This blog post goes beyond the scope of my “traditional” social media posts, but it deals with an issue that many brand managers must deal with in social media: How to handle a negative review, and not just any negative review, but one that comes from THE authority in your industry. Obviously, there is not one single approach to dealing with this issue, but I want to document the way that one company dealt with this recently and what we can all learn from it.
The industry is wine, and if you are a connoisseur of fine wine, the name Robert Parker should be one that you are familiar with. His wine ratings are often the industry standard by which restaurants, retail outlets, and consumers of fine wine will use to guide them in their wine purchases. For any winery, it is a dream to have a positive review from such a well-respected authority in the industry. What happens if, despite the hard work you put into crafting the finest wine possible, you get an absolutely negative review from the authority?
This is the story of Tercero Wines, a boutique winery that makes Rhone varietal wines in Santa Barbara County, California. You can imagine how excited the husband and wife team of Tercero were when they finally received their first rating from Robert Parker after waiting a few years before submitting bottles of their wine.
The reviews were, as indicated by the owner in his own words, unfortunately negative: [note: all quotes in italics are copied from the original newsletter]
Well, I wish I was starting off this section letting you all know about the wonderful scores we received in the latest edition of the Wine Advocate, Robert Parker’s semi-annual publication. I wish I was telling you how our 2007 reds, ones that Christie [the owner's wife] and I are really proud of, were praised by Mr. Parker.
Alas, I am not. The scores and notes were released last week, and let’s just say we were less than enthusiastic about what we saw and read. I’m not in need of constant ‘pampering’ from writers about our wines, but it is nice to see good things written about something we work so hard to create.
How could you possibly take advantage of such a negative review, something that would have led many a wine maker to call it a day and close up shop?
1) Give it Some Time to Soak In
There is a tendency for some to immediately respond to negative reviews by creating a YouTube video or tweeting something out almost immediately after things happen. Depending on the situation, and considering the viral nature of social media, there may be a need to do this. But historical perspective is also a necessity and sometimes allows us to let the emotional knee-jerk response subside and instead deal with things in a wiser way. Tercero waited a week before responding with a message to their fans.
2) There is No Need to Go Completely “Public” with Your Response
Instead of posting something on their Facebook Fan Page, tweeting something out, posting a discussion on their LinkedIn Group, or even creating a blog post about the situation, they decided not to create a public scene out of the situation. They decided to use the medium that would be most discrete while allowing them the format to tell their story in any way they wanted to: their own email newsletter.
3) Be Positive
It’s easy to get even more negative after receiving such a review. As consumers, we thrive on positive news. So be positive! Which is exactly what the owner did in his newsletter:
Luckily, the sun will rise tomorrow, birds will continue to sing, our kids will continue to laugh, and life will go on – and that is how we live our lives.
So please read on and enjoy . . . . and as usual, thanks for your continued support of our wines and our label.
4) Be Honest by Acknowledging
You can’t hide the fact that the reviews were negative, so acknowledge them straight on, as the owner did:
The 2007 Syrah Larner Vineyard is a dark ruby-hued wine displaying minerality as well as black currant and floral notes. While it is a superficial red with no real depth or layering, it will provide pleasant sipping over the next 1-2 years. 86 points
And folks, that was the BEST of the write-ups and the ratings. It went downhill from there, culminating in the review for our 2007 Camp 4 Mourvedre, a wine that was recently chosen as one of the top wines poured at the Rhone Rangers‘ Los Angeles tasting a few weeks back:
Totally without any ripeness, the 2007 Mourvedre Camp 4 Vineyard is largely a failure. No Rating.
5) Don’t Allow for Second-Guessing by Making No Excuses
After having drunk the wines myself and seeing all of the rave reviews, I wondered whether these were the same wines that I had tasted. And the owner assumed that we all would think this as well…which is why he cleverly said the following:
The wines were personally dropped off where he would be tasting the night before, and then the wines were stored and served at the proper temperature as per Mr. Parker himself. I say this so that the idea of the wines being damaged in transit, etc. does not come into play.
6) Be Rational in Your Disagreement
It’s obvious that the owner wanted to disagree with the reviews, but just saying the were “wrong” is not convincing to the consumer. Giving your fans a detailed and rational argument why you disagreed can only help build up your trust with your audience:
The reviews simply did not seem to make much sense, not because of the scores (this is truly subjective and arbitrary) but because of how the wines were described.
7) Compare…and Make It Personal
There is no single source of authority in any industry. With the advent of social media, even an industry that is considered “old school” by many like wine has seen the impact of social media. Just look at Gary Vaynerchuk and his Wine Library TV show. So it can’t hurt to compare the negative review with contrasting positive ones…and taking it personal, in a funny way, can’t hurt either:
The most upsetting to Christie [the owner's wife] was the review of the 2007 Cuvee Christie, a wine named for her:
I love the idea of the proprietary blends proprietor Larry Schaffer has put together for the 2007 Cuvee Christie (64% Syrah, 18% Grenache, and 18% Mourvedre). However, the Cuvee Christie is tart with excessive acidity and not enough fruit or texture. 80 points
Christie did not like to be referred to as ‘tart’ at all – because she is as sweet as can be (-: And this was a wine that The Wine Spectator gave a 91 points to.
8) Show Confidence in Your Product
This is the true litmus test if your fans are “real” or not: Ask them if they agree or disagree with the review. Why not take it one step further by displaying the ultimate confidence in your product: Give consumers their money back if they agree with the negative review:
Many of you have already tried some of these wines – and hopefully you do not concur with what Mr. Parker wrote. If you DO concur and you really disliked the wines as much as he did, please let me know – I’ll be happy to take those wines back from you.
9) Get Creative…and You Just Might Generate New Business!
So, after all of this, what is left to say? Why not get creative and try to actually use the negative review to try to generate some new business? This is what Tercero Wines decided to put together a special package “in honor of the fantastic scores we received from Mr. Parker (!!!)”:
THE 82 POINT AND LOWER PACK - Here’s your chance to get four of our most popular reds . . . and four wines that received 82 points or LESS from Robert Parker in his latest Wine Advocate Issue. This is your chance to try these wines at an incredible discount – 33% off – and see what you think of them.
When I called the owner after reading the newsletter, he told me that he had already received several orders for the “82 Point Pack.” Most importantly, with the ability to share the email newsletter in social media, he has had his fans start to come to his defense in the most important consumer forum of all, Facebook. Here are some of the comments already:
“Your email newsletter shows a lot of personal integrity. Kudos for confronting the situation head-on.”
“Larry, I just received your newletter…you are a class-act my friend! Keep making killer wines and we will keep drinking them!”
“Those reviews are bullshit! Sorry your wines are not to the liking of parker’s palate — they are to mine!”
and my personal favorite:
“Fantastic pricing Larry! Thanks!”
It is true that there are many industries where user-generated reviews provide the fuel for which people make their purchasing decisions. But there are also industries, like wine, where user-generated reviews mean little and traditional media “authorities” still reign. The only way to deal with these situations is with a little creativity, a little humor, and being absolutely honest and upfront with your fan base so that you can create an even stronger emotional bond with them. That bond can only help you more in the future as our use of social media, and how it influences our purchasing decisions, only increases with each day.
Has your brand had a similar experience with a negative review from an industry authority? How did you handle it? Did you use social media as part of your strategy in dealing with the issue? Please share your experiences so that we can all learn! Thank you!