The 6 Golden Rules For Dealing With Bad Publicity

Sometimes, bad publicity is unavoidable. As Aristotle once said – to avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing. Unfortunately in this digital age negative publicity can now travel at the speed of light before you even have time to come with a defense strategy. The only thing worse than having someone post negative things about your practice when you’ve done everything in your power to ensure their experience was a positive one, is to find out that you’re the one who inadvertently caused the disaster. Knowledge most certainly is power when it comes to protecting yourself and your practice from bad reviews.

To use as the poster child of what not to do when bad reviews happen, let’s look at the Arizona based restaurant “Amy’s Baking Company” which was featured very unfavorably on the national TV program Kitchen Nightmares. The owners decided to respond to the criticism on social media and instead of fixing the problem, they made it 1000 times worse. This article isn’t about how to fix the Yelp score of a bakery – it’s about physician reputation management – how to protect your image and restore it when things go wrong.  Here are 7 rules to keep in mind when you’re doing damage control.

1. Don’t fight fire with fire. Never ever respond to critical reviews in ALL CAPS. Don’t trade insults. Don’t argue. Your best bet is to apologize and move on. Quickly.

2. Don’t be an ostrich in the sand either. Having negative reviews posted about you and not responding to them isn’t a smart strategy either.  It says to people either that you don’t care enough to respond or your social media isn’t being managed well enough to warrant even a brief acknowledgement. Neither of which make you look good.  I am always shocked to see how many physicians have not replied to their negative reviews. Perhaps it’s because they don’t quite know how to respond. If in doubt, just acknowledge how much you care about your patients, say you take your feedback very seriously and you’re sorry that they are so unhappy. That way you’re not admitting anything but you’re still painting the practice in a professional and caring light.

3. Let the haters destroy themselves. People who post negative reviews usually fall into one of two camps. Either they have a legitimate beef, in which case ignore at your own peril – or they’re negative people who wouldn’t be happy no matter what you did for them (in which case you have a marketing issue – this kind of person should have been eliminated at the very beginning of your sales process and should have never become a patient in the first place because of all the red flags they were exhibiting.)

4. Listen.
If one person complains they could be wrong. If a lot of people complain then you’re wrong. Back before the digital age, if you had one unhappy patient they might tell 6 or 7 of their friends. Now thanks to Facebook and Yelp they could tell 600 or 700 of their friends. Your bedside manner is critical.  It’s no longer enough to be a supremely skilled physician – your patients also want to see that you’re a warm, caring human being who cares about them as people. Please don’t ignore the importance of your bedside manner. It’s a crucial component of physician reputation management and patient happiness.

5. Look at this as an opportunity
You can build better patient relationships by solving problems. Want to turn an angry patient into a happy one – fix their problem (in so far as you are able to). A negative experience might spread through social circles like wildfire, but so do positive ones.

6. Performance creates amnesia
What’s the best way to escape a really terrible PR disaster? Outperform it. You’re probably already familiar with Apple’s rising from the ashes story but it bears repeating. Twenty years ago Apple was on teetering on the brink. Just a few years earlier the Board had ousted Steve Jobs and their product line stunk. Apple could have very well disappeared into the ether like so many other technology companies that hit a speed bump, but they didn’t. The Board ate humble pie, got Steve back and starting producing products that were technology game changers.  No one refers to Apples troubles in the nineties anymore because they’re so wildly successful today. Apply the tagline of that reality TV series “Survivor” to your practice when you hit a speed bump – outwit, outlast, outrun.

Again the best strategy for avoiding negative publicity and protecting your reputation is to treat your patients well and offer them a great service. But when negative press happens, be prepared – and most of all be strategic.