Should Online Reviews Remain Anonymous?  Avvo Case in Seattle to DecideBoy, I sure managed to stir up a firestorm of commentary on my Facebook page yesterday when I posted a story about the Avvo lawsuit in Seattle, where a Florida attorney is suing to gain access to the name of a reviewer who posted an allegedly false online review.

The suit is in Seattle because Avvo is based there, even though the attorney, Deborah Thomson, and the Jane Doe reviewer are both Florida residents. The attorney wants to sue the reviewer, but can’t do so until she has a name. Avvo says the reviewer has a right to remain anonymous and is fighting to protect her anonymity.

I had a full page of Facebook comments from attorneys on this story, most of them cheering for Thomson. Most of the back-and-forth stemmed from a comment by an attorney who said:

This is why I don’t have an AVVO or Yelp account. Unfortunately, law is a practice area where many clients are unhappy in general. And there are people that will make false complaints wherever they can… any company that requires negative comments to stay posted, especially knowing how disgruntled clients get even if it has nothing to do with the lawyer, makes using these services unattractive to me. It just provides a forum to allow people to post defamatory statements.

The problem, as I and several others noted, is that this attorney does have a profile on Avvo even if he doesn’t claim it. When I Googled his name, that profile came up on the first page — #6 on my PC. As I told him:

Unfortunately, I don’t think most small business owners have a choice. They will be reviewed whether they like it or not and if they don’t solicit for positive reviews there is a high likelihood that they only ones potential clients will find online are the negative ones.  In today’s hyper-competitive environment, do you want to play Offense or Defense?

I know how difficult it is for attorneys to take what they perceive as a lemon and try to make lemonade. But my position remains that, like it or not, you are not in charge of the criteria consumers use to select an attorney. And all the research I’ve seen in the past couple of years says consumers believe online reviews are important. From a marketing perspective, you’re arguing a moot point.

I’ve posted previously on what to do with a bad online review, so reviewing that and my other posts on the subject (links to those are in the linked article) may provide you with some information on how to play offense in this current environment of anonymous online reviews.

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