If you do a quick Google search for “Online Bullying,” every page you’ll find is related to individuals –mostly children – being cyberbullied. It’s a huge issue that’s caused kids and adults no end of torment. What hasn’t been talked about is the impact of cyberbullying on businesses, and how it affects a storefront’s bottom line.
Here’s an example: Recently, a pair of patrons walked into a Boston restaurant without reservations. According to a story in the blog Eater Boston, the duo allegedly seated themselves, badly mistreated the staff and informed the bartender that they would not be tipping, all while threatening the staff with a negative Yelp review.
The restaurant owner had two options: cave in or throw the pair out bodily, because they refused to leave. In an Instagram post, the owner noted “in lieu of calling the police…which seemed too strong a response, we opted to kill them with kindness until they left. We as a team endured a ton of abuse but ultimately chose the high road.”
Much like the nationally reported story on former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s response to vile comments regarding his daughter on Twitter, the attempt to bully the restaurant ended up backfiring, thanks to the owner’s courage in posting his own comments on Instagram, under the hashtag #wedontnegotiatewithyelpers. But for the owner and his staff, it was a genuine risk. Negative reviews on social media have very real dollars-and-cents consequences.
Larger industries have dealt with this kind of thing for years. As far back as 1980, for example, Procter & Gamble has defended itself against claims of Satanism thanks to its logo, which originally came into prominence in 1851. P&G pays public relations firms and crisis management companies dearly to help it negotiate through the results of one of the great urban myths to this day, despite the fact that its logo went away in the 1990s.
For small businesses, though, this is entirely new ground. Chances are good that there isn’t anybody on your staff that’s trained in crisis management or how to respond to whatever social media has to throw at you. For every good outcome like this one, an dozens of examples exist where an issue gets mishandled and the situation continues to spiral out of control.
The best strategy is to understand your online reputation, and how quickly it can turn. There’s no filter on Yelp or Google Reviews that can help you manage thousands of malicious reviews that can show up in a matter of days that have nothing to do with how you’ve run your business, should something happen that paints your business in a negative light.
Understand how this works, and get a handle on your risk of exposure to online bullying. Sink your teeth into your reputation and work to preserve it. In the final reckoning, it’s all you have.