Bad review bribery – it’s a thing and it’s becoming increasingly common in the age of bloggers, social media “influencers”, and amateur critics. As a business owner, a bad review can mean the difference between being a business owner and shutting your doors for good, so what can you do? Many business owners feel that they have to give in to “bad review bribery”, but St. Pete attorney Matthew Weidner advises that there are other options available.

Bad Review Bribery: What Business Owners Need to Know

The Benefits of Mutually Beneficial Business Relationships

In this day and age, many genuinely influential people exist on social media and reach out to businesses in an attempt to develop mutually beneficial partnerships. Then there are the people who aspire to be social media influencers. They see these types of partnerships taking place and believe that they too can “get freebies” in return for their opinion. What these aspiring influencers don’t see is that in the case of genuine influencers, there is a mutually beneficial partnership where each party gets something out of the collaboration.

For example, take a social influencer who lives in St. Pete, Florida. This influencer has two million active and engaged social media followers across various platforms. Then take a chef – a rising name in the culinary field – who has two successful restaurants in bigger cities and who plans to open a new restaurant in St. Pete because he likes the area. Now, St. Pete is a much smaller city compared to the locations of the other two restaurants he owns and this chef, although on the rise, knows that he is going to need an “inside influence” to really get the attention of St. Pete locals when his new restaurant opens.

In this example, it would be beneficial for the chef to pay any travel expenses for the social media influencer to visit one of his other restaurants and provide them with a free meal. The influencer would then go home to St. Pete and begin to create hype for the upcoming restaurant. So, the chef gets the publicity and the “inside influence” he needs and the influencer has the opportunity to eat in an acclaimed restaurant, travel, and develop new and engaging content for their followers.

This Type of Business Relationship Isn’t Always Beneficial

Would the situation be the same if the chef were a world-renowned chef? Certainly not. In this version, the chef would need no help in gaining publicity and the social media influencer would bring nothing to the table that the chef didn’t already have.

Bad Review Bribery: When Things Get Complicated

There is another layer to this world of reviews and influencers, however, that leaves many business owners feeling bullied and extorted and as though they have no other option but to hand over whatever an “influencer” or “reviewer” asks for. There is a certain group of self-proclaimed influencers or reviewers who seek to take advantage of businesses in a one-sided business relationship. These individuals approach businesses with the prospect of “working together” (or sometimes the simply show up at a business!) and request “freebies” in return for a review. When savvy business owners realize that this proposal is one-sided and has no benefit to them, they decline the offer. This is where things start to get nasty – feeling hard done by because they didn’t get their “freebie” these people then threaten a bad review if they don’t get what they want. Business owners then feel pressured into keeping the “influencer” happy because they are threatening their business reputation.

This is, without question, bribery, and extortion.

So, what is a business owner to do? After all, their livelihood is on the line.

Fighting Back Against Bad Review Bribery

As a business owner (small businesses in particular), it can be difficult to know whether to turn away questionable “influencers” who threaten bad reviews and take the chance of earning a bad reputation or whether to give in to the demands of the “influencer” and risk the flood of “influencers” who are likely to follow.

From a legal point of view, there should be no question – business owners have to fight back against extortion and a failure to do so only encourages similar actions by others or repeat actions by the same individual.

Of course, it’s easier said than done to say “no” to an “influencer”, particularly when you’re not the one who is being extorted, however, there are regulations in place that protect business owners in cases like this and which give business owners recourse.

  • If a bad review is untrue and intended to harm the business in question, it likely fits the legal definition of defamation. Defamation is a criminal offense and you can work with a defamation attorney to pursue a case against the “influencer”.
  • If a bad review is untrue, most websites have terms of service and use policies in place that forbid this type of posting and reporting the review can result in it being removed.
  • If an “influencer” is threatening you with a bad review if you do not provide them with free products or services, you may also be able to pursue them for extortion – a second-degree felony under Florida law.

If You’re Facing Bad Review Bribery, You Need an Attorney

If you and your business are facing bad review bribery from anyone, “influencer” or not, you must protect your business and consult a defamation attorney. If you live within the St. Pete area, attorney Matthew Weidner is available for consultation, call 727-954-8752 to see if attorney Weidner can help you to fight bribery and extortion and keep your business reputation clean.

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