Anonymous Online Detractors Shattering Your Confidence?

Your messaging is only part of the equation when it comes to your business’s reputation. Reviews, both good and bad, are the other part, and they’re not under your control. Here’s a path forward.


5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Social media has enabled countless new avenues for business in the 21st century, but not without some serious side effects. While it’s now easier to target customers than ever before, the opposite is just as true: those looking to damage your business and your reputation can target you just as easily.

Especially for a growing business that’s looking to establish a reputation, this can be a dangerous proposition. You’re only as good as your name, and being on the receiving end of harsh criticism, whether founded or unfounded, can pose a mortal danger to your company.

There’s an important distinction to be made between valid critiques (even the rudely worded ones) and the nihilistic wailing of faceless malcontents. Knowing the difference and taking the smart steps while moving forward, is an essential part of growing a business in the present day.

Related: 3 Tips for Dealing With Negative Reviews Like a True Entrepreneur

Here’s how you can respond appropriately to anonymous detractors — and even turn the conversation around to focus on the positives.

Make it right.

The lion’s share of the criticism you’ll hear, sorry to say, is from people who have no interest in bringing you down but simply want a remedy for the negative experience they’ve had. They may be misunderstanding your product’s purpose, or exaggerating the bad things that happened to them, but that’s immaterial. For their own reasons, they’ve chosen to express their unhappiness with your product or service in a public forum, and it’s now your job to deal with it. That’s the price of doing business in the modern era, but a thoughtful reply is now the most productive way to move forward.

Related: How to Spin a Bad Online Review

Importantly, your response must come from a place of genuine concern. People are generally good at sniffing out insincerity, and if the goal of your response is to make the criticism disappear rather than truly addressing it, you’ll be found out right away. A legitimate concern requires a legitimate answer, and failing to bring openness and transparency to this conversation is a losing approach.

Don’t hesitate.

It’s important to reply promptly. Letting a half-true negative story (or even worse, a completely true one) about your business go unanswered allows others to control the narrative. Look at Volkswagen’s recent PR troubles. When accused of cooking the books in the emissions of their vehicles, the auto giant was slow to respond, allowing the scandal to spiral out of control. A replaced suite of leaders and $30 billion in fines later, they’re only starting to clean up the mess.

That’s an example of a household-name’s failing to respond to criticism. Think how such a muffed response would affect a company that didn’t have the market presence VW does. Would your company survive a massive federal fine? What if you were forced to step down? If you’re leading a small, growing company, you probably don’t have to think too long to answer.

Every business has to deal with unintended outcomes and the unhappy customers they create. Nearly 96 percent of unhappy customers will simply never come back without letting you know why, so addressing and fixing the problems that are brought to your attention ensures you won’t hear as many of those complaints moving forward.

Don’t feed the trolls.

Of course, there’s a another type of detractor that operates without any regard for the truth, whose concerns are not so much illegitimate as they are completely detached from reality. These people, whom we can call trolls, are looking for their own form of attention by denigrating you and your business. How do you overcome them?

Related: Damage Control: 6 Ways to Respond to Negative Reviews

It’s tempting to go all-out to combat unfounded criticisms, but it’s sadly true that giving the trolls the attention they desire is playing right into their hands. Ever hear of the Union Street Guest House in Hudson, New York? If you have, there’s an equal chance that it’s because of their ritzy accommodations or the headlines they made for fining guests who left negative Yelp reviews. As much as we’d love to shoot back at those we feel are overly critical, it only ends up hurting one’s own image in the end.

Keep your chin up.

You can end up your own worst enemy if you buy into the worst people say about you. Entrepreneurs are generally a confident bunch: you have to be in order to sell a product or service to a skeptical public. To have that confidence shaken can mean disaster for a business. So instead, focus on the things you can control. If you’re doing that part right, you should be able to overcome any falsehood.

If there’s any solace to be had when coming under criticism, it’s this: you wouldn’t be in a position to be criticized if you weren’t doing something right. So whether you’re ignoring, addressing or attempting to heal the hate, just know that it was bound to happen as your business grew. The road to business success is laden with such challenges — don’t let an unhappy detractor be the one that defines you.

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