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Yelp and other online review sites have become the bane of some small businesses, with many struggling to navigate sticky social media situations and asking some tough questions. Yes, you probably can ban a customer for a bad Yelp review, but the bigger question is whether you should.
But banning isn't your only option. Here are a few legal pointers when it comes to responding (or not) to Yelp reviews.
Some small businesses monitor their online reviews religiously. Others ignore them with the same fervor. As a small business owner, you can determine your own level of involvement with Yelp. Consider whether it's worth your time (and money, if you're thinking about buying advertising on the site).
Nobody wants a bad review. Especially one that's false or relies on some outdated or incorrect information. But it turns out getting an even defamatory Yelp review removed from the site is probably not going to happen. The California Supreme Court has ruled that Yelp itself is immune from defamation suits, and likewise can't be forced to remove reviews.
If you can't get a negative review removed, what should you do? If you think the review is fake, i.e., from someone who was never a customer, you can flag it for Yelp to evaluate. Additionally, Yelp attempts (or says it does) to filter fake or frivolous reviews, so it may get taken down on its own.
If you do decide to respond to a negative Yelp review, be careful. First, savvy online users will often recognize an unreasonable review, so you may not need to respond at all. And those users will also spot -- and be turned off by -- a disproportionate response from a business owner. So if you're responding make sure to address facts with facts, and opinions with a genuine effort to win a customer back.
Not all bad reviews come from customers. So, what do you do when the review is coming from inside the business? While a non-disparagement clause in an employment contract may bar former employees from trashing your business, not all are enforceable.
If you're considering legal action over a false or negative online review, contact a local commercial attorney for help.
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