Can Bad Google Reviews Be Defamatory? Yes, Apparently
Dealing with trolls online is sadly part and parcel of daily life for digital marketers and social media community managers.
However, do we really need to lie back and think of… you know.
Well, it would seem not, after Adelaide based lawyer Gordon Cheng won a $750,000 defamation payout after a woman left him a series of 1 star reviews on Google Reviews.
As per the screenshot above, the woman, Isabel Lok, was not a client of the barrister Gordon Cheng and had never used the business.
She posted a one-star rating on Google in October 2018 in English and Chinese, along with an extensive negative review.
Google data presented in court showed that the review had been viewed around 800 times monthly while it was up.
After reporting the fake review to Google, Google removed the review on April 30, 2019, however, Lok later posted similar reviews under two more names. One of which is above.
Drawing most of his clients come from Adelaide's Chinese community, China and Hong Kong, Cheng claimed he lost about 80% of his clients between the bad review and when he discovered it in February 2019.
Cheng estimated his total loss of income to be $631,229 from November 2018 to January 2020. He was awarded $750,000 in compensation.
Now, whether Cheng will see that compo is another story since those successfully sued for online defamation have a habit of filing bankruptcy shortly after…
The Good, Bad & Subjectivity Of Online Reviews
Well harnessed, online reviews can do wonders for a business.
Positive reviews make 91% of consumers more likely to use a business, while 82% will be put off by negative reviews.
Not only that, but average consumer spends 13 minutes and 45 seconds reading reviews before making a decision, and among consumers that read reviews, 97% read businesses’ responses to reviews.
However, before we all cry over our Facebook reviews, it’s important to not oversimplify the decision-making process too much.
Brand awareness and overall perception play a vital role in decision making, as does the availability of legitimate alternatives and the ease of moving between them.
For example, the NAB Mobile Banking app has a 2.2 Star rating on Google Play, after nearly 20,000 reviews. However, I still use it. It’s fine.
It’s a banking app from the bank that I bank with.
CommBank has a 4 star rating from 50,000+ reviews, but that is of limited use to me.
It’s also probably not grounds to switch banks. At this point in time.
Other forms of earned media, which is the most trusted, are also in the mixer, such as media coverage and real world word-of-mouth. Amongst many other factors.
Therefore, to what extent reviews will likely impact business is subjective to the decision being made and vertical specific.
Building Trust & Credibility Online
One area where reviews are very relevant is with any decision, industry or vertical whereby allaying user perceptions of risk is essential. Hence, Gordon Cheng’s beef above.
In Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) it’s known as managing "user anxiety", and there are many subtle tactics which can be used to this end, outside of reviews.
Sticking with reviews, there are many tools available nowadays which organisations can use to build, leverage and drive more balanced reviews from end users, such as:
Also, not having a five star rating needn’t be the end of the world, according to a recent Uberall study comparing data from 64,000 third-party managed listings.
On the whole, conversion rates tend to peak when businesses attain 4.9 star ratings.
But, when businesses improve from 3.5 stars -> 3.7 stars, conversion growth is shown to increase by almost 120%, the highest percentage growth jump from any star rating. From the study it appears that anything north of 3.7 stars performs well enough.
Interestingly, Uberall also found that the volume of reviews made can be important. However, this does, again, vary between industries, as you can see below:
- Automotive average review volume 76
- Financial Services average review volume 34
- Food & Beverage average review volume 181
- Retail average review volume 70
- Service & B2B average review volume 44
- Travel, Tourism & Leisure average review volume 104
When it comes to managing online reviews, small businesses would be wise to consider Gordon Cheng when facing down false reviews and trolls.
On the other hand, if Telstra took everyone to task who falsly shit-canned their offerings online, it would crush the entire legal system.
Hence, for corporations and larger organistions, it is more a case of drowning out false reviews and trolls with a more proactive approach to review management, than reading the riot act to all.
But, for consumers at large, few are truly aware of how the legal net is closing in on them, as to consequences of their "free" speech online. Which, to be fair, is probably five years overdue.