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Managing your practice’s reputation online

The Internet has made it incredibly easy to promote your practice, showcase your services, and offer deals to potential new patients. But it’s also made it easier for people to slander your name, spread rumours, and launch a virtual attack on your credibility.

A negative review is hard to swallow, but what’s worse is that sometimes one bad comment can lead to more bad comments. When people read an attack on a person they know -- even just someone they know by association, from seeing their ads or hearing an account from a friend -- they will usually respond in one of two ways: defend them, or jump on the bandwagon spreading more negativity.

It’s important to know how to handle specific negative reviews, but it’s also critical to manage your online reputation as a whole. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t be afraid to be social: Don’t be nervous to post on Facebook because of what a patient might comment. Bad reviews happen to everyone at some point the only defence is a good offence. The benefits of being active on social media greatly outweigh any problems it can cause.

    So, if people post negative reviews, are they defamatory? We asked Jared Schwartz, a business lawyer and partner at Patterson Law in Halifax. He says it’s important to remember that not every negative thing you read online would be considered defamatory.

    “A defamation has occurred if the statement is communicated about the person and would tend to lower the person’s reputation in the estimation of members of society. The key in all cases is that the statements must be untrue,” explains Schwartz. “Private conversations, criticisms, or statements of fact, even if any of these would damage the person’s reputation, are not defamatory.”

    Schwartz says a post on an Internet site stating that a patient found a particular dentist to be rude is generally considered a fair statement of opinion.

    “The Internet and social media are often sources of defamation for professionals, but care must be taken to determine what is an unflattering comment or opinion and what is defamation.”

    If it’s not defamation, you can feel comfortable responding. Be sure to read our tips for responding to a negative review.
  • Here’s our best advice for managing your online reputation:

  • Own your turf: Don’t wait until you get a bad review before you take action and claim ownership of any online listings. Spend some time searching for any online references to the practice, like directories of dentists and healthcare professionals, as well as search engine results. Take the necessary steps to prove you have the right to manage them. Sometimes, this requires a little extra work to verify your business by phone, email, or snail mail, but it's worth the effort.
  • Monitor comments carefully: Have someone read all social media comments from your practice every day, if you can’t read them all yourself. Set up Google alerts for the practice name and your own name. That way, you’ll get an email notification if you’re being discussed elsewhere online – such as a blog, article, message board, or review site you’ve never seen before. You need to know what’s being said so you can respond quickly.
  • Be polite and prompt: Swoop in quickly with a simple public response that doesn’t admit guilt, such as, “We’re very sorry to hear the practice has made you unhappy. Please give us a call so we can discuss the matter further and make things right.” You can contact the patient directly, too, but having the public response lets people know that you’ve seen the problem and you’re taking steps to correct it.
  • Admit minor mishaps:While you don’t want to comment on clinical concerns on social media, you can certainly address operational questions. If a negative review is criticizing something innocuous like a long wait time, you can comment below with a sincere apology and quick explanation, like “We do apologize for the long wait times yesterday. We were squeezing in several dental emergencies and it affected our schedule. We are running on time today!” People get a perverse sense of satisfaction when a business admits a mistake publicly, and owning up to a misstep is often enough for people to forgive you.
  • Prepare for patients to bring it up: Don’t be surprised if your patients mention what they’ve heard or read, and have a short but pleasant response ready – for you, and for everyone on staff. The patients are probably asking out of curiosity, not to be hurtful. Feel free to say something like “Yes, there’s a bit of negativity online, isn’t there? I’ve reached out to them to discuss it, and I’m sure things will work out very soon.”
  • Look for the lesson: An upset patient may have embellished, put words in your mouth, twisted the details, and gotten some of the facts wrong. But look at the situation objectively to see if there is even the smallest grain of truth to the attack. What can you do differently to make sure this doesn’t happen again? Change labs? Tweak the way you do a certain procedure? Implement a different policy? Retrain your employees? The answer might be hard to accept, but it could save your reputation.
  • Take legal action if necessary: Defamation is the general term used to describe a written (libelous) or slanderous (spoken) attack on a person’s reputation. Schwartz says that if a dentist feels they have been defamed, their first action should be to consult a lawyer – and there are time limits within which a claim can be made.
  • In the case of a major issue, fight fire with ... silence: It may feel like the world is looking at the practice to see how you’ll respond, but resist the urge to immediately update your site or social media with a response to the attack. You don’t want to say (or post) something you might regret later.

    “Responding to the statements inappropriately can create liability for the dentist,” says Schwartz. “Everyone has a right to defend themselves, but professionals must also beware of their ethical and professional obligations before responding.”

    When you keep focusing on your work and providing excellent customer service, it shows everyone that a few hurtful words aren’t enough to stop you. Remember, you have hundreds of loyal clients on your side!

Any questions? We’re always here to help!

Heather Laura Clarke
Heather Laura Clarke
Heather has been working at Optio Publishing in various capacities since 2008, and she's currently a Custom Content Strategist and Social Media Manager. She is also a freelance journalist for newspapers and magazines across Canada, and spends far too much time on Pinterest.
More articles by Heather Laura Clarke
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