For most small businesses, getting negative feedback on social media is probably inevitable. Sooner or later, a dissatisfied customer or former employee may post unfavorable comments on a social media platform, naming a business and “calling it out” for some grievance, real or imagined. The challenge for small businesses is responding in ways that enhance its reputation and social media standing, rather than damage its brand and alienate prospective customers.
It’s worth preparing for this eventuality since maintaining a strong social media presence makes things “a lot easier for your customers to get a hold of you and let you know how they feel about your products or services.” Here are tips on handling negative feedback that enable you to maintain and bolster favorable relationships with your followers.
Always be “listening.” It’s vitally important to monitor what’s being said about your business online. If you haven’t done so already, set up notifications on your various social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) to alert you when comments are made about your business. This way, you know instantly when someone has mentioned your business, favorably or not.
Respond quickly and forthrightly. A negative comment may provoke you to respond defensively or even go “on the attack.” Don’t let this happen! Instead, post a short response acknowledging that you’ve seen the comment or complaint and intend to reply more fully as soon as possible. (This gives you time to cool down and forego a kneejerk response.)
Go public first, private second. Digital marketing expert Jennifer Goff advises that “responding publicly is essential to showcasing your brand as transparent, attentive, and helpful.” After you post a public response, Goff adds, you can “move the conversation into a private message in order to provide a solution of greater detail, or to ask for sensitive information, like an account number of identifying details” to solve a customer issue.
Offer concrete solutions. In response to a specific customer complaint, it’s best not to post a generic message, i.e., “Thank you for your comments, we will be in touch shortly.” Far better—in terms of your brand and reputation—is acknowledging that a problem has occurred and offering a concrete solution. If for some reason this isn’t possible, try offering a refund or “store credit” instead. The key is ensuring the person who posted the negative comment feels heard and that his or her complaint is being addressed.
Ignore inflammatory or offensive comments. Remember, social media enables anyone to pretty much post whatever they want online. You may come across statements that are blatantly derogatory, sexist, racist, etc. Naturally, most of us want to respond with a vehement denunciation of these comments, but in general, it’s best to ignore them. Followers and friends on your social media platform may respond on your company’s behalf. That’s preferable to getting into a fierce online spat you can’t ever win.
In some respects, negative social media feedback is a good thing. It can alert you to potential problems with your products or services in time to make updates or corrections, as needed. It can also help you stay attuned to customer attitudes in general—whether your business is being perceived in a favorable light or if you need to improve your customer service efforts.
Finally, when fans and followers see how you respond to negative comments in a reasoned and mature way, they’ll think more highly of your business. That can lead to stronger trust and loyalty in the long run.