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Social media has become one of the primary ways brands communicate with their customers. Brands can present information, personalize interactions, and instantly respond to customer concerns and questions. The reverse is also true—social media amplifies the voice of customers, giving them a public platform to share both praise and criticism with just a few keystrokes. While social media can connect brands to their customers, it can also open them up to a world of criticism and negative feedback.  These complaints can quickly gain momentum, and this snowball effect can put your reputation at risk.

You can’t prevent criticism or negative comments on social media, but it is possible to address the feedback to maintain a positive image. Engaging with unsatisfied customers can go a long way: 45 percent of people say they would view a company more positively if it responded to negative comments on social media. Your social media strategy should include a detailed plan for responding to negative feedback before things start to go sideways and you find yourself in a full-blown crisis. A well-crafted response can help turn an unhappy customer around, while an inadequate response (or worse, no response at all) can cause the situation to escalate.

Here are 5 tips to help you deal with negative social feedback like a pro:

Listen Up!

There will be times when negative comments land directly in your social feed, but unhappy customers can share negative feedback anywhere online. People can criticize your brand on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, on their blog, or in countless other forums and it’s important for you to be aware of this so you can respond. Social listening can be as simple as setting up a Google Alert to send you an email when it finds new results that match your search terms (your company’s name, for example). For those who’d like to dig a bit deeper, there are many tools available that can help you track all mentions of your brand in real-time. They will quickly alert you to negative references, allowing you to craft a response to prevent negativity from spreading online.

React Quickly

Research shows that 32% of customers who have ever attempted to contact a brand, product, or company through social media for customer support expect a response within 30 minutes, and 42% expect a response within 60 minutes. Let’s face it, social media fosters an “instant” culture. Although people expect quick responses, this doesn’t mean they expect a fast solution. However, it’s important to respond to negative feedback as quickly as possible before it gains momentum and attracts attention from other people online. If your brand is the subject of criticism on social media, you should first respond and acknowledge the negative comment. This shows that your brand cares about its customers and their feedback and that you want to solve the problem. Then, depending on the nature of the concern, you must decide whether to address the concern in the public forum, privately, or offline.

Respond Publicly First

When responding to a negative comment or customer complaint on social media, address it publicly before taking the conversation private. Customers want more transparency from brands, specifically in areas such as “admitting mistakes” and offering honest responses, so it’s important that they see you replying to negative comments or customer complaints directly and genuinely. This doesn’t mean that the entire conversation thread must be publicly visible. Resist the urge to make excuses. Instead, apologize for the oversight or error, empathize with the complainant, and offer to discuss the matter privately in greater detail via direct message (email or telephone work too) where you can request sensitive information to provide a more detailed solution. 

Don’t feed the trolls

Sometimes people just want to cause trouble on social media, and no one can raise a stink better than a troll. Trolls make random unsolicited and/or controversial comments on various internet forums with the intent to provoke an emotional knee jerk reaction from unsuspecting readers to engage in a fight or argument. And the worst thing about trolls? Attempts to diffuse the situation only seem to encourage them to carry on or, worse, escalate their behaviour. So what do you do when you find your brand being trolled on social media?

First, always investigate the troll’s claims. If you find they are without merit, it might be best to simply ignore their comments. However, this can be a tough pill to swallow in a public forum like social media. You’ll never be able to change the troll’s opinions, but you can decrease the influence the comments have on those that read them. If the claims are so out of this world that no one will take them seriously, then perhaps the best strategy is to just ignore them. If the opposite is true and there’s a real danger that they could inflict real damage to your brand, then commenting once to provide facts that refute the claim is probably your best bet. Facebook allows you to hide comments. The comment will still be visible to the poster and their friends, but it will be invisible to other fans on your page. Be cautious when hiding or deleting comments as this can incite more anger, causing the situation to quickly spin out of control. It can also make it appear that you don’t care or have something to hide.

You might decide to delete comments that are racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive. In cases like these, transparency is essential. Provide your fans with total disclosure by outlining your posting policy in the bio section of your profile. Include a statement of what violates your online community terms and state that you reserve the right to remove any postings of a vulgar, discriminatory, or inappropriate nature. If the trolling continues or the comments turn into harassment, you should report them to the social platform’s administrators. You may decide to ban the troll from posting in your feed altogether. Exercise discretion when it comes to deleting comments and banning users, as the best intentions can sometimes come back to bite you.

Have a script

Much of the feedback you’ll receive on social media will be similar in nature so scripts can be helpful when trying address common comments and concerns. Create a list of the most frequent issues or feedback from customers, then craft appropriate responses to each. Scripted responses ensure that each concern is addressed both promptly and consistently. That’s not to say that every response should sound contrived. Each customer is unique so it’s important for all interactions to appear authentic and genuine. Personalize replies and use language that sounds natural, not repetitive.

So what do you do if you find yourself in the middle of a full-blown social media calamity? Having scripted responses to address the concerns of one customer is one thing but how do you react when customers take to social media to vent en masse about your brand? Implementing a plan before trouble strikes can help mitigate potential harm. My colleague BeckyAnne Brydon will outline what your risk management plan should look like in a blog post in the coming weeks so be sure to stay tuned.

 

Social media provides an opportunity for brands to constructively engage with their fans and followers. Despite your best efforts, negative comments and unhappy customers will sometimes pop up. The good news is that effectively addressing negative feedback on social media can present your brand with an opportunity to convert unhappy customers into brand advocates so their amplified social voice can work for you rather than against you.

Need help creating your brand’s strategy for addressing customer feedback on social media? Drop us an email!