Mary Lou Denny: Educating The Trade

Defusing Social Media Negativity Can Polish Your Positive Image

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Companies that engage customers and prospects through social media like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook often profit greatly from the experience.

It’s not unusual for them to bask in the glow of unsolicited customer compliments, and sincerely flattering appraisals. When these comments are read by other social media users, they become wonderful company endorsements.

However, social media can be a two-sided coin. It can provide a way for customers to throw bouquets, but also gives them ample opportunity to hurl brickbats. The latter would seem a genuine threat to business reputations, but it doesn’t have to be. Companies adept at using social media know effective handling of negative feedback can burnish an already gleaming company image.

One note of caution, though. Social media is a virtually brand new phenomenon, and comes with its own distinct set of expectations and rules. Using traditional public relations and customer service strategies to combat negative comments may do more harm than good. You will want to bring a different kind of tool set to the task of dealing with social media negativity.

Start with these simple tips:

* Monitor what’s being said. The only way to know if your company is garnering criticism in social media is to monitor what’s being said. Tools and services abound to help inform you when your company is being talked about online, whether in good or bad terms. Listening is the most important part of communication, so "listen" to what’s being said about your company.

* Capture the moment. When you notice negativity about your company on a social media site or even your own website, use a screen capture to ensure it’s not lost. The individual advancing the criticism could delete or change the comment, and you want to retain evidence the negative view did in fact exist.

* Resist the urge to respond in kind. It’s a very human reaction to want to respond to criticisms aimed at us with criticism in return. This is an instinct that you must resist at all costs in social media.

Blasting the critic will make your company look childish and unprofessional not only to the person serving up the criticism, but to every customer and prospect who may see it. Take the high road and avoid even an initial volley in what could become an angry exchange.

* Keep the tone positive. After you’ve resisted the urge to respond negatively to negative comments, set the tone. You can help defuse a potentially explosive situation by deliberately taking a positive, lighter tone, and even using touches of humor when appropriate.

Dealing with negative feedback is not the time or place for sarcasm or a smart aleck attitude. You want your satisfied customers to be inclined to rise to your support. And they will if you handle social media negativity correctly.

* Identify the type of negativity. There are different types of criticism a company receives through social media. Each type calls for a different kind of response. Straightforward criticism will alert you to a valid problem you may be able to correct, and subsequently report in the same channels you’ve addressed the issue. Constructive criticism offers a suggestion that may or may not be implemented, but gives you vital feedback on customers’ feelings.

Criticism often comes from trollers and spammers. Trollers have no valid reason for negative comments. Spammers are those who criticize your company with the intention of using the digs to promote a competitive company.

* Use a matching response. Tailor your response to the type of negative feedback received. If, for example, negative social media postings have alerted you to a real company issue, you can turn lemons to lemonade by acknowledging the problem existed, but has now been fixed. When dealing with constructive criticism, you again have a tailor-made opportunity to thank the critic and either accept his or her suggestion, or explain why it is not being adopted.

The best response is no response to trollers and spammers.

* When things get hot, stay cool. Sometimes, the tone of criticism is very angry. If a legitimate mistake of the company has spurred the outraged outburst, it‘s all the more important for the company’s tone to remain calm and objective, but to convey interest in resolving the problem. Respond with thanks for the feedback, and assure the irate customer the matter is being addressed.

* Use social media to educate. If the criticism rises to the level of a crisis for your company, use social media messaging to convey your point in as clear and unemotional a way as possible, while remaining true to the core values of your brand. As one social media expert writes: "Use your social media channels as an opportunity to educate your employees, stakeholders and target audience."

Remember that unlike broadcast and print channels, which are one-way streets, social media allows for two-way communication, which can occasionally be negative.

By taking positive steps to respond effectively to negative feedback, your company can often blunt thorny issues -- and even come out smelling like a rose. The negative feedback your company may experience from time to time in social media channels shouldn’t be seen as a threat, but rather an opportunity to further polish an already shining reputation.



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About the Blogger

Mary Lou Denny

thumbnail image Mary Lou Denny, co-founder and executive vice president, heads the public relation division of Walt Denny Inc., an advertising and public relations agency in Hinsdale, Illinois. She and her husband Walt, started the agency twenty years ago based on the credo to provide creative marketing solutions, combined with a high value on personal relationships and accountability.