Respond Don’t React – Handling Negative Feedback and Restoring Reputation

By: Matt Gainsford


What do you notice more, 5-star reviews, 3-star reviews or 1–2-star reviews? 

If somewhere has one hundred 5-star reviews and five 1-star reviews, are you skeptical or do you dive headfirst into catastrophizing?  

All these great reviews but the 1 star is the powerful star, the star that pulls the rug out of everything good and sends your business, product, service crashing down like a Jenga tower leaving you with a monumental rebuild (all why you are wearing oven gloves); what a mess… 

British Comedian, Michael McIntyre put’s it best in his descriptors of TripAdvisor reviews ( – Two ice-cubes in a diet coke, unacceptable – 1 star. The kids club at the hotel was so good we left them there, it’s a better life for them – 5 stars… 

Reputation management and the perception of your company, when it comes attracting top talent has, in some ways, never been so important. With sites like Glassdoor offering candid and transparent opportunities for people to share about their experiences, either as candidates or employee. 

Imagine this, you’re looking to hire someone, you have job postings on your company site, you might have put something on Indeed, you’ve engaged the services of an expert talent optimization firm (hopefully us) and you have your own team members sending out referrals. Your hiring strategy is strong but there’s a pebble in the shoe, negative or mediocre reviews. All the proactivity in the world can be brought to a grinding halt by the negative reviews. Candidates do their research, they want to know if they next step they are exploring is going to meet their needs, excite and engage them. If your candidates are spending time reading Google Reviews on restaurants and weighing up whether the new Sushi place is going to be the order of the day or if it’s going to be that Taco joint that used to be good but has new management then think about them exploring your company. You don’t want to be that Taco place that suddenly charges for chips and can’t justify why… 

So how is it you can still receive 5-star reviews when things go wrong, attain 3-star reviews when things go perfectly, and people are happy. What about dealing with a 1-star review when things really hit the fan? Was the comment justified, was it a misunderstanding, did they get you confused for someone else, are they bitter? 

If someone has taken the time to review something about your business, brand, service, or product then you can guarantee you have impacted them in some way (there is that small exception where there are websites that thrive on responses to comments and taking the time to respond is like screaming into the wind and it may be a good idea to leave it alone). 

So how do you manage negative reviews and rebuild or re-establish your brand? Firstly, you need to have a plan. Getting ahead of a problem makes it much easier to deal with as opposed to fighting fires during a crisis. Two ways to do this involve setting up Google Alerts, Google Autocomplete and Search Engine Results Pages so you can assess your online reputation in real time.  If you do see issues popping up, then you can utilize Google Analytics to check for spikes in traffic. Make sure you are notified on your social channels when people comment. You don’t have to solve the problem immediately but validating a comment/response in the moment will show you care and give you the ability to control next steps. 

Controlling the controllable and maintaining a sense of authority and calm is essential. Some say, the only three laws for reputation management are authority, authority, authority. Building a strong social media reputation starts with a developing a strong following and then engaging with people as a thought leader and being very transparent about your brand.  

Transparency, responsiveness, ownership, and openness (without being defensive) can help you turn any bad or indifferent review around. Companies whose CEOs or Senior Leadership team respond directly to comments can quickly re-establish trust with the person who commented, and the affect the response has goes further. Companies whose leadership team take any comment seriously build trust with other people exploring the page. 

Media Bistro has some excellent insights offering a step-by-step process to taking control of a situation and rebuilding your brand.  

Here are their 15 Steps to managing the reviews. 

  1. Own Your Past. Address the elephant in the room. Acknowledge what the company has perceived to have done wrong. Apologize and have an action plan to make it right.
  2. Control the conversation about your brand. And create an online crisis-listening program to catch increases in negative conversation before they reach bloggers and online media.
  3. Understand complaints your brand already receives. Use social media to clarify customer misunderstandings, reducing overall complaints and building brand fans at the same time.
  4. Adjust your social media response plan based on research, not emotion. Have analytics in place to help make an informed decision. Surges in traffic from websites like Reddit, where users can deliver anonymous content, can indicate a potential crisis developing.
  5. Monitor employee complaint platforms. Glassdoor is one such resource.
  6. Be proactive to prevent issues from turning into a crisis. Use decision trees that include the steps to take when an issue surfaces online or within the media for faster handling of potential issues.
  7. Limit potential surprises. Own variations of your website URL, including negative versions (
  8. Take complaints offline when possible. This ensures both a faster response for the customer, and less visibility about the issue at hand.
  9. Be quick to apologize to customer complaints. Remember that a happy customer tells five fans, an unhappy customer tells 10, a fan who had an issue resolved tells 20. This is a great way to build super fans.
  10. Be transparent when handling client issues. Transparency here means telling the customer what happened, so they understand the issue; don’t make up excuses.
  11. Fix what you can! Understand which elements of the complaint you can fix and do so. Use this feedback to build a better mousetrap.
  12. Use testimonials. Positive feedback from influencers can help boost any image problems.
  13. Create quality subpages from your website. This will help push negative results down.
  14. Reward loyal customers. Make your clients and supporters feel appreciated by giving them exclusive content, products, or experiences.
  15.  Be patient. Building a good reputation does not happen overnight. And rebuilding a damaged one is an even longer process. 

It’s important to re-affirm that it’s important to get ahead of the reviews online by: 

  • Engaging your current team members through one-on-ones, management conversations, utilizing feedback tools and pulse surveys and ensuring you are doing all you can do to develop and sustain a culture of openness. It’s ok to suggest that your team members leave Glassdoor reviews and how their feedback can help support the vision of the company. 
  • Offering quick feedback. If you’re interviewing candidates, then get back to them in a timely manner – check out our blog on candidate feedback strategies here – Handle with Care 
  • Understanding you can’t control everything, except how you respond. People will leave reviews and how you respond (vs react) can make all the difference. 

As Warren Buffet says,” It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” In today’s digital world even, this is accelerated. 

More than recruiters, Titus Talent Strategies are a team of Talent Optimizers. We empower companies to put the right people in the right seats through informed, connected strategies that combine data with an empathetic understanding of what makes people tick. We also know how to deliver unwelcome news and have people thank us for it.  

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