Online trolls and malicious posters have the power to ‘destroy a business’, as the costs of challenging unfair online reviews continues to rise
More than half of British companies have been the victims of malicious reviews or criticism, a study has suggested.
The problem has cost one in five organisations as much as £30,000 to put right.
In a poll of 1,000 decision makers, 51pc said they had experienced unfair reviews or been targeted by “trolls” – someone who posts inflammatory remarks online.
They range from posts on review sites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor to unfounded attacks on social media such as Twitter and Facebook.
Most business owners – 75pc – said online reviews were important or very important to their financial and reputational status; one in six claimed that unfair negative posts could destroy their business completely.
The research was undertaken by online reputation management firm Igniyte, which found that 34pc of business owners believe malicious posts were growing in influence.
The proliferation of social media sites means that reviews and posts can be easily shared, causing severe reputational damage.
UK companies are spending significant sums of money on dealing with malicious posts.
Gauging whether a post is “unfair” is a subjective art but almost 30pc spend between £11,000 and £20,000 a year on their efforts to control malicious online comments, whether through external reputation management agencies, in-house social media managers, or cash spent on legal fees.
A worrying 18pc have spent up to £30,000 on challenging malicious, online posts.
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Many business owners remain unsure about how to handle unfair comments online. Some 14pc said they didn’t know how to tackle the problem.
Almost a quarter of the decision makers surveyed have been forced to take legal action in order to remove the offending content.
Charlie Mullins, founder of Pimlico Plumbers, sued review website Yelp last year for reviews about his company .
Five comments were removed but the San Francisco-based company argued that a further two should stand, which, Mr Mullins said, damaged the reputation of his business.
“With the invention of social media, the ability of a bad word to seriously damage your business has increased exponentially,” he added.
“In the old days you could look the person giving the review in the eye and decide, based on what you know about them, whether they were being honest. But social media and review sites are the Wild West, thanks to the anonymity of users and the way site owners refuse to disclose the identities of those posting negative material.”
The court ruled in favour of Yelp for the costs of the matter and Mr Mullins spent £50,000 on legal fees.
According to Igniyte, many small firms are allocating budgets to deal with the problem.
Some 23pc have set aside £10,000 and 33pc have a £20,000 contingency, a rise of 3pc on 2014.
Mr Mullins has called for all review sites to ask users for proof of purchase.
“I have spent more than £50,000 on legal fees to force an internationally-known review site to give up the identities of three libellous reviewers, with a view to having the material removed,” he said. “How can this be fair?”
A spokesperson for Yelp commented: ” Ever since review sites started to gain in importance, businesses and the like have been trying to game the system to their benefit, there is nothing new about this. That’s why we have set up a recommendation software that looks to only push to the top reviews from reviewers that we have more information.
“Also, if a business owner believes a review is fake, they can flag it with our team who will manually look at it and remove it if it violates our terms of service. All for free.”
The UK seems to have reached a tipping point on malicious reviews: just 8pc said that trolls or unfair reviews were likely to have more impact on their businesses in future.
Not all UK companies have dealt with malicious reviews: 33pc said that they were unaffected.
This article was written by Rebecca Burn-Callander Enterprise Editor from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.