I’ve been blogging about food since 2009, since before the age of “Everyone is an Influencer” and before even the existence of Instagram. Through the years of sharing my opinions online and having countless conversations with other food bloggers, I am finally moved to write about a topic I feel passionately about, and that is what to do with negative content. Or more specifically, what to do with negative content about small businesses.
Let’s get some more background out of the way.
My biggest allegiance is to my audience.
I do not want to bullshit my audience with false reviews because I wouldn’t have the awesome job of being a blogger without an audience who trusts me. To preserve my relationship with my audience, I prioritize integrity.
I empathize with small local businesses. Especially if they’re minority-owned businesses.
While my audience is my first allegiance, I’m also protective of small business owners. Owning a small business is hard. There’s so much that gets sacrificed when you run a small business, and it’s difficult to succeed. There are no HR benefits included in that self-employment package. I always felt this way because I grew up the daughter of immigrant convenience store owners. After I started working for myself, I felt this way even more strongly. It’s terrifying when you branch out on your own. There is no PTO. When your personal life falls apart, there is hardly any saving grace in terms of income. The odds of succeeding when opening a small restaurant are already stacked against you, even more so if you’re a minority-owned business.
Which brings me to my code of ethics when it comes to posting negative content about small businesses.
If there’s absolutely nothing nice to say then go multiple times to see if your experience is not a one-off experience.
I rarely go back to a terrible restaurant with no redeeming qualities, which means I rarely post fully negative reviews. I borrowed this rule from my time serving as a board member for a nonprofit group in Austin made up of only food bloggers. One of the group’s codes of ethics was to confirm your negative experience is not a fluke by going multiple times.
Lead with and focus on the positive.
You can still be honest with your audience and not be a restauranteur sycophant. Maybe you enjoyed a restaurant’s service and the appetizers but found a particular entreé salty. Mention that salty dish later in your post. Disclosing unpleasant aspects builds trust with your audience without necessarily threatening a small business owner’s livelihood.
Give constructive feedback privately.
A fellow food blogger asked me about what to do when you feel the pressure to post a photo and kind words for a comped experience despite not enjoying the food. Eating comped food you don’t enjoy is bound to happen the longer you have a food blog. If you want to express gratitude to the restaurant for its hospitality but do not want to lead your audience astray, then consider offering your constructive feedback privately. That is something kind you can offer the restaurant in a gracious way without lying to your audience.
Consider moving negative dialogue about the small restaurant into your DMs.
I did a “Ask Me Anything” in my Instagram stories and someone asked me what the most overrated restaurant was. I privately told the person which restaurant I expected to like but didn’t. I did so after explaining that I only get one kind of dish when I eat pho and that I tried nothing else, and everyone else seems to love this restaurant. I was honest with this follower without negatively influencing possibly hundreds of people on my ONE time experience with this local restaurant. If someone asks you point blank about something negative, it’s okay to share your feedback! I just prefer to do this privately because again, if you have a big following, you can negatively influence people who may not even agree with you had they gone on their own, and thus make it hard for a community member to make a decent living with their business. Trust me, if it’s a generally awful place, they’re not going to survive anyway.
Skip posting about this small business altogether.
I have so many places I love and not enough time to talk about all the ways they’re killing it and how people should know about them. I choose to focus on celebrating amazing places instead of tearing down struggling businesses.
Whew. Thank you for listening to my TED Talk.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!
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