Are User Reviews Good or Bad for Businesses and Authors?

By Tim Sohn 

There are a plethora of perks for businesses to allow online user reviews – from transparency to backlinks — but what about when a customer or reader posts a negative review? That can’t be good PR, right? And what if he or she defames the business, and the company ends up taking the user to court? It makes one wonder whether it’s worth it to allow user reviews at all.

Several stories have popped up in the news lately regarding user reviews:

VentureBeat reported this week that Amazon deletes negative feedback about sellers that use its own shipping service, Fulfillment by Amazon. If a business ships products itself, or uses a competing service, beware! Those negative reviews aren’t going anywhere. However, sellers that do use Amazon’s fulfillment service can ask customer service representatives to remote shipping-related negative reviews. Is this fair?

• According to a SocialTimes post, recently, a Virginia court initially found in favor of a contractor, who claimed a negative review on Yelp led to a decline in business. Jane Perez, of Fairfax, Md., had alleged that Christopher Dietz of Dietz Development had no license, trespassed in her home, and stole from her. Later, however, the court decided the post could stay because the allegations had not been proven otherwise.

• Speaking of reviews, over at our sister blog GalleyCat, Jason Boog took a look at Omnivore’s Hatchet Job of the Year Award shortlist, which requires the “angriest, funniest, most trenchant book review of the past twelve months.” An excerpt from the Hatchet Job of the Year manifesto reads, “Book reviewing is facing unprecedented challenges. Critics fear for their livelihoods. The cultural deficit from years of reckless use of clichés and superlatives will take generations to pay off. The emergence of a new global superpower, with its sock-puppet dictatorship and one-Kindle policy, means we can no longer afford to be complacent … Editors need to be called to account. But this is not just about wielding the axe. Our guiding philosophy is compassionate criticism.”

So, if you or your business are considering whether it’s worth it to implement online user reviews, there are a few things to consider: Do you care if people post negative reviews about your business? (Many times they can be helpful in improving your business). They also help boost SEO for your website. But you might need to have a lawyer standing by in case a customer defames you and you want to take he or she to court.

And this could get expensive. Better get your wallet ready.