Think twice before writing that negative vendor review

Guest post by Love and Kittehs
Bride checking the internet III
WAIT! Before you post that negative vendor review, you should read this post. © by madprime, used under Creative Commons license.

My husband and I had a very beautiful, quaint country wedding with our closest family and friends. Almost everything about our day was perfect. Everything, that is, except for one of the vendors we were working with. While I won't go into specifics here, I will simply say that we were left disappointed and upset by the way we were treated by said vendor.

While I had been generally frustrated by some of the actions of the vendor throughout the day-of, we found out about many of the problems through family and friends post-wedding day. We were quite irritated, but the fact was that since we know about these problems and didn't bring them up the day of the wedding, there wasn't much we could do.

…Or was there?

A few weeks after the wedding, I began writing reviews on Wedding Wire (which has about a thousand sister sites that it shares its posts with by the way — It's like the ten-headed industrial wedding complex monster). Some vendor reviews were great — like our DJs who were rock stars — and some reviews were less great — like for the bakery that never came through, leaving a friend to bake our cakes the day before the wedding. The most negative was reserved for the vendor that was, in our opinion, the absolute worst. I'll admit when I wrote this review, I was running high on rage, fueled by unbridled opinions of several family members and friends. It was a truly negative review, and, admittedly, somewhat uncouth. The review posted, and a few days later the vendor posted their own reply, which was equally uncouth and honestly a bit damning and damaging to the business that posted it.

Satisfied with the result, I forgot about the review and went about my life. Until my parents got the certified letter in the mail. Apparently, I had gotten such a rise out of the vendor that they had decided to sue me. Yes, it's true. By law, in my state at least, some of the statements that I wrote were considered defamatory and therefore against the law. Which meant I could be sued for a total up to $350,000. Basically a very nice house for the price of my opinion on the interwebs.

I was floored. I had heard about lawsuits for postings on the internet before, but I never thought it could happen to me. A few short, hateful sentences translated into a potential lawsuit that could break our new family before we even had a chance to get started.

In the end, the matter was settled by removing the review. Which is way easier said than done! Wedding review websites are hard enough to navigate, and to remove a post entirely often requires contacting them directly, which requires a shady submission form and a lot of hope that some human somewhere will read it and remove your post.

I can't describe the relief that I feel now that the trouble is finally behind us. Trouble that made me realize that in our crazy world, the things you choose to say or blog about can really hurt you, as silly as they may seem. So before you go posting that crazy-mad review, follow these tips:

  • Think long and hard.
  • Be sensible.
  • Be aware of your wording — saying that they “stole” from you is a defamatory statement. If this is true, chances are you've already notified the authorities.
  • If they broke the contract, make sure you have proof and are already seeking legal assistance.
  • Most importantly, don't air your dirty laundry on a blog.

If you want to warn other potential clients about a vendor, do so with style and grace. Be careful of accusatory statements — posting that you were displeased with the services rendered is one thing; whereas posting that they stole your dress or car or grandma's walker is a serious accusation and you should really be following up with the police, not a wedding blog. If a vendor is serious about pursuing legal action, they will do so. We were given an out — others may not give you that chance.

An event like this can really sour that “new marriage” bliss. Luckily, my husband and I were able to approach the matter sensibly. We talked about it and made the decision to remove the post together. He supported me through the stressful process of contacting the site to remove the review and waiting for the answer from the vendor's attorney. He easily could have been enraged with my foolishness in posting something so brash, but instead he was calm and supportive.

While everything worked out in the end, I realized that it was not worth the anxiety and sleepless nights. That single thoughtless act caused entirely too much drama and angst in the few days that it took to resolve the problem. It made me realize that life is way too short to fuss over something so petty.

Comments on Think twice before writing that negative vendor review

  1. This is great advice. I had a terrible experience with a wedding planner (they’ve yet to pay one of our vendors and it’s been a month!) I would have written a stinging review, but his company broke up a couple months ago, so what was the point?

    Now I’m glad I dodged that bullet. He’d definitely be the type to sue me. Ugh.

  2. One little aside: this post perfect captures one of the reasons that I’ve always been very clear that is NOT a review platform. (Check the disclaimer that’s linked from all vendor listings and advertorials)… there are just too many legal issues involved when it comes to reviewing businesses. I totally appreciate sites like Wedding Wire and Yelp that are dedicated to business reviews — they’ve got lawyers to help them wade through it all!

    As for us here at Offbeat Bride, we stick to our constructive approach: celebrating the stuff that was awesome, and learning from the stuff that didn’t go so well.

    • Ariel – what about the Tribe? Are you not worried, because it’s a closed community?

      Stories like these really freak me out (I’ve had job-related dealings with threatening lawyers – never came to anything, but enough to freak me out.) I always worry that even private places aren’t really private.

      • From the Offbeat Bride Tribe’s Code of Conduct:

        No vendor bashing
        The Tribe is not a review platform. With our small, private community, the most useful thing members can do is recommend vendors other members should use. We understand bad experiences with vendors happen, but we ask that members refrain from posting negative reviews on the Tribe — there are websites dedicated to vendor reviews which will reach a wider audience (Wedding Wire and Yelp are both good). Posting on review sites is much more useful for the wider online community of brides and event planners, and more useful for the business.

  3. This reminds me of something one of the doctors I used to work for used to say:

    “If you think it, don’t say it,
    If you say it, don’t write it down,
    If you write it down, don’t sign it,
    and if you sign it, don’t be surprised.”

    This also has a corollary for the internet age:
    “If you post about it on facebook, don’t be surprised when the shitstorm arrives.”

  4. Wow, something most people don’t think about when reviewing or posting on a blog. I’m going to keep this in mind as I begin to write reviews from our honeymoon…

  5. Great post, definitely sympathize with the author. I had a dealing with a vendor that was negative (well, miserable really). I’m so glad I chose my words wisely and didn’t name names or post pix in my blog. Wedding planning is stressful enough and there is a lot of high emotion that comes with it. I can attest is VERY hard to sit quiet when I’m dying to warn others of my experience, but this is the way the internet works now and it’s not necessarily a bad thing as many of us are online buyers AND sellers at some point.

  6. Oh, man this post scared me. I wrote a negative review about the place I got my dress and I thought “maybe I went too far.” However I waited months (like seven months) after the entire incident before writing anything and I wrote the very basic here’s-my-experience and why I was displeased without getting raging mad or inappropriate. And I included that overall I was pleased with my dress and the price, just not the service/attitude of the consultant. I actually feel a little better about my review now, but this was a great reminder about what NOT to do in a review. Thanks for this.

    (Also, I work for an online newspaper and there’s a local company suing someone for the negative things they keep posting about them on the site I manage. Luckily the company I work for is owned by a much larger company with a massive legal team. Not my problem.)

  7. This is good to know! I’ve heard of it happening before but never really understood how. I ordered a customized anniversary gift last week and the quality was TERRIBLE and then I couldn’t get the vendor to respond about a return. I was so close to posting pictures with a bad review. After reading this I’m quite glad I didnt!

    • Although it is good to think about the way you review services online, you should really not accept bad quality for your money and then the vendor not responding any more. I would write a review stating just the naked facts, no emotional colouring to it.

  8. This is VERY important information. I didn’t think anyone could get sued for posting a bad review! That scares me!
    This really defeats the purpose of online reviews, where the common man could voice his opinion. Sure, I believe one should be aware and courteous when making a review, but I see the fear of being sued skewing the overall review too positively.

    • This really defeats the purpose of online reviews, where the common man could voice his opinion.

      I don’t think this is the case at all. The author’s guidance here is pretty clear about what can get you in trouble — stuff like “they stole from me!” or “they broke the contract!” Basically, if a vendor has done either of those things, you should contact the police.

      No one could sue you for saying something like “I was extremely disappointed by the level of service I received from this vendor, and would not recommend them to anyone.” No business could argue with those statements — were you disappointed? Yes. Would you recommend them? No. The key is framing your statements in ways that the vendor CANNOT ARGUE about. It’s just like any good debate, really.

      The issue here isn’t about anyone being silenced — it’s about being thoughtful and articulate in your feedback. Ultimately, thoughtful articulate feedback reflects better on you, AND is more helpful to the business.

      • Oh yes. This a million times. Sometimes when I’m really pissed, or whenever I feel inarticulate, bullet pointing the thoughts help minimize the ranting and focus on what *really* happened.

        I’ve posted negative reviews in Yelp, and one in particular where I elaborated on exactly what was wrong with the food and why I didn’t like it, yielded a personal message from one of the restauranteurs and an actual change in the kitchen.

      • Well said. I’m currently volunteering in community legal education and defamation on the internet is my little focus for the season. Now that we can all be publishers we need to watch it. You can voice negative opinions (based on true stuff that happened)to your heart’s content. It’s when you start saying what sounds like statements of fact that things get risky. And think about how what you’ve said could be interpreted. It’s very easy when you’re emotional to start coming across to others like you’re stating plain facts, so that “the standard of service didn’t meet the expectations we had when we engaged the vendor’s services” becomes “they ignored everything we contracted for and made it their business to ruin the most important day of our lives!”
        I think defamation imposes a pretty sensible limit on freedom of expression. Surely the purpose of online reviews is to voice opinions based on truth.

  9. Hey, my mom is a lawyer! Like, she knows about this stuff!!

    I asked her about this, and she sent me this back– I asked her for examples from the list from Wikipedia pertaining to this situation.

    Defamation means “false statements are considered to be harmful”

    Statements are defamatory when they say one or more of the following things:

    Allegations about a person’s professional character or standing– (This can be really tricky in terms of a situation you’re describing because if someone acted unprofessionally and you write that down, you could be sued. “The wedding planner got sloshed at our reception and burned my wedding gown in the parking lot” could TECHNICALLY hurt her professional standing, but this is one where you would probably be able to fight it as “truth”– if that actually happened, without exaggeration, it’s not defamation if you’re able to prove it. However, in the situation you described, I’m better what got her is that she didn’t see most of what happened first hand, so sentences started with things like “My sister told me later” or “My brother saw her”, “My cousin told me she told her”– if YOU, personally, were not there to witness it, it is a legal liability to mention it–unless they have proof like wedding photos or video that show whatever thing they mentioned happening.)

    Allegations or imputations “injurious to another in their trade, business, or profession” (So saying “This wedding planner was terrible because she’s hired through X company or works on contract with X business” –meaning that those businesses could sue you because they would be connected with the “bad” review and suffer loss of revenue. Even something like “she strong armed me into choosing her brother Jimmy Musicman as the DJ would count, because you’re naming him and associating that DJ with her poor service)

    This one is pretty fun– Allegations or imputations “of loathsome disease” (This now included mental illness, so if your hypothetical bride said “they acted crazy!” they COULD be sued for that.)

    Allegations or imputations of “unchastity”— (weird but true, hopefully this wasn’t what they were being sued for)

    Allegations or imputations of criminal activity (sometimes only crimes of moral turpitude)
    ANY time you allege that someone “stole” something or “didn’t fulfill the contract” or “took something” or WHATEVER- anything that you might fill out a police report for, if you accuse them of it but don’t follow through on your end, that would leave you open to being sued. This can also include allegations of racism or homophobic activity, because technically that is a crime under some statues (depending on how the lawyer would choose to prosecute).

    It’s also important to remember that it’s really easy to sue someone–you just fill out the paperwork and they get a threatening letter. Whether or not that case would have held up in court or have resulted in any damages remains to be seen. Defamation is tricky because you don’t actually have to PROVE that they caused any damages– they can basically say that “because you said this, anyone on the internet can read it and we will now lose business”. It’s kind of weird, but true! However, the argument against that would be “fair comment on a matter of public interest”– if you think it is an important matter of public safety that the wedding coordinator was cooking meth in the kitchen during dinner, then you have the right to let people know.

    Hope my mom (the important lawyer) helped!

    • Thank you (and your mom) for this, a thousand times. We should never, never, never be afraid to write a negative review of a company, so long as we have done our legal duty and only conveyed the truth. Unfortunately, many companies will send you letters just to scare you into removing negative reviews (or to scare others into not leaving negative reviews at all). This is an abuse of the legal system and should not be tolerated. So long as you have posted the truth, stand your ground!

    • YAAAAAASSSS. Many, many plaintiffs’ lawyers basically work on commission, and the less ethical ones will be happy to bill an hour or two to a potential client to write essentially frivolous letters. This is NOT what the legal system is for; in fact there is a rule of civil procedure in most states establishing punishments for lawyers who bring a BS case like this.

  10. Well then … I guess I should thank my lucky stars for having dodged a bullet! After our affair I posted a scathing detailed review of our vendor’s maitre’d, not the establishment itself however, just his service. Everything else about the establishment, staff, food, service, I pointedly raved about – and perhaps that’s what saved me, I don’t know. Interestingly enough though, when I checked back on the various sites I used to post my reviews, one of them was deleted, no reason given. I reposted my review on that site, and again later found it removed. By then I was ready to let it go anyway, but it did make me question the value of time spent reading through reviews to make a choice if in fact only good reviews are allowed to post.

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