Handling social media negativity


Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Pinterest. Snapchat. The look and name may change over time but social media is here to stay. For businesses or organizations, establishing a presence in social media is vital to future growth. Many organizations shy away from establishing company social media channels due to fear of receiving negative comments. The problem is, regardless if your company has a social media presence or not, people are still talking. You don’t have to be on social media to be talked about on social media. Establishing a social media presence allows your company to be part of the conversation – which can be a very valuable tool, especially dealing with issues surrounding your product or services. The level of customer service your company provides on social media can mean the difference between customer loyalty and customer loss. Here are a few suggestions on how to manage negative comments on social media.

The first step is to establish social media monitoring tools. If you don’t know what is being said, you can’t address the issue. There are many social media tools such as Hootsuite, Adobe Social, and Radian6, which allow you to monitor the social media climate and join in the conversation when needed. Most tools allow you to set up multiple monitoring streams, searching for keywords affiliated with your company.

Now that you are aware of the conversation, how do you go about addressing negative comments? It’s important to note that not all negative comments are created equal. Here are some of the different types of negative comments:

Legitimate Issue – This type of comment is where the customer provides clear and concise details about the issue. Although the issue could reflect poorly on your company, it often identifies valid issues with your product or services – issues that may be impacting many customers and on a much larger scale. Being able to identify the issue and resolution in a timely manner could save you time and money down the road.

Valuable Criticism – This type of comment is very similar to a Legitimate Issue with the additional component of a suggested solution. No matter how much research, development, and testing that goes into your product or services, the user experience typically determines its success. Gathering ideas and suggestions from the end users could help establish viable solutions to any issues or concerns.

Warranted Attack – This type of comment may feel like an attack based on how it is presented. However, the root cause of the complaint could be very valid. Social media comments on a company’s site should never be taken personal. For this type of comment, you need to look past the frustration and identify the problem and provide resolution.

Invalid Criticism – This type of comment is a blatant attempt to discredit your company. It is often known as trolling, and provides no detail or clear indication of the problem. The primary purpose of this type of comment is to disparage your company, possibly for competitive reasons, and draw you into a heated discussion. Don’t fall victim to this type of comment. Nothing you say will alleviate the situation and will likely motivate the person to continue. It’s best to ignore this type of comment. If the comment violates your social media housekeeping guidelines (foul language, inappropriate content, etc.), you may want to consider removing the post.

Once you’ve identified the type of comment you are dealing with, there are several key steps you need to take.

1. Respond in a timely manner. Nothing infuriates a customer more than voicing a concern and getting no response. The same applies to social media and the expectation of a quick response is even greater. Even if you don’t have all the answers, acknowledge the comment. If you can provide instant resolution, great. If you can’t, let the customer know that you are taking action and will provide additional information as soon as possible.

2. Take it off-line. Depending on your company or organization, you may need additional customer information in order to determine the root of the problem. Setting up an additional communication resource, such as email, will allow you to obtain information needed to resolve the issues while maintaining your customer’s privacy. Never ask a commenter to provide personal information (phone number, email, address) via the open social media stream.

3. Don’t argue with the commenter. Even if you feel that the comment is an attack or contains no validity (see Warranted Attack and Invalid Criticism above), don’t get into a debating match with the commenter. It’s not your place to argue with them. Your role is to review the comment and address it as best possible and in a timely manner.

4. Be cautious of responding with a canned response. There are situations where the response to an issue must be clear and concise as well as consistent across all communication platforms. Even if your response has to be very precise, it should still contain a human feel. Although you are communicating in an electronic space, you don’t want to sound robotic. You should also avoid posting the same exact response over and over again. If you have a situation that is driving an abundant amount of comments to your social media channels, post one message addressing the issue. As progress is being made to resolve the issue, you can post updates.

All of the above speaks to addressing negative comments on social media. However, it’s equally important to recognize positive comments too. Thank commenters posting positive messages. Retweet positive customer experiences or messages. People love to talk on social media but they also love to know they are being heard.

As with any consumer to business communication (in-person, over-the-phone, or social media), people tend to be more vocal about the negative experiences than the positive – and rightly so. It’s critical to your business to identify issues and opportunities pertaining to your product or services and respond. The popularity of social media as a communication tool will likely not decrease and in fact, may become the primary communication tool for many. Whether you feel this is a positive or a negative, it is vital that you are part of the conversation.

Devon Chestnut is public affairs manager at Cox Southeast and serves as immediate past president of the Gainesville chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association (FPRA).

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