Open Wide - The Official Blog of The Chicago Dental Society

Permanent link  Managing your online reputation: responding to negative comments online


Please welcome Rachel Zanders, a writer who will be posting to this blog from time to time. Rachel is also a contributor toGapers Block, where she covers Chicago's dance community.

This is the third and final installment in a series of articles on how dentists can protect and manage their reputation online. 

Now that you've learned a little about review websites and search engines, and now that you've established and researched your online presence, what can (and can't) you do about what all of those real people are saying about you?

First, try getting to the client before the client gets to the keyboard. Asking the patient about his experience in your office before he leaves might diffuse his desire to vent, or it might be the extra effort that encourages him to go tell the world about your polite and caring office. And of course, he might present you with some thoughtful feedback that you can act upon.

Next, utilize the online tools to your fullest advantage by staying vigilant (potentially with the aid of Google Alerts, as suggested in the previous post) and taking action when you find something that merits it. If you receive a review--either positive or negative--on a site like Yelp that allows you to reply, consider using that tool. (The tips provided in Yelp's thorough guide to responding to reviews could be applied to a business response on any similar website.) However, as a healthcare professional, you must tread carefully because of HIPAA.

Dr. Petra von Heimburg, P.C., dentist, attorney, and CDS member, points out that the gut reaction to respond in a public forum, "explaining the circumstances, [the] treatment, and laying out the reasons therefore, … often leads to HIPAA violations by the dentist because, while mounting his defense, he will invariably reveal details of the patient's protected information." When in doubt, reply privately or don't reply at all, and always tread carefully.

And finally, what to do if a client posts something defamatory? The hope is that you can find a way to work it out privately with the reviewer. But many sites won't release a reviewer's information without "a court order or a formal demand by another legal authority" (Dr. Oogle), and most will not remove comments. It's certainly worth asking the site to withdraw the comment, stating your solid reasoning, but don't be surprised if the site does not find in your favor. (Yelp's CEO Jeremy Stoppelman has been quoted as saying, "We put the community first, the consumer second and businesses third.")

If all of those efforts fail, you might start thinking litigation. After all, there's that semi-success story about the pediatric dentist in San Francisco who is currently attempting to sue the writers of a Yelp review. (See also this article and link.)

But Dr. Heimburg wouldn't advise you to take that route. First, "defamation, be it libel or slander, by definition, has to be a wrongful statement of fact. If the statement is an opinion, it is protected by the First Amendment." Second and third, "a defamation lawsuit is difficult to win … and very expensive," to the tune of "$20,000 or more." In order to win the case, first you have to prove there was a false statement of fact.  Then you have to prove that you experienced business loss that was caused by the defamation. And then you have to be able to prove the amount lost. Can you prove that ten potential patients who researched you on Yelp absolutely would have chosen you if not for the negative review? Can you prove that those ten patients would have produced an income of $2,000 each?

But don't lose hope. Your online reputation is not your enemy, and maintaining that reputation is a manageable task. The truly problematic posts should be very rare, and remember that you have innumerable opportunities to harness the power of the new word of mouth and make it work to your advantage.


online reviews , practice management , rachel zanders , reputation , yelp ,

Permanent link  Managing your online reputation: tools for dentists


Please welcome Rachel Zanders, a writer who will be posting to this blog from time to time. Rachel is also a contributor toGapers Block, where she covers Chicago's dance community.

This is the second installment in a series of articles on how dentists can protect and manage their reputation online.

As I pointed out in my previous "Open Wide" entry, two powerful ways clients find dentists are Internet search engines and user review sites. In today's market, it is in every business owner's interest to make these tools work for him rather than passively allowing the online stream of information to roll by. There is no reason to feel intimidated--once you understand how these tools work, you'll find ways to make them work to your advantage.

Search Engines

Potential clients using search engines are more likely to click on a link that appears higher up in the search results. So how does a search engine "decide" what is listed and where it is ranked?

Search engines usually send a "spider," or automated software program, out into the wilderness of the Web. The spider reviews page content and makes a list of words, indexing information based on the spider's pre-programmed system. The search engine uses that index to decide what pages are listed and in what order.

There is an entire industry out there called Search Engine Optimization (SEO) whose goal is to increase a website's visibility when a user searches on related terms. Laura Cameron, SEO Strategist for Rosetta Marketing, explains that once you have a "simple, clear, and professional-looking" website that is worthy of drawing traffic, there are three areas of focus for SEO.

First, your site must be set up technically so as to allow spiders to locate, understand, and index your site. Second is the content. Cameron suggests, "Make sure each page has good, descriptive content on it, not just images. Make sure 'dentist, dentistry, teeth, dental care,' and other related terms are mentioned." And finally, getting other respectable sites to link to your site increases authoritativeness and places you higher in search results.

Says Cameron, "You can go to DMOZ or other link directories and submit site pages to relevant categories. Although free directories often take months to establish a link, when they do, [the link should help the page] appear in search results. You should also have employees or customers … link to the site from their blogs, LinkedIn profiles, websites, or any other site on the Web."

If you're not going to hire an SEO expert (or even if you are), check out Google's Business Solutions page to learn more about acquiring in-depth information about people who visit your site and how they use your site, buying targeted advertising, and much more.

Consumer Review Sites

Contrary to popular business owners' belief, these sites aren't just repositories for consumer angst. Although many people assume that clients are more likely to review a business if they've had a bad experience, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the average customer rating is 4.3 out of 5 stars. In addition, many sites allow business owners to take an active role. For example, visit Yelp's page for business owners. This will take you through the steps of "unlocking" your page, which will allow you to reply to reviews privately or publicly, track the traffic on your Yelp page, and even announce special offers.

One of the most important steps you can take in managing your online reputation is to keep track of what's being said about you. An easy way to do this is through Google Alerts. (See also our previous explanation of how to set up a Google Alert for your practice.) Once you've filled out the very short form, you will receive an e-mail as frequently as you like that lists all of the places where your search terms (e.g., your name, your practice's name, your partners' names, etc.) appear. In the final entry in this series, I'll be providing information about how to reply to what your clients might be saying.


online reviews , practice management , rachel zanders , reputation , yelp ,