How to Respond When Things Get Negative on Social Media
July 1, 2021
By Kacie Escobar, MBA, APR
Most marketers are in the business of making public statements, but there’s just something about addressing issues on social media that can intimidate even the most seasoned professional. Perhaps it’s because we know there are psychological factors at play that cause some consumers to be downright mean online, making it much easier for conversations to spiral out of our control.
Based on results from Sprout Social’s latest Index, consumers would prefer to leave feedback about a product or service on social media above all other mediums – even more than in-store or on the company’s own website. They are also 88% more likely to purchase from a brand after reading reviews left by other customers on social media.
If generating and amplifying customer reviews on social media wasn’t already part of your social media strategy, this should be all the evidence you need to incorporate it now. Equally as important as promoting these reviews is being prepared to respond when the feedback you receive is less than glowing.
Like most public relations issues, the best way to manage negativity on social media is to have a plan before you need one. A carefully crafted social media response strategy can save you some sleep by making sure your team is prepared to swiftly address negativity, shut down trolls and keep your company reputation intact. The following framework and related considerations will help you get started.
Acknowledge the comment publicly.
If your consumer’s negative comment is available publicly for all to see, then your response should be, too. This is your opportunity to build credibility not only with the consumer who left feedback, but also with the thousands of other visitors to your social media page who are watching and waiting to see how you respond.
Even if someone’s comment is nasty, uneducated or based on misinformation, they still deserve your respect. Brands are held to a higher standard and will be judged more harshly for negative commentary than an individual. View this issue as an opportunity to educate the customer (and all who read your response). Best practice is to have a set of pre-approved responses at the ready for use in a variety of scenarios. This approach will help you respond quickly and prevent emotion from clouding your judgment in the heat of the moment.
Correct mistakes privately.
In response to any negative feedback on social media, your goal should be to take the conversation offline as quickly as possible. Whether you move the conversation to direct messenger, email or phone will be based largely on the standard procedure and capabilities of your customer service team, as well as the severity of your alleged mistake.
A brief triage will determine who on your team needs to be involved in follow up. Establish a tiered response strategy with triggers for elevating the issue, so you know when to pull in members of the team from other departments or at higher levels of organizational leadership.
When consumers share legitimate feedback, it’s usually with desire for a few outcomes: 1) they genuinely want to offer feedback for your company’s improvement, or 2) they desire action to rectify a mistake. In either case, be prepared to concede. Have a threshold in mind for the standard discount, freebie or other action you can take as a gesture of goodwill and establish an annual budget line that allows you to be generous with this gesture. Another reason to conduct this part of the conversation privately is to prevent false or unnecessary complaints from consumers who just want a free lunch.
Ignore the trolls.
The people who find joy in inciting conflict or harassing others on social media are referred to in internet slang as “trolls.” Unfortunately, they are real and nothing like the cute, colorful DreamWorks characters with poufy hair.
If someone is harassing your company on social media, uses vulgar language or violates your community social media policy, simply remove the comment, block them and move on. It’s unlikely any subsequent conversation would be productive and the comment should not be dignified with a response.
Similarly, if you have a harmless-but-chronic complainer on your hands, the feedback cannot be verified, or it becomes apparent that nothing you do will satisfy the customer, then do not concede any monetary rewards, products or services. Thank them publicly for the feedback and use this as an opportunity to educate them about your company and its policies as appropriate.
Take action to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
After vetting and responding appropriately to a consumer’s negative comment, take time to evaluate what happened and act upon key learnings. Especially if the consumer’s feedback raised legitimate concerns, there is obviously room for improvement.
You may need to adjust your social media response strategy or refresh your marketing materials. For example, you may find that additional education is needed to prevent frustrations that are causing multiple consumers to leave negative comments about your brand. Or, you might be compelled to update your social media community policies.
More significant changes within your organization may also be required. Social media marketers are on the front lines, engaging directly with consumers every day. Leverage your experience and perspective to advocate on behalf of the consumer and recommend changes to your products, services or operations as appropriate. Your leaders will thank you and your customers will, too.
In closing, consumers believe customer service, audience engagement and transparency are the top three characteristics that make a brand “best in class” on social media. By engaging with customers publicly, being respectful, responsive and accessible, you are well on your way to turning a negative social media comment into a positive brand experience.