When it comes to online reviews, most of the time we remain positive as we discuss the benefits that come when businesses start paying attention to online reviews. But what happens when consumers use the online sphere as a resource to take down a business as a part of a political or social movement? Yikes! These instances aren't always easy to find, but they happen.
In the event a business gets wrapped up in some fiery political, religious, or social issue, it's not uncommon for consumers to target them with negative online reviews. Sure, maybe a customer has a legitimate beef with the business that involves the movement (keyword here is customer!). But in certain cases, which we will outline below, people have been known to post reviews without ever having patronized the business themselves! That usually goes against whatever the site's terms and conditions are, as well as the whole point of online reviews. Instead of providing valuable customer feedback, they use the platform to profess their personal feelings about an issue, setting the business up as the kicking post. And it’s not just limited to negative reviews, either.
For example, maybe a business owner was publicly embarrassed by another organization and now consumers want to support that individual by posting rave reviews about their business, whether they've visited it or not, with the hopes of boosting their public profile.
Following, we've got a few examples of this. Just to be clear, however, we aren't standing on either side of the political or religious aisle —we're here for building, growing, and improving businesses by strengthening our clients’ online reputations. Further, online reviews should be used for helping businesses get better and helping consumers make the most educated decisions when choosing a brand, product, or service, not as a political soapbox.
Masterpiece Cakeshop—Lakewood, CO
In 2012, a gay couple married in Massachusetts (Colorado wouldn't allow same-sex marriages for another two years) wanted to celebrate with their family and friends in Colorado. When they went to Masterpiece Cakeshop to buy a cake for the celebration, business owner Jack Phillips denied their request on account of his religious views. The couple filed a lawsuit against Phillips, which he lost and was therefore required to make cakes for same-sex couples, among other requirements. Phillips left the wedding cake business, costing him 40% of his revenue and took his case to the Supreme Court where, again, Phillips lost.
Masterpiece has more five-star reviews than any other rating on Google, but the one-stars are not far behind. Many of the comments attached to the one-star reviews are people talking about their opinions regarding the court case and everything that went on and have nothing to do with the service or product. On the other hand, many of the positive reviews left in recent months talk about what beautiful cakes they got from the shop, specifying that they are off-the-shelf as opposed to custom-made; according to the website, Phillips no longer makes custom wedding cakes, for the time being.
Below are a few examples of reviews posted:
Then there are these guys, standing up for the business. Granted, there's not always proof they were customers. They don't necessarily mention their patronage nor time spent there. But they are trying to support the business! However, that still goes against the terms and and conditions.
Dr. David Dao—Elizabethtown, KY
Remember that time United Airlines needed to free-up four of their seats on a flight to Kentucky, so they beat a guy up and dragged him down the aisle? That was Dr. David Dao of Kentucky, who was heading home during this time. United Airlines staff asked for four people to give up their seats for crew members. When no one answered, they took matters into their own hands and picked four seats themselvs, including that of Dr. Dao. But he had patients waiting for him the next day (granted, I would have been okay skipping my doctor's appointment!) and refused to give up his seat. So, Chicago police officers pulled him out of his seat and dragged him down the aisle. As a result, United endured one of the most memorable and brutal displays of how to destroy an online reputation overnight.
Dr. Dao doesn't have a lot of reviews on his Google listing and we can't find him on Yelp, but there is one example of someone using reviews to boost his public image, not necessarily providing customer feedback. It's a nice notion, but in online review world, well, go to jail and do not collect $200.
Ink! Coffee—2851 Larimer St, Denver, CO
Colorado is one of the fastest growing states in the country, and the Denver metro area is seeing the brunt of that growth. Vacant parking lots, unregistered historic buildings, and 100+ year-old Victorian houses are being exchanged for luxury apartment complexes, townhomes, and office buildings. The aesthetics and quality of the new structures are debated on all sides; it seems growth is happening so quickly, it’s argued that quality work is being sacrificed for profits.
With such growth comes gentrification: out with the old and in with the new. Denver residents lower on the socio-economic pole can’t afford the skyrocketing prices of living and are thus pushed to the outskirts and forgotten about. One coffee shop, Ink! Coffee is right in the middle of a creative, artist community turned overpriced frat-house neighborhood with upscale coffee shops, box apartments, and expensive restaurants.
Ink! Coffee thought this sandwich board sign would be clever to set up on their sidewalk:
It quickly became the poster for Denver’s gentrification issues. Protests formed outside of it, the neighborhood’s council member made an appearance and was chastised, and the story even made national headlines. With it came a slew of negative reviews from customers and non-customers looking to voice their opinion about the matter:
Now, the majority of their reviews are one-star and their Google rating is a 2.9, and their Yelp a 3.5. Mixed in with the five-star reviews are those standing up for the joint, but still pushing their political beliefs:
As a business, it would be challenging to dodge this. Thankfully negative online reviews can be removed if they violate the site’s terms and conditions. Also, people have no business reviewing a business if they've never even visited the place or had an experience to review. That being said, don’t get involved in political issues! Joking. There’s no getting around that. All we can do is get the nefarious reviews taken down and encourage constructive criticism.
Matthew Van Deventer is a content creator for WebPunch. As a dealer of words he dabbles in journalism and loves a good story, whatever the medium. Matthew lives outside of Denver, CO with his wife, daughter, and pup, Chewy.