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Using the Internet For Bad… or Good?

Just because I’ve never let the idea escape out my fingers doesn’t mean that the thought hasn’t been in my brain.  As the contractor was being a complete dick, telling us that he wasn’t going to correct his mistake and that we were just going to have to live with a doll sink for the rest of our lives, I was thinking,

“I am so going to write about this and post it on the Internet with the name of your company SEOed to infinity.  And everyone who Googles your company will find my scathing review.  And then I’ll write a Yelp review that will make your head spin and give you one-fucking-star since that’s the only amount of stars that would fit in a sink that small.”

But you’ll notice that I didn’t use the name of the contractor nor did I SEO the post to infinity.  Nor have I written a Yelp review.  I wrote about the incident because I needed to vent (and because I was proud of myself for speaking up), but I left the contractor unnamed so he will never be affected by Googling.  It remains only a story.

It would be wrong to negatively affect someone else’s livelihood just because they upset me.  There are proper channels for addressing an issue, and going online to complain about the company in order to get them to bend to my will is not one of them.  And the point is that without dragging the rest of the Internet into our disagreement, we worked it out offline and the company is making good on their mistake.  Plus making that one incident the sum of the whole ignores the gorgeous workmanship the installer has done.

BUT.

I also depend on online reviews to make decisions.  Maybe not for small purchases, but when purchasing large items or lining up service work, I go online to see other people’s experiences. I ignore reviews were it’s a matter of taste such as movies, books, or music.  And with restaurant reviews, I only care about the service and cleanliness knowing that other people may enjoy food I would despise and vice versa.

But service-related reviews are so helpful, and I’m grateful when someone goes online and gives their honest opinion.  If it’s negative, well, they may have saved me stress or money.  And if it’s positive, I still go into the experience knowing my mileage may vary, but hopefully it will be similar to the people in the reviews.

So where is the line between warning others of a negative experience and writing online to ruin someone else’s business?  Is it the intention?

Because while I may have rationalized it later to say that I was saving other people from having a negative experience, the reality is that I would be using my online power to get him to fix his mistake or punish his dickishness — a scenario we’ve seen played out daily on social media when people go online to tweet about a negative experience with an airline or appliance dealer or restaurant.  It gets results, but was it the best use of the power of the Internet?  Would we want it done back to ourselves in the future?

And it’s true, it may have saved someone from a negative experience (though not using this company would also keep you from great workmanship, a lovely end product, and a decent price), but if that wasn’t my intention — if it was only a side effect of my actions — should I ever post something like that online?

It’s so hard to know where the line is because I’ve possibly benefited from other people speaking up negatively online, and yet I also know how difficult it is for businesses in this day and age, where word-of-mouth not only spreads in the moment but is Google-able for ages to come, to do their work while shuddering under the silent threat of a bad review.

What do you think of negative reviews, tweets, status updates, or posts, naming a business?  Is it fair for consumers to use the power we have at our disposal — word-of-mouth — to negatively impact a bad business, or should we stick to the old channels of addressing issues offline?

And I do always take online reviews, in general, with a grain of salt knowing that people are much more likely to put out the effort to vent than they are to go say something positive.

14 comments

1 Mali { 05.05.15 at 8:33 am }

I do a lot of hotel reviews on a well-known travel site. I’m very careful to be as fair as possible and to restrain from posting if I’m angry or disappointed until the feelings have eased. I rely enormously on reviews at this site for my own travel plans, and I figure I need to do my bit, but they have to be fair and unemotional, with explanations Ford the ratings. There’s no place for malicious reviewing. It’s very easy to see if a review is malicious or written in the heat of the moment, and I usually ignore these as there are always two sides to the story. (I’m also pretty good at ignoring overly glowing reviews, especially if they are by members who have only one review to their name.)

2 Jendeis { 05.05.15 at 8:47 am }

I think reviews are important, but I only want to read reviews from those who are at the end of “their story”. So, “Contractor XYZ screwed up my kitchen and when I complained, they investigated and worked to make it right” (or when I complained they told me to buzz off) is much more useful than just reading someone who is really just venting.

3 a { 05.05.15 at 9:00 am }

If you can’t get satisfaction from the company – for instance, if they has said that you had ordered the doll sink and they weren’t going to change it…well, unless you paid for a whole new cut in the countertop and a new sink – then I think you have some justification in writing up a bad review for people to see. Contractors and restaurants and airlines are in business to provide a service to people. If they aren’t providing the service, people should know. If it takes social media to force them to act properly, they probably don’t care that much about their reputation anyway.

However, I have read plenty of reviews of items and places and it’s generally easy to tell the difference between someone who is dissatisfied with everything and would never have anything positive to say and someone who is trying to give a truthful review.

4 a { 05.05.15 at 9:01 am }

*had. Jeez! I even proof read this time!

5 ANDMom { 05.05.15 at 9:15 am }

We went to a dentist once for my son, and she flat-out to-my-face lied about his diagnosis. Admitted, even, that she lied, when my husband confronted her because I was too explosively angry. But she is one of the most prominent pediatric dentists in our area, so I am frequently faced with the dilemma of posting my negative experience when I see others recommending her. Similarly, we had a doctor accuse us of medical neglect after a 5 minute second opinion consultation.

I tend to err on the side of not destroying the dentist online, but being perfectly happy to eviscerate the doctor. No real harm came from the dentist, though I do steer friends away from her. The doctor tried to destroy my family with his ego, we addressed it with the hospital, and he is banned from contact with our family but still treating patients.

So there is my line. If actual damage (physical, financial, emotional) is inflicted and not rectified, the consumer has every right and reason to negatively review them on any and all forums. If it was inconvenient but turns out ok, maybe don’t outright recommend them, but no need to destroy, either.

6 Jessica { 05.05.15 at 9:26 am }

I think you wait until the service is complete before writing a review. In this case you can write about the problem, but note that they made good on it, and maybe even mention that the good happened after much discussion. Write it from the looking back on the job as a whole point of view, and then honestly write about the experience as a whole. That is a worthwhile review in my opinion!

7 illustr8d { 05.05.15 at 11:37 am }

I’ve thought a lot about this. I’ve decided not to participate in reviews as far as giving them. I know there have been big problems with Yelp. (See this article in Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jimhandy/2012/08/16/think-yelp-is-unbiased-think-again/) The short version of something I have a great deal to say about is that I’m reticent to believe reviews and I don’t participate in them.

8 Another Dreamer { 05.05.15 at 12:36 pm }

I think we should always reach out to the company first. I don’t think it’s worth tearing down a person or company unless all other channels have been exhausted. Even then, it would depend on what they’ve done.

As for reviews, I believe it’s worth reviewing if there was an error, and how the issue was resolved. I think that is an important detail that someone might want to know, and it gives good insight into a business. As a previous commenter said, the whole story after it’s complete though- not written to punish or in the heat of the moment. In the review you could give more detail, including the affordable price and detail of workmanship too. Anyone reading the review could take the whole picture then, and decide if it was a good fit for themselves.

9 Ana { 05.05.15 at 2:16 pm }

I don’t believe in the angry tweet or post, but I do value thoughtful and complete reviews. To be complete, it has to be after the entire experience (the trip to the hotel, the meal at the restaurant, the entire kitchen renovation) and all aspects, good & bad, should be presented. “the work was beautiful and completed on time, under estimated cost, but there was this issue with the sink etc…” I am wary when someone posts something negative but doesn’t mention if they contacted the company—how complaints are handled gives a really good idea about the business. I takes time to write good reviews, and I honestly can’t do it right now. I’d rather NOT review something than post something half-assed.

10 Lori Lavender Luz { 05.05.15 at 3:47 pm }

I agree with the themes here, and what you did — you allowed the emotions to dissipate and the story to unfold and fully arc. The unhelpful reviews come with people don’t do those two things, and perhaps when their ulterior motive is attention.

11 deathstar { 05.05.15 at 11:41 pm }

I do rely on fair reviews from things like popcorn makers, restaurants and hotels. I can usually tell if the issue is genuine or someone is just being a fusspot. I also have written reviews on hotels with pros and cons but I’m never malicious. Home renovation business are riddled with bad workmanship and so people have lost thousands of dollars as well as their peace of mind. People rely heavily on word of mouth to make big investments so I would rather know what kind of people I am entrusting my home to.

12 Heather { 05.06.15 at 4:55 am }

I think it’s important to first try and resolve the issue offline. I was so mad this weekend when there were family toilets that were locked when my little one needed to go, so I wrote my rant to the shopping centre. I think if you’re really not getting anywhere, the internet can really get you some results – I know it helped my friend with fixing her car when the branch was inefficient.

13 Queenie { 05.06.15 at 6:09 am }

I think you wait a few weeks after your interaction with the company is totally complete (to let things cool off and gain perspective), and then you write a complete review of the good and the bad. As long as it is balanced–ie, you put in the good AND the bad, it’s fair. Mistakes are an inevitable part of life, and it’s important to know how a contractor handles them. I don’t like the idea of using the internet as leverage–there is another word for that: blackmail. But honest, thoughtful reviews are totally fair game.

14 Monica { 05.07.15 at 10:22 am }

I value reviews – particularly those of hotels. I find it easy to see through those reviews that are over the top and written on emotion only and I don’t give them much weight.
What I really wanted to reach out to you is this: just last week I was harmed by the internet. Specifically, my blog was “found” by the agency I am approved with to foster/adopt and though I used the blog mainly to keep friends in the loop; I quoted something and the agency felt the blog could be a legal liability. I think it will impact the phone calls we will get about fostering and I am devastated to have had this happen. (I’ve since made the blog private and actually removed much of the content). But, it goes back to how harmful the internet can be to other businesses, but to even yourself.

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