A few years ago, my church had a worship pastor leave the staff for personal reasons. It was a slightly awkward situation, but everyone handled it with grace and he left on good terms.
Then, the negative online reviews started. Apparently, he?d shared a less than flattering story with his friends back home about our church. They carried their anger to the internet and began posting nasty comments about us on Google and Yelp.
Thankfully, we were able to handle the situation without any major crisis and learned a few valuable lessons along the way.
Respond to the Review
Don?t ignore any negative online reviews. If you see one posted, take the time to post a reply from the church. This means checking the few major review sites periodically for new content.
Be sure to respond with humility. Even if the review is false and abrasive, take the high road by apologizing. This should hopefully move towards defusing the situation without conflict.
Take the Conversation Offline
Don?t try to rectify the situation completely online. It?s all too easy for an upset individual to hide behind a computer screen and continue to lob digital grenades.
In your response, invite them to contact the church directly so that the situation can be dealt with directly. Even if they don?t follow up, you?ve still done the right thing by opening the door. And this shows other online reviewers that you?re trying to solve the issue.
Seek to understand what motivated this person to post a negative review in the first place. This might give them a more positive impression of your church and helps you avoid more negative reviews in the future.
When to Remove the Review
If it becomes evident that the person is only interested in being belligerent, it may be time to request that the review be taken down. You can reach out to Google, Facebook or Yelp to flag their comments as inappropriate.
It helps to be able to explain why their review should be removed. This could be if they?re telling lies, using profanity or being threatening in any way. Remember that removing the review should be used only as a last resort. Don?t try to immediately jump to this point.
Don?t Threaten to Sue
Most importantly, don?t sue anyone for posting a negative review. It should go without saying, but legal action is never the appropriate response to negative online reviews.
Encourage Positive Reviews
Whether or not your church has gotten negative reviews from users online, you can always encourage your satisfied members to share their positive feedback. Genuine positive reviews can help to balance out any negative sentiments.
Never bribe or require them to post positive reviews. That only comes across as disingenuous. Instead, make it easy for them to know where to post and why it?s important. Google and Facebook are usually the best places to start since Yelp actually discredits reviews by people who had only posted one review.
Why You Should Care
Almost all potential visitors to your church will seek out and read online reviews of your church before considering to attend worship. Negative reviews can easily sway them away from coming.
If visitors are that concerned about these reviews, you should be, too. Your church needs to take the time to monitor and manage these online reviews because they can have a real impact on your outreach into the community.