A 6-step plan to respond to negative social media comments

negative social media comments

I have had several requests to write about handling negative social media comments on the web. Certainly this is a frightening prospect for many companies!

First, let’s emphasize that if you have you house in order, most fears of negative comments are over-blown.

I just conducted a study for the hospitality industry (a lot of people complain there) and found that negative Facebook comments represented just 2 hundredths of a percent of the total, People are generally supportive on the web and receiving negative comments can be a valuable of customer insight into legitimate issues.

When people bring a complaint to your “turf,” it gives you a chance to show your community what you’re made of. And some research shows that a few negative reviews can enhance credibility and actually increase sales.

As we have witnessed in many examples, if you develop a strong and active community, chances are your advocates will “shut down” any extremists trying to get attention through negative comments.

And yet, you will get complainers. Here is an outline of an approach I recommend with my clients:

  1. The first, and most difficult, step is to make sure your company culture is ready for this. Are they ready to make a commitment to respond to all complaints? It doesn’t have to be a full-blown response approved by the legal department, but it has to be a short and timely acknowledgment that the complainer has been heard. As I wrote recently, that takes care of 98 percent of the customer service problem!
  2. Demonstrate patience and empathy. Try to defuse the emotion by saying something like “Yes, I’d be upset if that happened to me.”
  3. Apologize if warranted. And, probably even if it isn’t warranted.
  4. Empower employees to solve the issue on the spot if it is something simple, or have the respondent offer to take the issue offline through a phone call or email. This is important because you do not want to be drawn into a prolonged public exchange.
  5. Follow up. Assess specifically what is needed to make the person feel better. If you drop the ball in this phase, expect the emotion and response to escalate.
  6. If the problem persists even after if you have offered a reasonable remedy, either escalate to skilled internal resources or abdicate based on the risk and legitimate severity of the problem.

Business life on the web can be complex, but it can also be an opportunity to create a point of differentiation and undying customer loyalty if you get it right!

Does this plan seem solid to you? What would you add?

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  • Nice advice Mark.

    If an issue that could cause negativity online can be spotted quickly enough then any potentially brand damaging activity can be minimized (in some cases at least).
    Buffer recently handled the hacking of their users accounts very well, and, as a result, gained even more support and loyalty than they had before.

    Just goes to show that an otherwise very negative incident can be used to a brand’s advantage, if they are ready and know what to do 🙂

  • geofflivingston

    Good stuff. I think its implied, but I would add factual responses matter quite a bit. In an attempt to empathize or diffuse a situation, companies can fall victim to overpromising or embellishing a situation to get out of it. This is a very dangerous thing that can backfire and accelerate a negative situation into a crisis.

  • I love that you said, “that if you have your house in order, most fears of negative comments are over-blown” – [BTW, you had a typo in that sentence – you said “you” instead of “your.” The sentence reminded me of a former client we had that absolutely refused to turn on comments on their blogs because they were afraid that they would get complaints. And their house was NOT in order.

    The attitude that business owners have towards the possibility of negative comments is reflective of how they view their business. In general, I think, businesses owners that view their business as a way to provide increasing value to people, and the world in general, would be less wary of potential complaints. They would view complaints as a chance to learn and figure out how to create more value. This article is great for those business owners because it gives them actionable steps to take when working with negative comments online.

  • Elle

    Good article.
    I never apologize (for legal reasons) until a claim is understood in great detail. I
    do, however, exercise empathy and work towards goals: disarm, empathize, and take it off-line ASAP. Once this is done, I follow-up with a closing comment,
    letting our community know the issue was, indeed, resolved, e.g., “Glad we
    could work this out, Joe. Thanks again for the opportunity to discuss your
    experience in greater detail off-line. Your feedback was definitely appreciated.”

    Every negative (and positive) comment made is an opportunity to connect to a person. Furthermore, every comment made tells me that the proverbial door is not yet shut; he/she is giving us a chance to make things right and cultivate a greater connection with our brand, probably a greater one than if he/she had never had a negative experience. If you keep this in mind, you more quickly diffuse the situation because you’re connecting emotionally to the person, as well as the rest of your community.

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  • RedSlice

    Great post! I always tell clients that making things right with unsatisfied customers is the best way to turn them into a raving brand fan. That said, a few things:
    1) It annoys me when companies don’t apologize. Legally, you may not want to apologize for the action, but you can say, “I’m sorry this upset you” or “I’m sorry for your frustration.” This is part of empathy, but I think a public “I’m sorry” before you take things offline goes a long way to making people feel heard
    2) Big companies with automated bots that reply to tweet complaints, etc are the worst culprits. They just add insult to injury by not understanding my specific problem but feel they can tick a box to say “We respond to our customers online” @united is the WORST at this and the tweets you get back have nothing to do with your issue, so you know they are automated.
    Thanks again for the post!

  • Nice example Barry! Well done my friend!

  • Yes, I wish I would have been more clear on that point. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom Geoff.

  • I will make that correction. Thanks for pointing that out. The perils of being a lonely blogger! : )

    As usual, you wisdom and insight is beyond your years my friend!!

  • Those are GREAT points. I see that “legal” thing all the time. A tough one but I wish we could just act like people instead of lawyers. Wouldn’t it be great for a CEO to say, “You, know we should act like we’re people.”

  • Absolutely superb comment Elle. Better than the original post : ) Thank you for this gift!

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  • Mike Morris

    As usual, Mark has it right. Most folks want to feel heard and want a response in a reasonable time. Having a process in place to address issues and employees that are knowledgable and empowered to respond are critical to taking care of your customers. However, in my experience, there are some folks that cannot be satisfied, either because they do not believe the factual response or what they expect is unreasonable. It is usually best to “agree to disagree” with these folks, stopping the discussions with them when they become obstinate.

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  • Jayanta Dey

    post. Superb tips about social media. Social media sites a key part of your SEO
    strategy. Importance of social networks Very
    growing more day by day. From your post we came to know how we should
    respond to negative social media comments. Thank you very much for the post.

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  • @Pat_M514

    What you just described is exactly how I try to handle every negative situation that comes up in social media.

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