Social media has completely changed the way businesses interact with their current and prospective customers. The ability to have a direct dialogue allows companies to demonstrate their customer service responsiveness. And marketing departments can gain key insights into customer sentiments.
Of course, those sentiments aren’t always positive. No matter how hard you work at satisfying your customers, you will end up with an unhappy customer at some point—and there’s an increasing likelihood that they’ll convey their unhappiness (justified or not) on social media.
With that in mind, here are seven tips for handling that inevitable social media criticism.
Have a plan in place to respond to negative social media comments
The best responses to social media criticisms usually originate long before the comment is actually posted. You should have a plan in place for responding to the various types of criticism you may face, from accusations of unfriendly employees to issues with your product. Know who needs to be involved in composing the response and following up on the situation.
In the same vein, be sure that someone is monitoring social media for criticism of your company. Not all negative comments will be posted somewhere that you can easily see, such as your Facebook page; you might not notice a criticism blasted out on Twitter unless you’re on the lookout for it. This is critical because you obviously can’t respond to criticisms that you don’t see.
Resist the urge to delete
The temptation to simply delete that Facebook comment that slams your business is completely understandable, but doing so can actually damage your company far more than the comment itself. The person who left the comment, as well as many of your followers, will undoubtedly notice the deletion—and they’ll understandably assume that the criticism was correct and that you have something to hide. The only time it makes sense to delete a negative comment is if it’s truly offensive.
Respond quickly but thoughtfully
Many negative comments on social media stem from a customer who feels that your employees aren’t listening to them. Help combat that impression by responding quickly to any criticisms. Doing so also helps you take control of the conversation before it snowballs.
You should still be thoughtful in your responses, however. Try to see it from the customer’s point of view. Even if the event underlying their criticism was out of your hands—for example, their order was delayed because your supplier was late—that doesn’t invalidate the customer’s concerns. Acknowledge that and you’re much more likely to assuage their anger.
Keep emotions out of your response
It’s hard not to feel personally attacked when a customer leaves a negative comment on social media, particularly if you disagree with their assessment of the situation. However, keep your emotions in check when you reply. An angry—or even worse, obscenity-filled—response won’t make the negative commenter look bad, but it will affect the reputation of your business.
Admit fault when appropriate
Despite your best efforts, sometimes the criticisms leveled against you on social media will be accurate. No business made of fallible human beings can be perfect, after all. Saying “sorry” to your existing or potential customer in such cases isn’t a sign of weakness or a poor reflection on your business. On the contrary, most consumers appreciate companies that take responsibility.
Of course, you do need to actually take responsibility by offering a solution and following up on your promises.
Take the conversation offline as soon as possible
While it can be beneficial to your business’ image for prospective customers to see how you deal with criticism fairly and calmly, drawing out the conversation in a public forum gives it more visibility than you likely want.
Aim to take your discussions with the current or potential customer behind the criticism offline as soon as possible. Respond to their social media comment and offer to have a customer service representative follow up with them via phone or email, or send the user a private message via the social media platform’s messaging system. The goal here is to de-escalate and remove the back-and-forth from the public eye.
Understand how to handle social media trolls
Of course, sometimes the criticisms leveled at your business are completely illegitimate. Social media platforms breed trolls who like nothing more than to cause trouble. Since interacting with such trolls only encourages them, your best bet if you are certain that a critical poster is a troll is to ignore them. Comment once to state that their claims are inaccurate and then go silent.
By following these seven steps, your business will be in a much better position to bounce back from any public criticisms on social media, helping to bury the negative comments under the overall presence you’ve worked hard to cultivate.