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As 2016 draws to a close and as the term of our current President wanes, a piece of legislation has been signed into law by President Obama that has broad implications for a business trying to manage its online reputation.

The law has equal application for all companies regardless of whether they are small Main Street establishments or giant corporations and adds an important protection for consumers. Businesses that fail to cope with the change will see a dramatic increase in negative reviews and fall behind their competitors in the process.


What is the Act?

Called h.r.5111 – Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016, the law seeks to protect consumers from reprisals when they leave a negative review about a company on business review sites, social media sites, etc. Review topics include those about goods sold by, services offered by, or the general conduct of the business being reviewed.

Many business people say they feel embattled with review sites. And certainly manually keeping track of all the different review sites can make things far more complex for a business from an online marketing perspective. But many businesses have gone too far to avoid dealing with their underlying problems…

Worth Noting: There are many review sites including those that cater to specific industries. Here are the top review sites from different categories…

  • Angie’s List,
  • BBB,
  • Citysearch,
  • Facebook,
  • Google+,
  • Insider Pages,
  • Manta,
  • MerchantCircle,
  • Yahoo! Local Listings,
  • Yelp!
  • Avvo,
  • Kudzu,
  • Glassdoor,
  • HomeAdvisor,
  • OpenTable,
  • TripAdvisor,
  • Zomato
  • BetterDoctor,
  • HealthGrades,
  • RateMDs,
  • Vitals,
  • WebMD,
  • ZodDocs


Why is it necessary to protect consumer reviews?

If you run a company, for example a local service business, you probably know how important having great reviews online is to reputation marketing… whether those reviews are on Yelp, Google, Angie’s List, TripAdvisor, etc.

But there are a surprising number of companies that fear honest and accurate online customer reviews. Instead, they work to improperly manipulate their reviews. One of the most common methods has been to insert non-disparagement wording into contracts or terms of service designed to prevent clients from publishing negative reviews of the business.

For example, limitations might state that if a client leaves negative feedback on Google or the BBB, the business has the right to fine them, sue them, or both. Most folks don’t realize these clauses are in contracts and have faced the burden of legal action because of leaving a factual and accurate negative review about a company.

Picture this: As if having a terrible experience with a contractor wasn’t bad enough,imagine then being sued by that contractor for talking about that contractor on Angie’s List?

  • A real example includes a couple being sued by a pet sitter because they complained on Yelp about finding their pet hadn’t been properly cared for while they were away on a trip.
  • Yet another real example cites an apartment complex putting clauses in contracts that would prevent renters from leaving negative reviews about their renting experience or else face fines of $10k & lawsuits.

The problem has become so bad; Congress has stepped in to nullify such clauses.

Leonard Lance, a New Jersey Congressman, pushed for the legislation. He felt that accurate reviews & rankings are important to modern consumers and they have a right to see accurate & honest reviews and give accurate feedback, regardless of how negative that feedback might be. So the law has two purposes:

  • Protect speech
  • Protect the accuracy of review information so that it is viewed as trustworthy.


What does HR 5111 mean for a small business, online reviews, and review fairness?

If you are a small business with some kind of non-disparagement wording in your terms & conditions or contracts, understand such wording is meaningless with this Act.

Instead, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and start managing your reputation the smart way.

  • Monitor employee interactions so you can reward stars and better train those who might be failing your benchmarks.
  • Have a system in place to track your client satisfaction ratings and understand where your company might have friction points that diminish client satisfaction… take action on correcting those.
  • Establish a pro-active system that will catch negative client sentiment BEFORE they leave negative reviews.
  • Make it easy for happy clients to leave 5-star reviews of your company.
  • Promote your success stories on the Internet and across social media.
  • Create social-proof with content on YouTube that features stories of your happiest clients.

And if that sounds overwhelming or difficult to accomplish, then check out LiftDemand because it truly makes the process easy.

Still want to know more? Click The Consumer Review Fairness Act to learn about the law.

To get started check out our competitive online marketing analysis that will give you a complete picture of your current review situation as well as the overall sentiment associated with your brand. (Important: Having zero reviews is almost as bad as having negative reviews!)