We’ve all heard the phrase “any publicity is good publicity” – but is that true? Online, public perception reigns supreme, and negative news can have a huge impact on consumers’ opinions of your business – and, thus, your business’s reputation. This can be critical regarding the overall success of your business – in a study conducted by Trustpilot, 90% of consumers reported not frequenting a business with a bad reputation.

In recent years, more studies have been conducted to determine the true impact of negative news on businesses, and the general consensus has been that bad news can not only hurt sales, but can also impact product reviews and customer or audience growth. And this isn’t just unique to news – any negative information out there about your business can impact its overall success. A study out of the University of Pennsylvania found that “negative information hurts…negative reviews, messages, or rumors hurt product evaluations and reduce purchase likelihood and sales.” 

On the internet, it’s difficult to escape scrutiny, and every business can – and should – expect negative feedback in the form of comments, reviews, or news. Here, we’ll take a closer look at the real impact of negative feedback and news to your business’s results and what steps you can take to protect your reputation online.

How Negative News Looks Online

How people get their news has changed considerably with the introduction of the internet. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 86% of Americans report that they get their news on their smartphone, tablet, or computer. This outranks television at 68% and radio at roughly 50%, and far outranks print publications, with only 32% of Americans reporting that these publications are how they get their news. 

The more people get their news online, the more these publications can impact their perspective. Online, negative news can have a detrimental influence on your business’s first impression on prospective customers by affecting how your business looks in search results. With 80% of consumers reporting that they go online to find out more about businesses, the impact on prospective customers can be massive.

What’s more, old news can continue to impact your current standing. Google’s algorithms try to show users the “best” search results for their query, and take into consideration several factors in order to provide consumers with a positive user experience and the most relevant information. While Google regularly updates and refines these algorithms, what the search engine determines are the best results to populate for your business may not be. Negative news tends to receive more engagement than positive pieces, and engagement is a key indicator of the strength of a link online. This means that negative articles, even those that are older, out-of-date, or irrelevant, can populate in results while positive updates may not feature as prominently. 

The Effects of Negative News on Consumers and Businesses

We’ve made it clear – negative news about a business can have a substantial impact on a customer’s or prospective customer’s  perception of the business. According to a study published in 2019, the effect of negative news on reputation is three times larger than the effect of positive news.

And it doesn’t take much for bad news to have an adverse impact on your business’s reputation and overall success. If your business is featured in a negative article – or even an article that appears negative with a click-baity headline – there could be tangible consequences. Businesses with just one negative article online risk losing up to 22% of prospective customers. And this number increases quickly – businesses with four or more negative articles can experience a loss of up to 70% of prospective customers.

The Rare Instance of a Negative Becoming Positive

Though the majority of business will likely be harmed by negative news coverage, there may be a kernel of truth to the claim that any publicity is good publicity: the aforementioned University of Pennsylvania study indicated that negative news or reviews of businesses customers had not heard of could actually increase sales. However, similar news or reviews for established businesses would be more likely to result in a negative impact on the businesses’ reputations. What’s more, this is not a guarantee – it’s better to avoid negative coverage than to take the risk as an emerging business.

How to Navigate Negative News

The more your business grows, the more difficult it is to escape negative publicity. As you reach a larger audience, there will be more eyes on your business. While you can’t control what others say about your business online, you can control how you present your business and how you respond. Dedicating time and energy to establishing and maintaining your business’s online reputation can be invaluable in protecting it against negative press – if a business has a strong reputation, negative news can be less influential to those familiar with the company. 

Establish a Strong Brand Online

The best way to combat the larger potential impacts of negative news coverage is to have a strong online presence. Establishing a presence online for your business will help you to control your own narrative by allowing you to connect directly with customers, establish your business as an authority in your industry, and debunk any inaccurate or misleading information. 

It’s important to note that your business’s online presence is most effective in protecting your business’s online reputation as a preventative measure, but not necessary. Building an online presence takes time and consistency, and quick fixes rarely yield lasting results. 

Generally speaking, a strong online presence for a business consists of:

  1. Implementing SEO best practices: every company should have a website, and a good one at that. As stated earlier, user experience is a key factor in what ranks well in Google. Your website should be easily navigable, informative, formatted for mobile, and load quickly. Update your website regularly, and fix any errors as quickly as possible. 
  2. Developing a strong content marketing strategy: content is an invaluable tool for building a business’s reputation online. High-quality content – content that is informative, unique, and relevant to your industry – can not only help your website rank better in search results, but can help you expand your audience and develop a brand voice. To develop your strategy, identify three or four primary themes related to your business and cover those topics in your content. You can also incorporate common pain points for your industry into your content topics. Post content regularly and make sure to target relevant keywords, but remember that quality is the most important factor with content. 
  3. Utilizing social media: social media allows you to interact directly with your audience and increase your exposure. Make sure that the branding of your social media accounts is recognizable and consistent across platforms (although you can always switch up the tone a bit to match a specific platform’s style or vibe) and link your accounts to one another. 

Note: inactive, out-of-date, or sparse websites or social media accounts can actually deter users, so only take on what you can manage.

To learn more about using online resources for your business, read our guide for managing your brand’s online reputation.

Know How (and When) to Respond

Sometimes the best way to approach negative news is to address it directly. Negative feedback online can actually present an opportunity for your business to show its capability to take responsibility and change, which can improve public perception of your company’s trustworthiness and reliability. 

How you respond will depend on the situation, but here is some general advice if you’ve decided to address negative news:

  • Get ahead of the problem: try to address negative news early on before it grows into a larger story. 
  • Take responsibility: when applicable, take responsibility for the problem. Dismissing negative claims or not owning up can additionally negatively impact your business’s reputation. 
  • Propose a solution: once you have acknowledged the negative claims, explain how you will change. 
  • Follow through: false promises can hurt your business’s credibility and reputation almost as much as negative news. But the opposite is true as well – if your business follows through, it can help improve your credibility and rebuild your reputation.

All that said, while some negative claims about your business will call for a response, some will not. Learn to parse out what requires attention from what doesn’t – how legitimate is the claim? Are people engaging with the article, either in the comments section or on social media? How prominent is your business’s feature in the piece? How prominent is the piece in search results? All of these questions can help you discern when something is worth addressing and when you can allow it to blow over.

Put Your Best Foot Forward

As obvious as it sounds, one of the best ways to improve your business’s reputation and offset the impacts of negative news is to put your best foot forward. Create a narrative for your business that is accurate, reliable, and one that reflects your brand’s mission and values. Keep up regularly with mentions on social media, your reviews, and name drops of your company in the news. Keep your customers at the forefront of your business, and take the constructive criticism to heart. It’s like we said: you can’t control what others say about you, but you can control how your business operates and presents itself.