Carefully Crafted on August 06

Review Sites Pose Ethical Challenges

In a perfect world, ethics would be black and white. Right vs. wrong. But, we don’t live in a simple world. Every day, we’re forced to evaluate situations and determine how best to respond. Sometimes, the situation is so clear cut that cutting your losses is the only option, but not always.

For example, review sites have presented a new batch of ethical challenges for communicators. Writing fake review is never a good idea, right? But, what if your boss asks you to do just that? Do you tell your superior to take a hike? I tend to believe that PR people should never say “no” to clients. Instead, we should provide an alternative and explain why that’s a better option. As Beth Harte recently reminded me, it’s our job to counsel our clients.

So, consider this situation:

You work at Bill’s Hot Dog Shop and Bill is new to social media. He doesn’t consult Yelp on a frequent basis and doesn’t understand who writes these reviews, let alone the guidelines for each review site. Some unhappy customers have posted negative reviews about their recent dining experience. Bill is scurrying trying to identify the problem and appropriate solution. Recalling when you’ve explained to him that quick responses critical in social media, Bill asks you to post a couple reviews under fake names.

How do you respond when a superior asks you to post fake reviews on a review site? In this situation, Bill isn’t asking you because he’s unethical. To the contrary, he probably thinks he’s taking your advice. This is precisely where the “counselor” part of our job is required. How about this response: Explain to Bill what he’s asking you to do. Tell him why this isn’t the best approach. Maybe even show him how this approach has backfired for other companies. But, don’t stop there. Suggest an alternative strategy. Explain how and why he should respond. Make this less intimidating by offering to help him navigate the review site so he posts his response in the right place. Recommend a short-term and long-term approach for handing review sites.

If you worked for Bill, how would you respond?


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