Negative posts and reviews: How to respond when you can’t respond

As PR and communication professionals, we’re all adept in the art of responding to negative online reviews of our companies and clients. It’s one of our many super powers. But how do you respond to online reviews when you can’t really respond?

Let me explain.

In certain industries — health care, financial services, legal — privacy laws dictate that a company can’t respond to online reviews because doing so would violate the reviewer’s privacy.

For example, a physician cannot respond to a patient’s online review because doing so would violate the patient’s privacy rights under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Publicly confirming that the reviewer is a patient is a violation of HIPAA.

In other cases, company or client policy may dictate that you can’t respond to negative reviews. Think HR departments and Glassdoor reviews.

So, what can you do in these instances?

At my company, when we coach our physician clients on reputation management, we tell them to avoid a direct public reply. Instead, reply with a general statement that moves the discussion offline. Here are some examples:

  • “At our medical practice, we strive to provide the highest levels of patient satisfaction. However, we cannot discuss specific situations due to patient privacy regulations. If you are a patient and have questions or concerns, please contact us directly at [phone number]”
  • “In order to protect our patients’ privacy, all patient concerns and complaints are resolved directly by our practice and not through social media. If you are a patient, please contact us at [phone number].”
  • “Because federal privacy laws govern patients’ health information, it is not the policy of [Insert practice name] to substantively respond to negative reviews on ratings websites, even if they provide misleading, unfair, or inaccurate information. If you are a patient and have a concern, please contact us at [phone number]
  • “We welcome all of our patients and their families to address any concerns or requests for information about their care with us directly at [phone number]”
  • “Thank you for taking the time to tell us about your recent experience with [practice name]. It is only through feedback like yours that we are able to maintain and — when necessary — improve our care and service to patients. We would like to hear more from you. Please contact us at [practice phone number.]

What advice do you have for responding to social media comments and reviews in precarious situations?

This post was first published on Ragan Communication’s PR Daily.


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