Despite your best intentions at running the business behind your passion, somehow you’ve managed to fail enough customers to start attracting negative reviews. Remember Scottsdale, Arizona restaurant Amy’s Baking Company from the most infamous episode of Kitchen Nightmares in its multi-country, decade-long run?

Owners Samy and Amy Bousaglo ran such a nightmarish business, even Gordon Ramsey couldn’t save them, giving up on national TV for the first time in his prestigious career as an entrepreneur chef. This summer, approximately two years after the episode aired, the business is now defunct.

The ABC’s of How Not to Respond

Throughout the two years in between, Amy’s Baking Co. was bombarded by a slew of negative online reviews. At one point, Amy blew up at supposed “online bullies” on the company Facebook page before finally hiring a PR company.

Unfortunately it was too late for ABC, as the restaurant owners even mentioned on air that the Kitchen Nightmare publicity stunt was originally pulled with the intent of silencing online bullies. Even the PR company couldn’t stop what became an Arizona tradition of visiting the business to set off the seemingly insane owners.

Repressing the hate didn’t work, but there are strategies that can save your business after suffering such a fiasco. Not every small business can afford to hire a PR or reputation management company, so a few SEO and marketing best practices can help turn a company around before it reaches the point of failure.

Converting Negatives to Positives

Although the follow through left a bit to be desired, the basic strategy used by ABC wasn’t actually all that bad. It’s important to monitor your business on social media and business review sites to stay informed about what the public perception of your business is.

The Internet may not be important to you, but, with over 90-percent of U.S. households owning three or more Internet-enabled devices, it’s important to put your best foot forward online. Searching through social media platforms and search engine results gives a big picture idea of what your brand means to customers.

Responding to negative reviews is important as well, although there’s a much better way to do it that we outlined in a previous blog on responding to online reviews.

It’s important to recognize that hiding these reviews is important, but it’s first important to confront the issues brought up by these customers. By internalizing even negative feedback, your business will improve and it’s possible to make up for the negative experiences customers had.

Ethical Reputation Management

Enterprise Risk Management strategies in place at large corporations include contingencies for dealing with negative press. Small businesses can utilize many of the same strategies, which involve placing favorable articles on large-traffic sites in order to bury negative search results.

Some companies even pay for a variety of black-hat SEO techniques.

These aren’t the right way to do things, however, and could land your site on a search engine blacklist. Google is known for being particularly stringent on search engine trolls, regularly banning even reputable sites that bend or break the rules. If JC Penney can’t get away with cheating, it’s not worth trying.

Instead focus on perfecting your business practices, even going back to the fundamentals if necessary. Make sure your goals are aligned with where you really want to drive your brand moving forward. Improve quality of products and services offered, and improve functionality and efficiency to inspire customers to post their own positive reviews.

Don’t Be a Nightmare

Whatever you do, don’t start victimizing yourself and attacking customers who post negative online reviews. Although Amy’s Baking Co. will always live in infamy, the brand won’t soon be generating a profit. Arby’s may have outlasted Jon Stewart’s Daily Show jabs (even naming a sandwich after the accomplished mock journalist), but not every business is so lucky.

Bouncing back from negative online reviews requires a solid understanding of your brand perception and cool head. Reading of the negative comments online can take a toll on your pride, but suck it up. Your business may just depend on it.


Brian Penny is a contributor to the Connectivity blog