No Room For a Review – PushON’s Friday Thoughts

PushON | July 18th 2014

With the dust still settling in Europe in regards to the ‘Right to be Forgotten’ ruling, the French have only gone and opened up another can of search engine worms. Sacré bleu. The BBC reported on Wednesday of a French court ruling against blogger Caroline Doudet, whose negative review for a local restaurant did not go down to well with the owners; the crime being that it ranked too well within brand searches.

Now the right to be forgotten ruling obviously allows for results relating to individuals to be removed, but there isn’t really much of a precedent for brands. We all know that online reputation management can be a big task for brands, we touched upon this within our RTBF article, but should it really be as straightforward for them to be able to request removal of anything they deem too negative?

In the French ruling the blog post wasn’t removed, as is the case with RTBF requests, but instead the judge asked for the title to be amended in addition to a €1,500 settlement for damages. Whether this was just meant to act as a deterrent to énervé French reviewers who knows, but the blog post (“the place to avoid in Cap-Ferret: Il Giardino”) has subsequently been deleted and I’m sure there’s been a fair bit of distress for Caroline. She has, however, got a nice link from the BBC amongst other sites. Welcome publicity for her perhaps.

A few of the PushON team have attended the recent Google Local Manchester ‘City Experts’ events (they’re mint, check them out!) which are aimed around encouraging people to review local places through Google+. Yes cynics, we’re working with Google to give them the user generated content they so desperately want on G+, but it’s opened up the world of reviews to us, something which previously seemed (more) forced, or worse, faked – but that’s a whole other story for PushON’s Friday Thoughts.. Anyway, one of the Google events we attended featured a talk from the team at Manchester Wire, who review events going on in the city. They gave advice about what they deem relevant in a review; clearly the focus was to make it positive and unique to your own experience, but the most interesting point they raised was to “cut out the snark”.

Negative opinions should always be valid; a stat often thrown around is that bad experiences are more likely to be shared than positive ones (95% bad, 87% positive according to a recent Zendesk survey) but this doesn’t seem to be the accepted approach online. So what constitutes a bad review, and is there really any value in encouraging all online reviews to be blandly positive? In the case of this review, could the restaurant have reached out to Caroline a better way than taking her to court? Isn’t her bad experience important for anyone searching for the restaurant online? The PushON team have discussed the reaction to the story.

Nikki Stasyszyn

This isn’t the first time that someone has fallen foul of reviews, with many hotel owners on sites such as Trip Advisor claiming false reviews in the past.

In most cases where a negative review is left online, the company in question try to make visible signs to compensate for the claim, something which is not obvious in this case. It would be interesting to know what their response would have been to a similar review by a food critic in a local or national paper, as this would arguably have ranked just as highly in the search results.

Either way, this could set a dangerous precedent for court cases to come as other owners follow their example. It also raises the question over right to free speech. So long as the claims in the post were accurate, then surely a blogger should be free to publish their thoughts on their experience there.”

Nikki Stasyszyn, Online Marketing Team Leader

Carl Eden

There’s a few interesting points here. Firstly, the case illustrates how powerful bloggers have become. It’s a great example highlighting the influence bloggers have these days, and how they can be both a threat and a hindrance to businesses. It’s all about building solid relationships between brands and blogs, something the restaurant and the judge seem to have missed here. Really, it seems like poor customer service, and as long as the post didn’t contain outright slander and lies, then this should have been the restaurant’s responsibility, in terms of customer service, to appeal to the blogger and try and right the problem. Regardless of anything, the case does show how important bloggers are to brands these days, and how much their opinion counts.

The harsh fine inflicted on the blogger, and the fact that the post was forced to be edited, not only suggests a worrying violation of free speech, but shows how the law needs to adapt to a modern, digital world. Increasingly, we’re seeing cases of old laws being implanted to combat internet related issues, and the approach doesn’t work. The law really needs to draw up a new stance on digital issues and be flexible moving forward, or we’ll be seeing a lot of overly harsh – or conversely when it comes to things like online bullying and ‘ex revenge porn’, not harsh enough – sentences being put forward in future.

Carl Eden, Online Marketing Consultant