Responding to criticism on social media

Sometimes we see such a fantastic response to negative social media vitriol that we actually gain new respect for the brand being mercilessly pummelled for some corporate sin. When those negative comments keep pouring in, it only takes one erratic tweeter threatening to ‘blow up their headquarters’ to garner a great response from a brand when it’s least expected.

But while the odd funny, sarcastic or slightly self-detrimental response can forever cement a brand as customer service legends, for small businesses, responding to negative social media comments tend to be wholly based on protecting brand reputation and customer loyalty.

It is for these very reasons that companies can avoid social media for as long as possible in the fear they’ll be opening themselves up to an online public backlash.

But the internet is a big and vocal place and establishing your social media presence may bring issues to light, but those issues can be managed more intelligently to strengthen your brand and customer service efforts in the long run. Don’t believe us? We’ve compiled some of the techniques that big (and small) brands use to manage negativity and fully utilise social media as an effective customer service channel.

We’ve found they’ve worked for us, and with an effective strategy in place for if things go wrong, you’ll be able to respond proactively before the red mist descends…

The Good

Of course it isn’t all bad and while positive comments are always welcomed, it’s well worth giving those little nuggets almost as much attention as those comments you don’t want popping up.

Positive comments are obviously valuable and you’d quite rightly think that a cluster of glowing reviews says it all, but there are still ways you can up your efforts and build customer loyalty further by responding with a sincere personalised response.

We thank each positive comment received from a customer on behalf of all our social media clients and it’s a really simple technique that reinforces what potential customers have already gleaned from the comments; your products/services are good and your customer service is sincere and responsive. If your loyal customers are singing your praises then capitalise with a friendly response; you’d be amazed how quickly a single comment can attract likes on Facebook.

The Bad

#1. Respond. Quickly.

It’s tempting to hit delete, but if you’ve already ‘wronged’ the customer once, then hitting delete is rubbing salt into the wound and they’ll simply up their efforts and keep coming back with further negative reviews. You also run the risk that they’ll spread their complaints across numerous review sites and social media platforms, tarnishing your brand further.

It might be a tactless and abrupt rant, but retaliating negatively and telling them where to stick it can have disastrous consequences. Brands have tried it, been hit with criticism from loyal customers, put potential customers off the brand forever and then in some cases claim their bad behaviour was the outcome of hackers. Hilarious, yes, but a practice reserved for the type of angry restaurants where the customers complain of salmonella. You have been warned…

Responding professionally and sincerely is the most effective way to diffuse a heated complaint and we often suggest that clients offer a short apology in response to a complaint and ask the disgruntled customer to email or call a member of their team.

If necessary, for example if the complaint is long and a simple public response won’t suffice, taking the conversation to phone or email avoids more negativity on your social media channels, allows you to the opportunity to placate the customer and show your remaining customer base and potential customers that you are taking the matter seriously.

#2. The Importance of timing

We’ve had the pleasure of taking over social media management where the clients have previously allowed any negative reviews to flourish on social media without any response at all. Basically this will make you look like a cowboy/shyster/shoddy excuse for a business. If you don’t finally become slain by the ‘this company is a sham’ dig then you’ll open yourself up to further criticism for your lack of response.

As a small business, responding regularly is always going to be a demand on your time and the brands responding in 50 minutes or under usually have a team dedicated to their social media marketing efforts, but a daily scout and timely responses can stop any buzz forming around negative comments while they fester over hours and days. If you don’t know and need to look into the matter then honestly say, an apologetic promise to look into the issue will usually demonstrate you’re taking the matter seriously even if you don’t have the manpower to respond immediately.

#3. Have a point of contact

Responding to criticism and signing off as a genuine member of the company (or assigning an avatar) is a really effective technique for placating customers who may have turned to social media as a last-resort customer service channel.

Some brands will even list their small social media team in their Twitter biographies and then sign off every response with their own name in order to give a real presence to their online customer service efforts. There are fantastic examples of both small and large businesses using this technique to their advantage and establishing a constant staff presence gives trust and a ‘face’ to your brand – even if you do find yourself responding to criticism.

#4. Embrace a Little Honesty

No one likes criticism, but addressing issues honestly and offering reassurance that the problem will be resolved will endear customers much more than a hollow buffering response. Social media can be effectively used to highlight any known issues before the complaints flood in too. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time and recognising any issues, posting advice and updates and apologising for any problems is a great example of how social media can bolster your brand reputation and target your whole customer base quickly and efficiently.

A few less than raving reviews (which show your efforts to respond and improve) can also give your brand a much more natural profile on sites like TripAdvisor, so don’t worry too much about the odd critique.

The Ugly

Responding to consumer complaints professionally is one thing, but blatant abuse and bad language that could potentially offend users should be deleted; if it comes across as deliberately provocative then your loyal customer base will be aware the user is just out to cause trouble.

If they continue to hammer your brand then it is useful to refer to a ‘comment policy’ or ‘online code of conduct’ which states offensive language will be deleted, but don’t get into a drawn-out conversation with online ‘trolls’, more often than not they’ll move on when they don’t get a response.

While it can be frustrating to see a continuous spiel of criticism, if it is a genuine complaint then replying with contact details and offering to resolve the issue (but stating you won’t accept offensive language) will be enough to show you are taking the complaint seriously whilst not rising to the bait.

We’ve found these approaches to be effective across a range of brands, but we’d like to know what techniques you have utilised to manage negativity on social media. Does the ‘customer’s always right’ approach work for you or should business accounts stand their ground? Let us know in the comments or feel free to leave a comment on our social media platforms about how wrong we are.

Chances are our response will be unfailingly polite.

Victoria Browne
  • Written by on 19th August 2013 at 16:13
  • “Victoria Browne is a copywriter & social campaigns manager at Fluid Creativity.”
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