How To Muzzle Yelp Critics

How To Muzzle Yelp Critics

Can’t stand negative online reviews from anonymous sources? Two experts tell you how to fend them off in an eye-opening new book.

You’re going to have to make your way through most of Digital Assassination: Protecting Your Reputation, Brand or Business Against Online Attacks (St. Martin’ Press, $25.99) before you get to the pertinent parts. It’s not until the final chapter that authors Richard Torrenzano and Mark Davis outline a game plan that will help you defend your restaurant from the cascade of criticism that flows through the online world.

But you’ll have to make it to the end of their compelling 290-page book first. Some readers may find the collective content so frightening they’ll entertain the idea of moving to an off-the-grid location in Montana halfway through. The anecdotes are such you’ll be thankful the U.S. government, its infrastructure and the planet itself have so far survived the attempts of evildoers to cause unthinkable damage.

The authors aren’t technocrats per se. They’re the kind of guys Fortune 500 companies or government agencies call when their IT systems are compromised and their enterprises suddenly spin out of control. Torrenzano and Davis happen to have been at or near the center of some of the scariest corporate and government crises of the last decade, and what the two reveal here is downright frightening.

It’s not so much that even the most secure computer networks and other digital platforms can be so easily manipulated by outsiders. It’s that there are so many outsiders who are hell bent on manipulation. The authors note that more malware is being written than actual software, suggesting that the bad guys are getting the upper hand.

The problems faced elsewhere in the digital world make the issue of unfair and anonymous restaurant reviews seem minor. Yet it’s critical when it’s your restaurant and your brand taking a pounding in cyberspace. Does that happen much? Check out these headlines we found just this week:

• “Chef Tells Yelper To Burn In Hell,” a story about how Great Food Truck Race winner chef Jason Quinn responded to reviews of his new bricks-and-mortar restaurant, The Playground, in Santa Ana, CA.

• “Hubcap Grill Meets With Yelper Who Left Negative Review, Comes to ‘Cease Fire,’” an article that details the back-and-forth between a Houston restaurant owner and a self-anointed online critic.

• “#McDStories: When A Hashtag Becomes A Bashtag,” which documents what happened when McDonald’s attempted to create a feel-good Twitter campaign but wound up giving irate customers a way to disseminate abusive rants.

It’s not until the final chapter that Torrenzano and Davis spell out their “game plan for digital defense.” There’s an extensive one for big companies like McDonald’s, but the authors suggest best practices small businesses like restaurants can use, too. A subchapter titled “Managing Digital Platforms” provides keystroke-specific instructions for maintaining a positive image on Facebook, Yelp, Wikipedia and other technology platforms.

Also included are simple strategies to address the elements that control search engine optimization (SEO). The idea is to make sure that your customers can find your restaurant, and not wacko criticism about it, when they search for you on the web. Get SEO right and those anonymous negative reviews may not disappear, but they’ll be much, much harder for potential customers to find.

You can’t necessarily defeat your digital demons. But Torrenzano and Davis can help you minimize and neutralize their effectiveness. For most restaurant owners, that would be plenty.