By now, you've likely caught wind of the Internet's outrage over Walter Palmer, a Minnesota dentist whose love of trophy hunting made headlines when he poached Cecil the lion. According to The Telegraph, the much-beloved lion was a main attraction in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park. The report states Palmer and his hunting guides unlawfully lured Cecil away from the conservation's grounds with bait before stalking and slaying the animal.
The Star Tribune reports that Palmer thought his hunting was done legally (he allegedly paid $55,000 for the hunt) and has apologized for taking Cecil's life, but the damage is already done. Trophy hunting, or in this case, poaching, is a contentious activity, and people are flocking to the dentist's River Bluff Dental Yelp page to voice their anger. Many commenters urge others not to give their money to a professional who would use it to fund protected-species hunting trips.
- River Bluff Dental has racked up more than 1,500 one-star reviews.
- The practice's Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts are similarly alight with protests.
The reviewers aim to hit Palmer where it counts: his practice, and by proxy, his wallet. It's an interesting lesson for small-business owners. With nearly everyone connected via social media, information travels fast. That interconnectivity can blur lines between your personal life and your professional one. As such, part of your business's public relations strategy may be contemplating how your hobbies can affect your business, especially if they are divisive.
On Heeding the Uproar
Granted, your hobbies or interests may not involve killing majestic animals for sport. But social media makes it all too easy for controversial choices to alter your professional life. For example, you've seen companies get bad press for being open about political stances (e.g., USA Today reports on a bakery that closed down after discriminating against a gay couple). And even if you make those choices or voice those opinions in your personal sphere, it could come back to haunt your business all the same.
This isn't to say you should constantly walk on eggshells to avoid angering anyone in your personal life out of fear that your business will bear the hurt. At the same time, public opinion is a powerful current. No business can survive without its favor.
Instead of clinging to ideas and activities that may alienate large sects of your clientele, look for ways to build bridges and to get involved in the community. You may…
- Volunteer at youth centers or animal shelters.
- Donate to charitable causes when you can.
Ideally, your personal life will positively inform how people feel about your business.
The Pen Is Mightier than the Bow
These days, public favor is weighed in online reviews. Though they may seem to be inconsequential, Palmer's negative reviews forced his practice into lockdown mode. It's yet to be seen what monetary effect the bad reviews will have on his practice, but some studies shed light on what may be to come:
- Nielsen reports that 68 percent of people trust online reviews. If a business's Yelp page is full of one-star reviews, some people might not even read them before clicking away and choosing a competitor.
- The Local Consumer Review Survey 2014 states 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Moreover, 88 percent of respondents use reviews to determine the quality of a local business.
- The same survey found 72 percent of consumers report that positive reviews make them trust a business. The inverse may also be true: negative reviews inspire mistrust and doubt.
It's worth noting Yelp does attempt to delete reviews that are fueled by headlines and not actual customer experiences. However, don't rely on review sites to manage the turmoil for you if your business faces a similar onslaught. To learn more about managing online reviews, read "Small Business Brings $65k Lawsuit over Negative Online Review" and "Make a Better Impression on 88% of Your Potential Clients."