Jeremy Tuber

Disgruntled dental patients and online trolls: what dentists can do


Advice for dentists sparring with online trolls and disgruntled dental patients

They’re anonymous, sneaky, and malicious, and they live under the bridges on the Internet super highway. They are trolls. Chances are, if you’re in practice long enough, you’re going to encounter one of these deplorable online monsters. The question is, “Will you be prepared to deal with them when they show up?”

If you aren’t sure if the above mentioned trolls are in Peter Jackson’s latest installment of The Hobbit (which is also deplorable, unlike his Lord of the Rings movies), let’s take a moment to define what these things are. Trolls, as they relate to the Internet, are people who sow online discord by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community.

In a broader sense, trolls could include disgruntled patients, past employees, or even other dentists (which is terrible), who are looking to damage your reputation by posting negative comments about you or your practice on review websites like Yelp, Healthgrades, other lesser-known sites, and on social media. To be fair, some of these people may have a legitimate gripe. However, instead of approaching you directly in an effort to have the issue resolved, they choose to anonymously post a negative (often snarky) comment on the Internet—for the world to see.

How to handle a troll or disgruntled dental patient

Insulate yourself. Think of positive and negative online reviews as your reputation savings account. When you accumulate positive reviews, you’re building up your balance. Conversely, when someone writes a negative review about your practice, your reputation takes a hit. The key to protecting yourself is to make regular contributions to increase your balance, which means actively and regularly asking happy patients to offer a positive review on social media and review websites like Yelp. This is of course one more thing that has to be done in an already hectic work day. However, having these positive reviews stacked up like money in a bank vault will be invaluable when the troll does come calling. Internet users will typically ignore or forgive an occasional negative review if it is accompanied by a lot of positive ones.

Have a plan ahead of time. Being able to handle trolls isn’t quite as important as having a disaster recovery plan, but it does help to have at least thought about how you’ll handle negative comments on review websites and social media outlets before they happen. Consider including the following steps in your plan:

Avoid overreacting and responding immediately. Rashly posting a negative response to the troll can have a catastrophic effect on your online reputation, so think before you type. Take a deep breath and recognize that this happens to almost everyone.

Be careful not to assume the comment was intentionally meant to harm your reputation. Ask yourself if the commenter had a legitimate reason for posting their comment.

Be wary about responding to trolls—particularly if you intend on confronting them. You don’t know how upset the person is who commented, and it’s a crazy world out there.

Decide whether to engage or ignore the troll. Legal representation is certainly recommended for situations like this, so talk to your lawyer. That said, most companies will respond timely and professionally to a negative comment that appears that it was written by a person who truly had a negative experience. On the other hand, if it appears the commenter isn’t looking for resolution—they’re just looking to cause damage, many companies opt to ignore the troll. To help you decide how to proceed whether or not to engage or ignore a troll, check out this cute but helpful flowchart, developed by an outside marketing company.

I’ve got more insights to share: Rapid-fire marketing insights for dentists


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