after her attempts to remove a photograph of her home from a public database only called more attention to the photo. Thankfully for her, the situation was relatively benign. The bigger takeaway from the Streisand incident was that she was naive to the Internet’s capacity to go viral – though in 2003 ‘going viral’ wasn’t quite in our lexicon. The frictionless mass communication of the 21st century has made the silence-into-broadcasting irony much more frequent.

As a small business you might feel especially vulnerable to negative reviews, and if you are a bit older, you might even harbor some not-as-tech-savvy-as-you-ought guilt. You should take some comfort that you aren’t alone, nor as naive as you might feel. I was reminded of the Streisand Effect by recent events surrounding a negative online review for a computer game. This is classic Streisand Effect, and probably sounds familiar: negative review, the offended party takes legal action, and – surprise – everything goes poorly. I will remind you that this is a video game company. Ostensibly they are about as tech savvy as they come, yet they still put heart before head and react emotionally to a negative review.

So let that be the first thing to motivate you: You don’t want to call extra attention to the negative review. This might violate your sense of justice, but think of it like defensive driving: when behind the wheel you aren’t trying to be right, you’re trying to¬†not die. When calling extra attention to negative reviews, you might be in the right, but you aren’t necessarily improving your odds of survival.

The next thing to consider is that studies have shown that people tend to be loss averse, that is, in a comparison of losses and gains, we tend to be more emotionally attached to the losses. We frequently make irrational decisions in an attempt to undo perceived losses. Indeed, a negative review’s exact impact is hard to quantify, but it certainly feels like a loss, and it is only natural that you might feel compulsed to undo it. Try to remember that this compulsion comes from some primal and irrational place. It is a compulsion that overrides your drive to work for new gains and successes. If you are going to interact with a negative review, view it as an opportunity to be productive, not an injustice.

If you aren’t comfortable with ignoring a negative review, what can you do to put a positive spin on it?

First, consider the case of angry patients physically in your office. It happens to everybody, some customer somehow gets it in their head to start raising their voice and making a stink, with variable amounts of legitimate blame on your part and illegitimate overreaction on theirs. How do you handle these situations? More importantly, how do you handle these situations when other patients are present in your waiting area? Most irate customers sound absurd to other customers. What is more telling is how you handle the situation. If you respond with similar rage, you will seem equally petty. I expect that you are well composed in these face-to-face situations. Make sure you are similarly composed online.

Imagine that the negative review is an irate customer in your office, except now everybody is watching you, so be on your best behavior. Online, you might not enjoy the benefit of the doubt as much, but you have the power to respond to reviews, and you can use this to apologize, ask if there is anything you can do to rectify the situation, and generally make sure that you appear to be the calm and rational one, and the negative reviewer appears the ranting crazy.

In general, customers don’t want to know if you’re perfect, they want to know that you care.

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