Consumers are increasingly using the internet to investigate others’ experiences of products and services online before they decide to buy.

While it may be a complex process to involve yourself as a brand in a general community forum where your product may be discussed, review websites offer structured platforms on which to respond to the critiquing of your products. 

Finding reviews

There are a wealth of websites which offer reviews online, so it’s important to concentrate your efforts:

  • Think about your online distributors and which of these provide the ability for customers to post reviews.
  • Place yourself in your potential or current customers’ shoes and simply Google your product name appended with ‘reviews’ to see which sites and reviews are most visible.
  • Research popular niche community websites interested in your industry which contain specific review sections. It is important to check that a website is happy for you to respond to reviews before proceeding.

  • Look at the referring site traffic report in your analytics packages to establish whether any review sites are driving visitors to your site.

Embracing negative reviews

Whilst it may be disheartening to see negative reviews appearing in your search, remember that it is the open honesty of reviews which makes them so valuable to and popular with consumers.

Companies, like people, all have bad days and responding to negative reviews with honest answers is what people will respect the most. This may seem like a radical approach to some companies, but it can ultimately lead to the defining of a brand’s reputation online. 

Scott Weavers-Wright, of successful children’s online retailer Kiddicare, a website which has made its mark through providing honest customer reviews of all its products, has embraced the social experience in this way. He says:“You’ll find five-star ratings and one-star ratings for our products and we’re just as honest with our own service. You can rate Kiddicare and again there are negative reviews there too – though we have a 96% service rating from our customers so you’ll have to work hard to find one, but they’re there!” 

Kirsty Uminski, of consumer review website, suggests that rather than viewing negative reviews as something that weakens your brand, they can be used to strengthen it by allowing you to improve your offering and demonstrate how important your customers are to you by speaking to them directly.

When is a review not a review

Before responding to a review, consider why the customer has written it. If they have provided a negative comment without constructive criticism, it may be that they simply want to “rant” and are not interested in entering into a constructive conversation around their complaint. In these situations it is more beneficial just to listen.

Remember that most readers will not find such comments useful and will often see them more as a reflection on the reviewer than the brand. Instead, they are likely to pay more attention to reviews which clearly and objectively set out what they have and have not liked about a product. These are the reviews you should focus your attentions on.

Structuring your response

As a brand, you should assume that all constructive, negative reviews are designed to help readers find the best product for their need. If your service or product has been criticised, this criticism should be taken as an opportunity to improve or explain. In general, structuring your response in the following way is advisable:

  • Apologise. This means that you have thought about the effects this problem may have had on your customer base and that you regret this; in other words that you care!
  • Explain. Tell the user honestly why this has happened so that they understand the issue. Anyone who has been stuck on a train will vouch for the fact that just knowing why a problem has arisen makes them feel more informed and in control of their situation.
  • Solution. Inform the customer that the problem is being addressed internally. If you are currently unable to resolve the issue, make this clear so that they do not have false expectations which will create more negative feedback. In such situations, being as open as possible is the best policy. 

Kirsty at says that being accusational or aggressive will only serve to make you look bad to the reader. However if you feel that a review on their particular website is untrue and libellous, they encourage you to talk directly to staff to mediate between yourself and the reviewer.

Be grateful for the good 

Whilst it is important to respond to negative reviews, occasionally recognising positive reviews demonstrates that as a company you are interested in talking to all of your customers, not just those who could potentially harm your reputation! Taking the time to say thank you to your satisfied customers will increase goodwill around your brand.


Published 1 June, 2010 by Caroline O'Donoghue

Caroline O'Donoghue is a Social Media and Research Analyst at iCrossing and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

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Comments (10)

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James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Caroline,

Nice article and sound advice. I've met with several business owners who are reluctant to embrace reviews because of the threat of negative comments on brand reputation.

My simple explanation that always gets their attention is that negative comments will always be made because you can't get it right 100% of the time and guess what, some people are just unreasonable. If you do nothing about it, other people can also be influenced without listening to your point of view. If you respond constructively then at worst people think you've done wrong but had the decency to show you care and listen, at best you influence opinions and as you allude, turn a negative into a positive.

The mass uptake of social media has fundamentally changes the rules of engagement, so you can't ignore how your customers manage their opinions. You also can't control but if you are open and honest, you can influence and be seen as a contributor.

Your words on not being drawn in by rants are spot on. I think brands need to focus on genuine reviews and comments and not get drawn into a war of words that can be embarrassing.



about 8 years ago


Caroline O'Donoghue, Social Media and Research Analyst at iCrossing

Hi James, 

Thanks for your comment. You're completely right - some people can be unreasonable and that will often come across to readers of a review. 

Another way to explain this to the client is to let them know that responding to a negative comment is a reflection of the quality of their customer service in general. It's very rare to find a business without at least one negative review online but it's just as rare to find a brand that openly and honestly deals with such reviews. 


about 8 years ago


John MacDaniel

Thank-you Caroline, some solid suggestions. I would also add that how a response is crafted may be situational as well. So although an apology is a great way to start a brand must be careful not to assume liability (depending on the severity of the event…an adverse reaction/event for example). My suggestions for responding are very much in line with what you suggest:

  • Acknowledge the post/author/their opinion (this may include an apology if warranted)
  • Respond (includes explanation and action)
  • Assess (if warranted and appropriate pose a question to gauge satisfaction)
  • A sincere thank-you

I would also suggest that organizations involve their consumer affairs department and have them be a part of any engagement initiatives. Some questions/issues are better suited for PR and Brands while others are better left for a Consumer Affairs team to respond to.

about 8 years ago


Caroline O'Donoghue, Social Media and Research Analyst at iCrossing

Hi John, 

Some great points thank you. A risk management matrix which outlines potential issues and who they need to be escalated to internally is a great exercise to do before embarking on this type of activity. 

An issues matrix means that when something comes up you know who to communicate with directly and what sort of response time to expect. As you said some issues will relate to Consumer Affairs and we've also found that others may end up with Product Development, Events teams, Customer Services etc. Getting buy in from these teams before you get going is a great way to ensure that you're not left waiting for weeks at a time when you have to source responses from other parts of the company.


about 8 years ago


Will Lockie

Hi Caroline - great post and some very helpful advice, thinking about how to tackle negative reviews at the moment so this is very timely and will take on board your points  - thank you for sharing!

about 8 years ago


Matt Wilkinson, Senior Ecommerce Manager at Gatwick Airport

Great article.. I have just had to get 2 reviews removed as they were bordering on being libellous. We have been thrown in at the deep end, and have actioned some key points above.. but getting the rest of the business to understand the importance of replying can be difficult.

about 8 years ago


Joe Buhler

Very sound advice in this article. It is surprising, how many organizations are not using common sense when it comes to the participatory or social web and the resulting radical transparency with comments, rants, reviews etc. The head in the sand response is the worst of all reactions. It's like putting your hands over your ears because of an unpleasant noise and thinking that makes it stop! People are talking about your company, organization, brand and in principle every executive should be happy about and appreciate this simple fact. Responding to negative comments in an authentic and appropriate manner is just basic sound policy, after all that has been, or should have been, the response even before the web. Now these efforts just need to be stepped up to remain effective in the new world we live in. Adapt or perish, might be strong words, but ultimately in a competitive environment that's what it boils down to for many. Get used to it!

about 8 years ago


Caroline O'Donoghue, Social Media and Research Analyst at iCrossing

@Will You're very welcome, thank you for commenting!

@Matt It's probably an obvious thing to say but have you tried putting everything into the language of specific departments? I find that showing how findable these reviews are through search then asking questions such as "PR - how are we going to manage this brand reputation issue?", "Customer service - how are we going to show the strength of our service in light of what potential customers researching it are finding?" etc, can put these reviews into perspective for departments.

@Joe Strong words indeed but very true! Thank you for sharing your perspective.

about 8 years ago


Andrew Hickey

Great tips on how to handle internet reputation issues. One question, though. Some suggest that engaging negative reviews and participating byway of responding can actually act to boost the visibility of the negative review. In other words, say someone writes a bad review of my brand and it's buried in the search results for my brand. Chances are, few people will actually see it. Then, I respond to the critical review (which essentially acts as an update to the review) and the search engines view that as fresh, relevant content, thus hypothetically boosting the position of the review in search results for my brand. That could lead to more people viewing the negative review than would normally had (if I had never responded). Sure, those people seeing this negative review would also be exposed to my thoughtfully crafted response, but is it worth the risk?

I'm really just playing devil's advocate, here. Personally, I think your tips are spot-on and I'll be putting them to use.

about 8 years ago



Great advice! I often find that we need to address negative reviews even more thoroughly than positive ones. It's a sign of us really trying to resolve the problems at hand. The point is, we have to show that we care.

almost 8 years ago

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