While you might think of the phenomenon as only affecting individuals, business cyberbullying is also a serious problem.
"Business cyberbullying can cause lost revenue, a decrease in employee morale and a downtick in a company's persona and prestige," says Greg Williams, a negotiating and body language expert and author of Negotiating With a Bully.
Ashley Black agrees. She's the inventor of the FasciaBlaster®, a self-treatment tool designed to lessen the look of cellulite and reduce pain.
"Business cyberbullying attacks can be professional and very sophisticated," she says. "Cyber 'trolls' can wreak havoc on a company by blindsiding it. They can create public confusion toward a business that can create serious issues for a brand."
In Black's case, cyberbullies used Facebook to harass her and her business, including customers and family.
"The trollers not only made wild and false claims of injuries from my products," she recalls, "they anonymously reported these claims, posted on review sites and even harassed news outlets to pay attention to their untruthful claims. There was even stalking involved, which turned this into something frightening."
How Business Cyberbullying Occurs
"Many people wonder why someone would cyberbully a business. Unfortunately, some people like to intentionally go out of their way to cause harm to others," says Black. "Many cyberbullies and stalkers are a personality type. This activity becomes an obsession. Competitors may also use this to their advantage."
In face-to-face confrontations, cyberbullies tend to aim at targets that appear to have a form of weakness, notes Williams.
—Ken Chafee, president, OpenWorks
"In person, extenuating factors like the size of the potential target or his or her allies can dissuade a bully from pursuing his target," he says. "This isn't the case online."
"The cyberbully can hide behind the veneer of whatever he or she chooses to present himself or herself as, which can provide the facade that cloaks the person in a mask of anonymity," says Williams. "I refer to a cyberbully as him or her, but such activities can also be the actions of a corporation."
According to Williams, smaller companies may use business cyberbullying tactics to even the playing field.
"They'll anonymously place false stories about the larger entity into social media outlets or have allies serve as proxies in this effort," he says.
Reviews as Business Cyberbullying Weapons
One of the most harmful weapons used for business cyberbullying is false reviews.
Lior Rachmany, founder and CEO of Dumbo Moving and Storage, often struggles with business cyberbullying in the form of bad reviews.
"We've noticed that customers leave negative reviews for leverage," he says. "They'll say things like, 'It would be a shame if this experience would cause me to write a bad review,' or 'I will remove my negative review if you do such and such.'"
One review usually isn't the extent of the damage, either, notes Rachmany.
"There will often be multiple bad reviews coming from spouses and friends across all of our review outlets," he says. "Customers look at review websites before choosing a moving company. A single one-star review has the weight of five 5-star reviews. We lose more and more business opportunities the lower the star rating goes."
Fake reviews are also difficult, if not impossible to have removed, no matter how many complaints a business makes, adds Rachmany.
"Review platforms don't have the necessary tools for a rebuttal on behalf of the business. There's no real good system in place on Yelp, for instance, where a business can state why a review is unfair and should be taken down."
Black concurs, adding, "Fake reviews are difficult to remove, because review sites want to be neutral, even though it's false information.
"Businesses unfortunately cannot protect themselves from this type of illegal attack," she continues. "I believe there needs to be reform. Review sites need to allow for companies to prove that some reviews are false/fake and remove them."
Preventing and Addressing Business Cyberbullying
There are steps you can take to help address business cyberbullying and help reduce or prevent its effects. Keep the following tips in mind.
1. Be proactive.
"Garner as many positive feedback comments on social media platforms as possible," says Williams. "Then, if another organization attempts to bully you, they'll stand out as an outlier in comparison to the glowing comments you've already received."
"We make efforts to have satisfied clients share their experience with our office as soon as possible after service," adds Jonathan Rosenfeld, a personal injury lawyer with Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers. "That gets positive reviews towards the top of the list and enhances our overall profile. In the end, I think that it's difficult for competitors to drown out real satisfied consumers."
2. Have allies and customers at the ready.
"Respond in a strong and swift manner to business cyberbullying. Let the cyberbully know that there's a high price to pay for messing with your business," says Williams. "Have allies and customers available to post rebuttals. To combat a bully successfully, don't make your business an easy target."
3. Respond quickly.
"Most negative reviews are done within a week of the service," says Rachmany. He's found that daily customer service feedback texts or emails right after the service help cut down on negative online company feedback.
"Customers want to be heard, so take every negative criticism to heart," says Rachmany. "Have a manager, or even the business owner, reach out to the concerned customer. When all else fails, never be afraid to explain the situation publicly on the review site."
4. Monitor your social media and review platforms regularly.
"Don't overlook your reputation on forums and review sites," says Rosenfeld. "We actively monitor our reviews on all platforms. We always reply to reviews—both good and bad—in a professional tone and as timely as feasible. Potential clients respect a business that is on top of its online reputation and appreciate the fact that receiving a negative or fake review comes with the territory."
5. Get informed.
"A critical component to being able to assess the tone of the review/complaint, and potentially deal with it, is to evaluate all sides of the situation," says Ken Chafee, president of OpenWorks, which provides cleaning and maintenance services for business.
"Always take a proactive approach," Chafee continues. "If the error is yours, admit it and take care of it immediately. If the person is participating in business cyberbullying, push back, but be professional."
6. Accept some bullying.
"At some point, you're forced to accept some business cyberbullying as the cost of doing business as a leader in your industry," says Rosenfeld. "If you're often a target, it means you're doing something others envy or strive for. Our company takes it as validation of our firm's actual reputation, as opposed to what some trolls say."
Read more articles on customer feedback.