Dentists, just when you thought there was no hope for combating negative online reviews, Virginia contractor, Christopher Dietz is suing a former customer, Jane Perez for a negative online reviews she wrote on Yelp and Angie’s list.
What makes this case encouraging is that the judge has already granted Dietz a temporary injunction against Perez and has ordered the ex-client to change her online reviews.
Perez had written online that the contractor not only performed shoddy workmanship, but some of her jewelry had also disappeared. She further wrote, “Bottom line do not put yourself through this nightmare of a contractor.”
Dietz didn’t take her negative posts lightly, and sued Perez, stating that not only had he completed the job as contracted, but performed more work than was agreed upon and still has not been paid.
Deitz further contends that the negative online reviews have cost him about $350,000.00 in business.
Slander is a legal term for stating a falsehood and presenting it as true which could harm the reputation of a person or business. In the case of Perez, if contractor Dietz did not steal any jewelry (and apparently there is no police report stating that he did) then Perez could be found libel for defamation of character and Dietz would be able to collect damages.
Some might argue that the lawsuit seeks to squash Perez’s right to free speech, but freedom of speech does not protect you from the consequences of free speech.
Perez can offer an opinion like, “I was not happy with the quality of work.” But she cannot say things like “He is a ripoff artist who steals from his clients.” One statement is an opinion based on feelings the other is a statement that she’d have to provide proof that he is a “ripoff artist who has been convicted of stealing from clients.” Technically, you can’t bear false witness, so when leaving an online review, the review must stick to the facts, like “I had to wait two hours for my appointment,” or “My steak was medium when I asked for rare,” or “The toy broke the minute my son picked it up,” and so forth.
It’s been difficult for dentists, as well as business owners to get used to the idea that a dental patient or a patron can complain about their business in such a permanent, public way and the courts are scrambling to legally catch up to this new technology.
And lawsuits themselves can bring more unwanted negative publicity.
Deciding to sue can paint a dentist into a more negative light with the general public than the damage done by the negative review, but what does a dentist do if the online review is truly defamatory?
Hiring an attorney to manage the process of suing the reviewer in court can be extremely costly, so a dentist would need to weigh the costs against any revenue loss directly attributed to the negative review.
The Wealthy Dentist has advised dentists to instead use the money to initiate an aggressive Internet dental marketing campaign to counter the review. Immediately addressing the review in a calm manner can also help quickly counter what the reviewer has said.
Typically the general public does not search past page two of online search results and this is where a dental practice’s online engagement can help bury a negative review. Facebook Pages, Twitter pages, YouTube videos, and Pinterest pages all show up high in search.
If a dental practice has taken the time to develop an internet dental marketing plan for their online presence (using the dentist’s name and the dental practice name) they can fill the first page of Google with their own social media presence.
Regularly updating a blog and writing press releases can also help control what dental patients find when they search for a dental practice online.
If need be, dentists can use the money they would spend on an attorney to buy Google ad space for their dental practice covering the dental practice name, the dentist’s name and a geo-targeted search term like “North Beach dentist.” This will place the dental practice at the very top of search for a period of time. If a dental practice can push the negative review site from the first page of search with content and social media they’ve created specifically for dental patients, they can begin to counter the damage caused by a negative online review.
Recent publicity surrounding negative online review sites and their vulnerability to false negative reviews by competition, or personal vendettas have caused people to question the validity and trustworthiness of consumer review sites. Parodies like Joe Plummer’s “Real Actors Read Yelp Reviews” have further shown just how ridiculous online reviews can be and the lack of oversight by the review sites themselves.
Bodyform even got into the act by responding to a Facebook rant with a video parody making fun of the cliches surrounding women’s use of their feminine products while directly answering the review. Their humorous video response quickly went viral.
Keep in mind that a negative online review can add validity to the positive online reviews. It can make a dental practice appear more balanced and one negative online review in the mix will make most people think it was a difficult dental patient instead of a bad dental practice.
But no business should have to deal with slanderous, vindictive reviews and eventually online review sites are going to have to figure out a way to deal with the libelous reviews, regardless of anti-SLAPP. Eventually a business owner will win big over a slanderous review and online review sites will be forced to set stricter review guidelines.
Would you have sued if a dental patient made the same type of claims against your dental practice that Perez made about Deitz?
To read more about contractor Deitz’s lawsuit see: Virginia Contractor Sues Woman for $750,000 for Bad Yelp Review.