online reputation

Practical Steps for Managing Your Online Reputation

Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. Yelp. Consumers have their pick when it comes to the number of social media platforms available to crow about outstanding service — or complain when something goes wrong. In today’s multichannel marketing world, what should you do if you or your practice is singled out for a bad review or complaint?
  • Research suggests that 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • Asking patients who are satisfied with their treatment to post positive reviews can help overshadow one or two negative reviews
  • As employers, dentists must take care when requesting social media account information from employees or prospective employees
Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. Yelp. Consumers have their pick when it comes to the number of social media platforms available to crow about outstanding service — or complain when something goes wrong. 

In today’s multichannel marketing world, what should you do if you or your practice is singled out for a bad review or complaint?  

Dealing with these challenges is called online reputation management: The act of actively monitoring, managing, and engaging with the public perception of your brand online. Because anyone with access to the Internet can now play the role of a self-styled critic, it’s easier for any kind of review — positive or negative — to be amplified. 

Just a few years ago, if someone had a problem with a product or service, they complained to whomever would listen. Maybe they wrote a letter to their local newspaper, complained to a government agency or, in the extreme example, picketed the targeted business. 

Today, in a matter of keystrokes, consumers are able to post photos, video and commentaries about everything from bad burritos to defective pet products and, yes, dental procedures. 


It’s almost inevitable: A post or negative comment is going to appear online eventually. And when that happens, it’s important that dentists understand what they can do to respond. 

Barbra Nault, a health care attorney with Studebaker Nault, PLLC in Bellevue, says the most appropriate ways to deal with negative online reviews are practical, not legal. First things first, she recommends that you contact the patient — offline — and offer to meet and discuss their concerns. Then, consider whether the patient’s negative review has identified a problem in the practice that needs to be addressed.  

If possible, Nault suggests responding to the review by describing the organization’s standard practices or policies to address the concern in a general way — never by discussing or disclosing anything specific to, or about, the patient. 

Be careful not to publicly acknowledge that the reviewer is actually a patient of the practice, she notes, as this may constitute a breach of patient confidentiality.

 And perhaps the best way to diffuse or soften the blow of a difficult online review? 

“Ask other patients who are satisfied with their treatment or services if they would like to post a review,” she says. “More positive reviews will overshadow one or two negative ones.”

As a rule, Nault says it’s ill-advised to threaten or demand a patient or interested person delete or change an online review. 

“This could be perceived as an attempt to hide the ball, and may only trigger another negative review,” she says.


It’s one thing to field a negative review from a patient. What happens when the source is an employee? 

Most private sector employers, Nault says, are also subject to the National Labor Relations Act which “protects the right of employees to act together to address conditions at work, with or without a union.” These protections also extend to work-related conversations conducted on social media, she says. Non-union employers may not be mindful of these protections and can get into trouble inadvertently by telling employees they cannot comment or post online about the terms or conditions of their employment or say anything negative about an employer. When in doubt, it is probably best to check with an attorney.

Another tricky situation for employers, regardless of the profession, is using social media to screen job applicants. According to Nault, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued guidance that indicates employers must be very careful about using social media in evaluating job candidates or judging employee performance. 

“In the hiring process,” says Nault, “there is a risk the employer will learn information about an applicant that is not properly considered in a hiring decision, and thereby create a risk that an unfavorable hiring decision could be perceived as discriminatory.”

In Washington, employers are prohibited from requesting or requiring that employees or prospective employees provide their user names and passwords, or grant access to an employer, or permit an employer to review information on a private social media site, except in very limited circumstances. 


Nault cautions that, as providers, dentists must take steps to maintain a clear separation between their personal and professional social media accounts.

Professional social media accounts are good for providing general information about what the practice is doing to improve the overall patient experience, update patients and the public generally on current on developments in treatment or the industry, and publicize community involvement activities or professional accolades of its owners or employees. Personal accounts should be just that — personal, private and not shared with patients. 

“A social medial account is not an appropriate forum for delivering advice to any particular patient,” says Nault. “That communication should occur in a setting where provider-patient confidentiality can be maintained. This limitation includes responding to negative or unfavorable comments posted by a patient or patient’s family. In all cases, patient-specific communications should be done ‘offline.’”

Ideally, the business or practice should have one professional account with limited access given to someone serving as a gatekeeper to ensure that any information published on the account is accurate and appropriately reflects the organization’s message, says Nault. 

And patient testimonials, photographs or other personal information should only be provided after a patient gives informed, written consent, she says. “Patients should be permitted to revoke consent at any time.”


A quick Google search will yield an array of businesses that claim to be experts in reputation management. 

Buyer beware, says Nault. 

“Consultants with expertise in online and brand development can assist, but it is important that anyone who touches or manages a professional provider’s online reputation be well-informed about the patient confidentiality obligations of the provider and everyone working at the practice,” says Nault.

“Unless the consultant has experience in the healthcare industry, these limitations may not be top of mind.” 

Coping with Negative Reviews

With 85% of online consumers saying they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, it’s important that businesses — both individual practitioners and larger practices alike — attend to their online presence and be prepared when negative comments are posted. 

Here are some ways dentists and their office staff can manage negative reviews and their online reputation.

1. Understand the Situation

The first step in managing a bad comment or review is to determine whether what has been said is true. Is this person a patient? Did you perform the services they are referencing? It’s important to respond to any comments in a timely and professional manner. If a mistake truly was made, apologize and invite the client to have a conversation offline, in person. Just remember that anything you post can be viewed by current and prospective clients alike.

2. Be Responsive

As with any urgent or crisis situation, you should address a negative review in a timely manner. Failure to respond quickly (or at all) can send the wrong message and suggest guilt, ill-intent or a lack of concern with patient outcomes. A speedy response might just provide an opportunity to change the patient’s mind, so it’s important to acknowledge the comment right away. Apologize for how they feel, and then suggest you take the conversation offline (e.g. via phone or face-to-face) so you can find a way to make things right. 

3. Use Bad Reviews as Opportunities

One study estimates that for every customer who complains, there are 26 others who remain silent. Granted, sometimes a bad review reflects unrealistic expectations on the part of the reviewer. But it could also be an opportunity to look more closely at an issue and determine whether changes are needed to create more satisfied patients.