Trolling and fake reviews of community pharmacies can have a detrimental effect, not only on the mental health of the people who work there but also on the public perception of the business.
Thankfully, social media users will have more control over what they see online and who can interact with them, thanks to some of the new measures the Government added to its Online Safety Bill earlier this year to protect people and businesses against anonymous online abusers – also known as trolls.
The largest and most popular social media sites are now required to give adults the ability to block people who have not verified their identity on a platform and to provide users with options to opt out of seeing harmful content. These new requirements will go some way to mitigate trolling – but what else can you do to protect yourself and your business from online abuse?
“NPA members sometimes contact us for advice on how to respond to unfavourable reviews posted to publicly available sites,” says Stephen Fishwick, head of communications at the NPA.
“They are naturally concerned about their pharmacy’s reputation and about the impact on staff morale, especially where an individual is singled out for criticism. The best way to respond depends on the specific circumstances of the case. Try not to be defensive if it is a matter of genuine feedback, even if it is critical of your service.
“Malicious reviews are something altogether different and there are a number of things you can do to try to get such content removed, including contacting the relevant social media platform.”
“The vast majority of consumers use reviews as they are intended – an opportunity to share their positive or negative experience with a business,” says Neil Bayton, head of partnerships at global independent review platform Trustpilot.
“However, if a pharmacy believes reviews being written about them are fake, businesses and consumers can play a vital role in identifying fake reviews and misbehaviour by alerting the host site to the suspicious activity.
Any review platform acting with honesty should give those using the website the tools to easily report suspected misuse of the platform such as fake reviews – and investigate and take action.
Malicious reviews are something altogether different and there are a number of things you can do to try to get such content removed, including contacting the relevant social media platform
“To protect against abuse, all review sites should have a clear set of guidelines for both businesses and reviewers who use the site, as well as information detailing the action it takes against those who misbehave,” says Bayton. This information should be publicly available in order to avoid confusion and ensure all who use the platform are fully informed of what is expected of them.
“If your business experiences reviews which are maliciously harmful and/or fake, it is important to act quickly. Make sure you utilise the host platform’s reporting processes to raise the alarm so they can investigate quickly, and remain diligent in monitoring the page and removing any new harmful and/or fake reviews.
“Negative feedback, particularly reviews which aren’t based on a genuine experience, can be a bitter pill to swallow – but it is crucial you don’t let your emotions get the best of you by being too reactive or using evocative language. If you believe the review is fake or harmful, first report it to the host platform and, depending on the content of the review, you may decide either to not respond at all – or to reply calmly, explaining to the reviewer how you don’t recognise this experience and have reported their review to the host platform for further investigation.”
And finally, Bayton says: “Be transparent: if there was a mistake on your part, acknowledge it, and even better, offer compensation. It could be a refund, gift card, discount or something similar…but make sure this is just a bonus – your first priority should be demonstrating you’ve solved the main issue.”
Make sure you utilise the host platform’s reporting processes to raise the alarm so they can investigate quickly, and remain diligent in monitoring the page and removing any new harmful and/or fake reviews
“Fake reviews and online trolling can sadly target any business, with former employees, competitors or scammers often behind attacks,” says Tina McKenzie, policy chair, Federation of Small Businesses.
“If a review is obviously fake, you can report it to the host platform as harmful and malicious but, depending on the platform’s policies and procedures, you may not get the level of support you would like. If this is the case, you can reply to the review and point out to readers that you believe the review to be a fake – that the supposed customer was not on your premises on the day claimed, for example.
“Remember to reply calmly and in good faith, leaving open the possibility that you’re mistaken; this will help to convince potential customers that you are honest and diligent.
“It is worth building a dossier of evidence to prove your innocence if you raise a dispute with the platform provider. Note down anything indicating that malicious reviews may be linked, such as similar wording, or newly-created accounts. And don’t panic if you get fake reviews – focus instead on building up good reviews to counteract the negative.”
Remember to reply calmly and in good faith, leaving open the possibility that you’re mistaken; this will help to convince potential customers that you are honest and diligent
Pharmacist Support says that while it has not developed any materials or information specifically on the topic of trolling and online abuse, “we would offer whatever support we could if somebody contacted us with this scenario, which would include a Listening Friend and possibly counselling”.
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The charity also has general information on: