When Reviews Put You Out of Business

A Minnesota dentist closes his doors after receiving thousands of online reviews.


One of the summer’s biggest news stories focuses on a Minnesota dentist who shot and killed a lion on a recent African safari. If you haven’t heard the story, here’s a quick recap:

Dr. Walter Palmer was on a legally sanctioned safari in Zimbabwe when his guides lured a long-time, beloved, local lion named Cecil out of the protected perserve and shot him with a crossbow.

Side: If this is the first you’re hearing of this story, feel free to search “Dr. Walter Palmer” for all the details.

Dr. Palmer posted a photo of his prize on Facebook.

And this isn’t the first time he’s been accused of illegal activity… or the second.

The internet got wind of the story and responded in outrage. What happened after that was astonishing:

Google+ = 1,555 reviews with a 1.1 star rating

Yelp = 158 recommended reviews with a 1.5 star rating; 337 unrecommended reviews and 438 pictures posted (note: Yelp has been actively removing “media related hate” reviews that don’t stem from first hand experience).

Facebook = practice page shut down; an anti-fan page has over 7300 fans

Website = shutdown

Phone = disconnected

Practice = shutdown

Home = guarded

Vacation Home = vandalized

Future as a dentist = ?

We’ve heard the saying, “All press is good press…” yeah… I think we proved that wrong.

It’s actually staggering. If you think about it… killing the lion did not put him out of business. The reviews did. They created a platform for people to express their outrage (regardless if they had personal experience with Dr. Palmer) and allowed massive amounts of online momentum to be created. Ultimately it forced Dr. Palmer to close the doors of his practice.

Online reviews already have many dentists (and business owners) nervous. I realize a story like this only makes it worse. It’s a lot of power in the hands of people that can seemingly damage your business with one bad experience.

This isn’t an article about what to do with negative reviews. This is an article recognizing the impact of your online reputation and how its effects are reaching every aspect of your practice.

Being the town’s best “clinical” dentist doesn’t mean anything unless you back it up with incredible customer service.

Businesses can no longer hide behind bad products or poor service. The internet has given people a platform to shine a light on companies that have tried to get away with cutting corners. Online reviews are forcing business all across the country to face their short comings. It’s really an amazing thing that we should embrace. I expect it to create a beautiful world where the customer experience is highly valued.

A satisfied customer will tell three people about you. A dissatisfied customer will tell ten.

That was true 40 years ago, but amplify that today with social media.

The power of Word of Mouth is strong. People would rather trust another person than a business. There’s nothing wrong with that. It makes sense. We have to learn how to leverage that personal experience and transfer trust to our practice.

Reviews are effecting everything.

From search ranking to advertising results to profitability, reviews are directly effecting every dental practice.

We all know by now that Google+ reviews effect where your practice ranks on the front page of Google. Bing and Yahoo are both exclusively using Yelp reviews to help sort their listings. Being at the top of the first page of search results can add 100–180 extra new patients a year (10–15 a month… conservatively) At $1000 per patient average production, we’re talking about a big chunk of change.

Google is also linking reviews to their AdWords platform by showing star ratings. Facebook is including “likes” in their ads allowing possible patients to see how many people “like” your practice. The higher your star rating or “likes” the better your ad does.

Finally, a Havard Business School study showed that a one star increase on Yelp led to 5–9 % revenue increase for the average business. Put some effort in, raise your ranking by one star and earn a 9% return? Sounds like a good business decision.

Online reviews are not going away — just in case you needed to hear that. They are only gaining more and more credibility and are effecting the bottom line of every dental practice. I encourage you to develop an effective strategy to harness your patients’ experience. Allow them to tell your story to their friends, families… and even strangers. If you do, you’ll gains tons of trust online.


Joshua Scott is a marketing speaker and consultant. He has been speaking to crowds for over 19 years and has spent the last 13 years in the dental industry. He works with businesses and organizations around the country to inspire their teams and create confident marketing strategies.

He co-leads 8E8 Dental Marketing (pronounced “88”), a creative marketing firm specializing in brand creation and digital marketing solutions. He is also the host of The 8E8 Dental Marketing Show — a weekly YouTube show answering dentistry’s most important marketing questions.

Discover more about Josh’s approach to marketing at joshuascott.com.

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