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When Bad Reviews Happen To Good Companies – Tips For Responding To Negative Social Media Posts

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Your relationship with your social media community is much like any relationship, there is the good, the bad and the downright ugly. The great thing about social media marketing is that it can amplify the voice of your biggest brand advocates, but conversely it can also make those negative comments loom larger and appear to be more important than they actually might be.

How and when you respond can frequently make the difference between turning a negative comment from an unhappy guest into a lifelong advocate or creating a public relations nightmare that can snowball in a matter of moments and damage your brand reputation.

Many people who post negative comments just want to be heard. By responding, it lets them know that you are listening, you value their input and you care enough to want to right the perceived wrong.

The word of mouth conversation is already taking place about your brand, both in an offline and online environment. However, with social media, such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, as a brand you can now “hear” the conversation and the coolest part is, you can participate in it. Remember: just because you don’t listen to a conversation doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Even more importantly, complaints and kudos are now broadcast through online digital channels instead of staying around the water cooler.

Many people will argue that with social media channels, brand communication is wildly out of control of the brand managers and solidly in the hands of the consumer. I completely disagree. Now that you can observe the conversation, your brand has more information to work with and more avenues to communicate your message and respond appropriately. When you take the opportunity to define what your brand stands for, consumers are less likely to create their own definition.

However, if you are a brand that sees its clients as royal pains in the a$$ and not as part of your larger community, social media may not be the right communication tool for you.

While each situation is different and there are no hard and fast rules for an airtight response system to negative social media posts, there are some core principles you can follow to make the most of a potentially volatile situation. By combining your offline customer management experience, common sense and a few public relations tools, you will soon be able to turn the grumpiest guest into a repeat visitor. However, do know there are some people who you just can’t please.

  1. Listen
    • Listening in to what’s being said about your brand can frequently help you intercept issues before they get out of control
    • The importance of listening to what is being said about your company, your competitors and your category can greatly help you in putting the complaint in context and respond appropriately.
    • Identifying the key members of the group will also allow you to understand the general tone of the community to better respond to a negative social media post.
  2. Be Visible In Your Community
    • If you’ve been participating in conversations and a bad review comes in, it’s much more likely that as a valued member of the community, your response to the negativity will carry enough weight to stop it from spreading. The goal is to have an ongoing relationship with the community members.
    • Frequently, clients will ask us to come in and fix a problem that has been gathering steam on social media channels, yet they have zero visibility in that community. Jumping in at this point, unless done with extreme dexterity, can look defensive and stir up even more negativity.
  3. Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help
    • If there is a negative review that you’re not comfortable responding to or just need to run your response by someone for help, do it before hitting the send button.
  4. Be Prepared
    • Consider likely scenarios and how you would respond to them in advance.
    • Preparation can help you respond quickly and control emotive issues.
  5. Gather All The Facts
    • Before responding, make sure you gather all of the necessary information first. If it turns out you don’t have the information, this can cause you to lose credibility and will also obviously affect how you respond.
  6. Respond Quickly
    • Every online community has it’s own action-packed timeline, so make sure you respond as quickly as possible.
    • Anecdotally, one bad review seems to encourage others to do the same. Move quickly to stem the conversation.
  7. Move The Conversation Off The Social Network, if necessary
    • Respond publicly so the community can see you that you take complaints seriously.
    • Ask the person to contact you directly via phone or email so you can privately discuss any issues in greater detail.
      This will save you from the “he said, she said” back and forth as well as save all the other members of the community from having to sort through the details in a flurry of posts.
  8. You Don’t Have To Always Respond
    • Sometimes you just don’t want to go there.
      • Example: There is a restaurant reviewer on Yelp who always posts negative reviews about every restaurant. I’m not even sure he’s visited some of the restaurant’s he’s reviewing. He recently gave one of our social media marketing restaurant clients a bad review. We did not respond, however some of our advocates did. And this too is the beauty of social media: your fans frequently come to your aid.
    • It’s challenging not to fire back at someone who is posting negative comments about your beloved brand.
    • You will need to quickly identify if it’s a legitimate complaint or a lone person with issues taking their bad day out on you.
    • How to tell if it’s legitimate? Search the person’s name and other reviews. Get a feel for their personality and tone before deciding whether to respond.
    • Also, ask yourself, will responding be worth your time? Can you right a wrong? Make an enemy into a friend? Each situation is different and only you know what’s best for your brand.
  9. Review Before Sending
    • Although your time is extremely limited, it’s critically important to review what you write before sending it out. A few simple steps to keep you out of hot water:
      • Draft your response
      • Edit your response for content, facts, tone
      • Take a 10 minute break from it to clear your head
      • Revisit your response before sending and if it looks great,
      • Hit send

7 Comments

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Kreg Atterberry

August 27, 2012

I recently had a plumbing company call me and thank me for insisting they respond to every negative review. They had just got a big contract from an out of town client who said “I already knew you guys h had tons of positive reviews, but it was how you responded to those few negative reviews, that let me know you were probably the right company for me.”

Michele

October 26, 2012

As an indie author building my brand, this article was very helpful. I haven’t published my first book through self-publishing yet, but I know it is coming within the next year. It’s helpful to know how to handle a negative comment!

Sean Carolan

November 1, 2012

I feel it is so important for companies to respond to customers comments and questions on social media websites. These are generally open to the public and visible to many other customers, and it is important to provide quality customer support and assist the customer as positively and care-giving as they can. This also allows customers to share and repost your nice words for company branding. Great read here! Thanks!

Carin Oliver

Carin Oliver

March 4, 2013

Hi Sean,

It’s amazing to me that many companies will post messages and then effectively run away and hide when comments come in. Drives me nuts! Cheers – Carin

Steve Ziemba

March 2, 2013

I am glad I found your article. I am going to use this in the social media course I teach at the local community college.

Carin Oliver

Carin Oliver

March 4, 2013

Hi Steve,

That’s great to hear! Thanks so much. Cheers – Carin

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