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Florida: (850) 878-6404
North Carolina: (919) 847-8632

Strategies for Responding and Protecting Online Reputation on Review Websites

By Micah A. Andrews

An experienced dealer in the modern market is well aware of the importance and impact of their businesses’ online reputation. With the evolution to a vast amount of customer shopping taking place online, fair or not, a dealership’s reputation on review websites has become increasingly important to the success of their operations.  Review websites (ex. Better Business Bureau, KBB, DealerRater, Yelp, Google, Etc.) are now the most common resources used by customers to publish opinions about their experience at a dealership and are easily accessible to future customers shopping online. Unfortunately, customers who take the time to post on an online website tend to be over-represented by disgruntled customers. They also are often able to post a review anonymously, giving them the ability to represent events without accountability.

However, dealers can implement strategies and practices for managing their online reputation that can help make this new reality a net positive for the dealership.   Here are four strategies a dealer should consider implementing:

1. Respond Professionally to Reviews

Identify a list of review website that are the most active in relation to your dealership.  For those websites, institute a practice of regularly checking and responding to reviews.  For positive reviews, simply thank the customer for the kind review.  For generic negative reviews, respond that you are thankful for their review and have passed their comments along to management for consideration. A practice of responding can both encourage positive reviewers and de-escalate disgruntled reviewers.

2. Encourage Genuine Positive Reviews

Make a practice of encouraging customers to leave an honest review. Authentic and honest reviews are typically positive and help lessen the impact of negative or fake reviews.  A dealer can make this process easier for a customer by providing directions to a specific website or link in an email.

3. Identify and Report Fake Reviews

Most review websites have written protocol that permit businesses to report fake reviews and ultimately have them removed. The business is often required to submit an explanation or documentation supporting the claim.  While the process is rarely quick, most websites will remove reviews after following its protocol. Additionally, reviews that include confidential private information; are harassing; vulgar; abusive; or inappropriate with respect to race, gender, ethnicity; or unrelated to the business products can also be removed under most website review standards. A review can often be reported and successfully removed if the business points to a violation of one of these standards.

4. Consider Legal Options

Even after implementing the practices above, unfortunately, dealers still experience negative and false online reviews.  For review posts that are categorically false a dealer should consult a legal professional to explore options for dealing with the defamatory reviews. Often, when the customer is known, a cease-and-desist letter notifying the customer of the potential consequences of their defamatory statements can be sufficient to getting it removed.  Ultimately, legal action can be brought to address defamatory false statements that are damaging to a dealers’ business. While the review website is generally protected from responsibility for the content of posts, the specific individual publishing the false and defamatory statements can be held accountable in a civil action if other efforts are failing.

Questions regarding the implementation of practices for managing online reviews or consideration of actions to address fake or false review should be directed to your experienced dealer lawyer.