Turn the tables on bad PR

Published August 21, 2015 in the Sacramento Business Journal

A common concern for business owners and executives is the rise of the public consumer complaint. It is increasingly popular for consumers to post complaints about a brand on sites such as Yelp, Angie’s List, Urbanspoon and across social media platforms.

Sometimes these complaints are valid and sometimes they are not, but it’s often difficult for the average consumer to tell the difference. Simply ignoring the problem is not an option — so what can you do?

There are a number of ways to address negative online sentiment, but one of the most creative and effective ways is to spin those negative comments into a successful marketing campaign. Sound impossible? It’s not. Here are three fantastic examples of businesses that used unconventional methods to manage their online reputations.

TWEET THIS: How to turn the tables on bad PR from @MerlotMarketing CEO @DebiHammond. http://bit.ly/1WVmXln #MarketingTips #MarketingBlog

Game the system

Find yourself on the receiving end of ridiculous, one-star reviews? Take a cue from California-based Botto Bistro and change the rules of engagement. By offering incentives for one-star reviews, the marketing team makes it impossible for bad reviews to hold any weight. Without the ability to verify the credibility of poor ratings, it’s impossible for consumers to formulate an opinion without actually trying the food.


Photo credit: elijahnicolas.com

Get a laugh

One restaurant used a sandwich chalkboard sign to tout a terrible Yelp review — and grab the attention of passersby. The snarky copy — “Come in and try the worst meatball sandwich that one guy on Yelp ever had in his life” — worked because it manages to provide a lot of information that could potentially attract customers. The bold statement also appeals to natural human curiosity — who can resist pulling out their phone and fact-checking?


Source: Twitter

Another, called the Nevermind Bar, took the same brilliant approach with a sign that listed flaws cited in Urbanspoon reviews: “Over-rated,” “The beer was too cold,” “It’s not the Ritz” and “Guy behind the bar needs a shave.”

The sign adds: “Come and see why 7% of people don’t like us.”


Photo credit: Imgur user meekoiscool

Give your brand a face

When consumers complain about a brand online, they often feel as if the brand or company does not care about their experience. One way to counteract this is for a key decision-maker at the company to respond with a YouTube video.

That’s the approach of chef John Howie of Seastar Seafood Restaurant in Bellevue, Wash. By humanizing the brand, he makes it much more difficult for a customer to continue to complain or avoid finding a mutually beneficial resolution to the issue. It also maximizes the capabilities of social media platforms to spread key messaging — that customers really matter to the restaurant and its owners. The quality of this particular video aside, the company definitely gets an A for effort.

Negative online reviews aren’t going anywhere. So instead of burying your head in the sand, feel free to tap into your brand’s unique personality. Get creative with your reputation management. By strategically humanizing the complaint or response process, you can leverage negative reviews with humor, wit and creativity that will not only help your online presence, but help boost your business as well.

Debi Hammond is president and CEO of Merlot Marketing Inc., a Sacramento-based branding, advertising, social media and PR agency. Contact her at debi@merlotmarketing.com.

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