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On-Line Comments: A Two Edged Sword

The very purpose of a blog is to present your practice in a more personal light and encourage a conversation involving you, your staff and current and potential clients. And, nothing expands the reach of your blog more effectively than comments left by visitors to your site. But what happens when your on-line reputation become tarnished by negative comments?

One dermatologist in Minneapolis decided enough was enough when a disgruntle ex-employee posing as an unhappy client posted numerous negative comments. Fearing the image these comments presented, Crutchfield Dermatology added a clause to patient forms that, in effect, left the impression it owned the copyright to any comments left on its site.

“In consideration for your medical care and the additional patient protection, described above, by signing this document you or your legal ward agree to refrain from direct or indirect publication or airing of commentary about Crutchfield Dermatology and Dr. Crutchfield’s practice, expertise or treatment except in the manner provided in the preceding Patient Satisfaction Agreement Procedures. You recognize that Crutchfield Dermatology has made significant investments to develop Crutchfield Dermatology’s practice and reputation for outstanding care, and that published comments on the internet or through mass correspondence may severely damage Crutchfield Dermatology’s practice. By this agreement, you grant all copyright ownership in any and all published statements, comments, blog postings, and any other communication made by you outside of the Patient Satisfaction Agreement Procedures. You further agree that Crutchfield Dermatology is entitled to equitable relief to prevent the initiation or continuation of publishing or airing of such commentary regarding Crutchfield Dermatology’s practice, expertise, or treatment.”

Needless to say, some people took great exception to the idea their comments they were being censored before they even had the chance to write them.

So why did Crutchfield Dermatology react this way to what it saw as an attack on its on-line reputation? The reason is explained in an addition the clinic made to its web site after the above clause was posted on several forums.  Among other things their new post explained:

We previously had a problem with a disgruntled former employee posing as an unhappy patient to make dozens of fictitious, scathing web reviews about our practice.  Because the postings were anonymous, it was extremely difficult to prove that they were fabricated and not based on actual patient experience. It is important to note that we have had legitimate criticisms posted about our clinic, and we use those criticisms to improve our operations. However, if a claim is fictitious, it neither aids the public in assessing our clinic nor provides us information we can use to improve our services.

If you read the entire explanation, you learn that the clinic never claimed copyright over comments left by web site visitors. Even so, the expanded explanation was necessary to mitigate the image that had been given of the practice trying to squelch honest exchange on its site. In this case the practice had to do a balancing act on the two edged sword of on-line reputation management: ignore the spurious comments and see potential clients turned away by suspicion and doubt or make it harder for people to leave comments and lose the positive effect such conversation can have.

This is a case of reacting in the wrong way to an attack on one’s on-line reputation. There are several ways this might have been dealt with without creating the ill-will that followed the ill-fated “copyright” policy.

  • No anonymous comments – Yes, this may cut down on the amount of comments left but it would also have shut out that one person with an axe to grind. You can adjust the amount of anonymity allowed on your site easily. It is wise to at least require an email address for first time comments.
  • Moderated comments – This is time consuming and requires diligence to screen new comments in a timely fashion lest people leaving comments think their thoughts are not welcomed. The best strategy is to have email alerts sent when new comments arrive.
  • Mediate comments – Had the practice required comments to be moderated they could have responded to the negative comments privately before deciding if they would allow them to become public.
  • Banned IP Address – This is drastic but sometimes necessary. Of course this won’t stop a determined person intent on sabotaging your reputation but it will make it more difficult.
  • Build a good reputation ahead of time – Blog communities tend to take on a personality and life of their own. If you have developed a positive on-line image, more often than not, other people commenting will handles someone who is clearly out of life. That too generates traffic so you win regardless.
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About Tim
Tim George is a regularly contributing author to the MDWebPro blog. Tim is passionate about web marketing for MDs expecially the latest trends and results in social media, SEO and inbound marketing. For more, please follow @MDWebPro on Twitter

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