Responding to Negative Comments & Online Reviews

Woman in computer room holding monitor and smilingIt's bound to happen. You log onto your Facebook page and last weekend's Bridezilla is on there saying nasty things about your wedding photography business, for the entire world to see. The first time it happens you'll be angry and shocked. But don't do anything rash.  Never respond to negative online comments and reviews when you're upset.

The first thing you need to do is take a deep breath, calm down and assess the damage.  Even though the bride's comments are posted on the Internet, that doesn't mean that everyone in the world has seen them. In fact, most people find that a negative review adds balance to all the rest of the glowing reviews you have.

One negative comment or review isn't likely to destroy your entire photography business. But you can take steps to minimize the damage. Now that you're in a calmer frame of mind, take these steps to counteract those negative online comments and reviews.

Don't Reply on Social Media Sites

Your gut reaction is to jump right into that comment stream and tell that Bridezilla exactly what you think of her but that's the worst thing you can do. Arguing online in a comment stream is like arguing in the middle of your shop – with everyone watching.  Yes, it would be fun to say something so cutting that you'll reduce her to tears but you'll never actually get to see it and all you'll do is alienate future clients. However, with review sites like Yelp, you can craft a short response as the business owner. The best approach is to be friendly, concerned and professional. When someone writes hateful, vicious things, and the response is calm concern and professionalism, who are you more likely to believe? Especially when you have other positive reviews?

 Reply Professionally  to Review Sites

Some review sites such as Yelp allow business owners to respond to negative reviews. This is an excellent idea because it gives you a chance to respond in a professional manner and show you care. What’s different about review sites is that’s it’s not a conversation, it’s carefully worded response statement. Do not suggest that this review is ‘crazy’ or else you might appear callous. Show real concern that someone has this ‘misunderstanding’ and how you plan to make it right. The idea is not to respond point by point, but show in your response that their impression is more of a misunderstanding of how you do business. Make it clear you value your clients.

Stay Professional

Don't blog about your disagreement, don't talk about it on your Facebook page, don't have your friends and family talk about it online, don't do anything online that acknowledges the situation and adds fuel to the fire. You're not trying to run away from it or bury your head in the sand; you're simply keeping it professional. Let Bridezilla look like a raging lunatic if she wants to. YOU are a professional. In most cases these Internet rants blow over in a matter of days. People get bored and move on to other things and all is forgotten. But here are some things you can do to help minimize the effects:

Handle It Privately

Obviously, you want to contact the bride and see if you can rectify the situation. And if you do reach an agreement, ask her to remove her negative comments or at least go online to let everyone know that things worked out.

Request Testimonials

Ask your satisfied customers if they will post positive for you on sites like Yelp, Project Wedding or the Knot. You can never have too many. In fact, ask them for it when they pick up their proofs or see their images for the first time. If you are trying to “bury” a negative review, it is best to request testimonials over a period of time. It looks fishy if you get a bad review and then four good reviews the next day. Even worse if those reviews appear to be ‘defending’ you. While it might make you feel good, it does not appear professional.

Post Examples of Your Work

Make sure you have plenty of examples of your wedding photography posted on your blog, your Facebook page, Yelp, Project Wedding and anywhere else you can get them online. Again, this helps distract from the bad review and shows the quality of your work.

Your gut reaction is to respond to negative online comments and reviews by going on the defensive but don't let Bridezilla drag you into an online wrestling match. Those nasty comments will fade into Cyberspace quickly, but they'll never completely disappear. If they are dredged up sometime in the future, you don't want people to have any reason to think you're anything less than a professional. More forward.

Have you experienced negative comments on Facebook? Negative reviews on Yelp? How did you handle it? Please share thoughts, comments and advice in the comments below.


Facebook comments:

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Chadwick August 24, 2012 at 5:03 am

After four years of photographing weddings almost exclusively, and with 44 reviews on The Knot which were all 5 out of 5 stars, I was unpleasantly surprised (understatement) to see a new review that was not only 1 star, but that contained scathing words about my professionalism and how I dealt with the client. I have won Best of Weddings the last two years, all because customer service is a top priority for me. I was shocked at the review and even thought briefly that someone was trying to put up a fake review to sabotage my efforts. Alas, it was a real review. The review is so abusive that I contacted The Knot about removing it on the basis of it violating the Terms of Use with respect to libel and defamatory language. Libel is defined as not necessarily untrue, but to an unfair representation of facts. That definitely applied here.

My gut instincts were to jump to my defense, not in any unprofessional way, just to provide explanation of how I dealt with the couple’s problems. It only added fuel to the fire. He blamed me for not requesting the getting ready space be cleaned. He blamed me for his wife’s eyes being crooked in one photograph. I posted his photos online in August 2011, he didn’t respond until December 21st to say he had an issue with some of the photos. When asked for specifics so that I could fix them, he sent me 7. That’s 7 out of 572 photos. I fixed the issues outright in 5 of them, at least improved one more, and the crooked eyes one I told him I couldn’t fix satisfactorily and make it look like it wasn’t Photoshopped. That was January 2nd. I never heard from him again and assumed all was well.

It was SO hard not to trumpet my defense all across the internet, and after responding to his initial rant (which sounds crazy and is full of all caps screaming) I only made him more angry and was told I was making excuses. So, I have reduced my response to what I feel after reading this very helpful post, will keep it professional. I listed the number and dates of the emails about his problem. I said I have done everything possible to make them happy and that I hope for an amicable resolution to their concerns. I then asked the reader to please judge for themselves, not only from all of my other reviews, but from that couple’s photos as well, then posted a link to the gallery.

I always thought I would be immune to this sort of lunacy, because I have almost never had a difficulty with making people happy. But NO ONE is immune! If you are reading this and haven’t run into this situation yet, I congratulate you. I also urge you to take this post to heart and make sure you keep it professional if (when) it happens to you!

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William February 2, 2012 at 10:19 pm

My altitude to comments is “Comment is gem”! If everyone gives me good comment and yet I don’t get any business, there is something wrong. First, I will thanks them. Next, I tried to clarify (seek understanding). After that, I will determine a response. All these must be done with a smile to let the client know that you are not defensive and seriously wanted to put thing right.

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Eban P October 2, 2011 at 3:59 pm

I find it shocking how little small business owners are unaware or ignore sites like Yelp. I was just reading some reviews there and there were streams of negative comments with no reply or reaction. One of the best responses to negative reviews was one owner who personally apologized for the bad experience and gave them coupons of gift cards for the meal. It was classy.

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Lara White October 2, 2011 at 4:34 pm

You are right Eban, many photography business owners don’t realize they have the ability to respond to comments. I think it’s important to show you are aware of the situation and are reacting to it.

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Mike October 2, 2011 at 8:08 am

One of the biggest take aways I got from this post was “staying professional”. It is crucial to maintaining a positive reputation. You are not going to make everyone happy because satisfaction is relative. If you are a great photographer then your positive reviews will outshine any negatives.

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Katie Cavanagh October 2, 2011 at 7:41 am

I couldn’t wait to give feedback on my photos. If a bride & groom are happy with the results they will want to share. They are busy though getting settled after the festivities so a little email or note asking them write a review goes a long way.

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Olivia H. September 27, 2011 at 11:10 pm

I haven’t had any negative comments yet. I am wondering what is the best way to all someone for a testimonial? I know when to ask but I always feel awkward asking someone to promote me.

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Lara White September 28, 2011 at 8:42 am

Hi Olivia,
I have found one of the best times to ask for testimonials is when you show the bride her pictures for the first time, and she says how amazing they are, etc. That is the moment to say, thank you, and you know, I would really love it if you were willing to write me a review on Yelp, Project Wedding, The Knot, Wedding Wire etc. I also collect testimonials from clients via emails. So when someone sends back a gushing email about how gorgeous their images are, that email becomes a testimonial for my site, my client testimonials handout, etc.

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