How to Respond to Negative Social Media Comments

cartoon woman shocked on phone blog image

Would you say you deliver superior service to your customers? 80% of companies think they do. But guess what? Across the board, only 8% of their customers agree.

Ouch! Most of us are clearly out of touch and have a lot of work to do when it comes to recruiting an army of “Raving Fans.” Getting feedback on our customers’ experiences is critical, and now more than ever, social media provides just the platform to get the inside scoop on what people are experiencing – good or bad.

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The Upside (and Downside) of Social Proof

The problem is this: When the review goes south on a virtual, public stage where countless audiences can read about our shortcomings, most companies aren’t responding fast or well enough.

This is a problem–a big one–because (according to Jay Baer, author of Hug Your Haters1), no answer is, in fact, an answer that communicates, “We don’t care about you very much.” You can imagine this message doesn’t go over well with parents fiercely committed to their children’s well-being.

But Baer insists that there’s a golden marketing opportunity for you when someone takes to social media with a beef.

8 Online Best Practices for Customer Complaints

1. Be Responsive Offline

Many people have come to believe that the only way to get a business’s attention is to take their complaint online. If this, in fact, the customer action that finally triggers a response from you, you’ve then communicated that you only care to save your reputation.

Encourage private resolution through internal communications by being responsive to emails and phone calls and reducing long resolution periods.

2. Don’t miss the complaint.

Comments on your website, Facebook page and other social media sites should be consistently monitored. This is easy because you have control and access. You may find it’s also worth your while to do a periodic review of relevant pages and forums where your products or services may be discussed. Every complaint is an opportunity to build loyalty.

3. Be timely.

We’re talking about posting an initial response to online comments (an answer, not necessarily resolution) within hours up to one business day. Your promptness communicates that you take the comment seriously.

4. Remember the lurkers.

When crafting your response, speak not just to the customer, but to the larger group he/she represents. According to Baer, only 5% will take the time to post. Everyone is either leaving without giving you a chance to resolve their issue, or taking note before they become a customer.

Your responses will be read and viewed by many and this is your chance to make a statement. If it’s a concerned parent, emphasize that your goal is always to support the best interest of their kids. If it’s a disgruntled vendor, explain your willingness to improve the working partnership. You’re speaking to many, not just one.

5. Don’t delete negative comments – for many reasons:

  • It’s always best to address your problems directly.
  • You risk being called out for it, appearing as though you have something to hide.
  • Most importantly: Anyone who takes the time to comment on their experience is offering you a gift. They are committed enough to take the time to seek out a solution. Respect it.

6. Hold on to the reins.

If, after a round of response you feel the negativism is not abating, or is even escalating, offer to take the conversation off-line. You don’t want to publically get sucked down a wormhole. Plus, some concerns are best addressed privately.

7. Always remain positive and helpful.

Always. If you’re feeling attacked and defensive, step back from the keyboard until you’re ready to engage in a cooperative way. Even then, be brief. If brevity feels impossible, take it offline.

8. Creatively invite the negative commenter to become an advocate.

Baer tells two customer stories of how complainers are converted to champions:

  • A store owner told a complainer that his attention to detail would make him the perfect customer to be a ‘mystery shopper’ and bring sub-par conditions to her attention. (He accepted)
  • A pizza restaurant owner publically offers a free meal to “give us another try–and bring friends.” Even if someone wanted to game the system just to get free pizza, this owner believes it’s still the cheapest advertising and loyalty strategy for the buck, and it usually wins the customer over.

It’s never easy to hear negative feedback, but the reality is we’re not perfect, and to grow and improve the quality of our businesses, we need to know what isn’t optimal. In the era of social media, taking the time to respond to negative comments online is an absolutely foolproof way to build advocacy.

You have nothing more to lose, only much to gain.

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1Hug Your Haters by Jay Baer