ILLUSTRATION: MARK FISHER
My company recently started using social media as a marketing tool, and we're not sure how to handle negative comments. How do we deal with disgruntled employees, unhappy customers, and internet trolls?
Rather than worrying, spend your time on preparation. Assume that these negative situations will indeed happen so you don't get caught flat-footed. If you must scramble for a solution in the heat of the moment, those given fixes will often be less effective – and perhaps even damaging. But with a bit of preparation, you will have a plan in place for any issues that arise and be able to respond with the near-lighting speed that today's consumers expect.
Sit down with your internal team and consider the possible negative scenarios that might occur in relation to your social-media presence. Then brainstorm for broad solutions as well as precise, written responses to these scenarios. For example, how will you deal with two followers that get into an argument on your Facebook page, or how will you address product complaints? After you've identified the most likely negative situations, here are four things to consider as you plan your response strategies.
1. Create an action plan.
For each scenario, put together a plan listing who needs to be involved in composing a response, what escalation procedure will be used, who is responsible for monitoring, etc. Before anything goes haywire, you need to understand what will happen, who will be involved, and how and when your responses will be delivered.
2. Respond rather than delete.
If someone posts something negative about your products, services, or brand, both the commenter and any followers who happen to see it will no doubt notice if the content suddenly
disappears. More often than not, simply deleting something that shines a poor light on your company will fuel the fire and make it look like you are trying to cover up your faults as opposed to taking responsibility for them. Whenever possible, respond to the negative feedback and offer to take the conversation offline. By addressing the situation, you're also showing the rest of your followers that you care and are striving for a solution.
That said, some posts are simply offensive and need to be removed. So develop some internal and perhaps even published rules regarding what is grounds for deletion, such as the use of lewd or inappropriate language. Should you need to remove comments for valid reasons, consider inserting a post to let followers know why the content was removed.
3. Stay classy and humble.
People may post extreme opinions or things that simply aren't true. Rather than taking offense, take a breath before you respond, and then take the high road. Again, try to prepare actual verbiage in advance that can be adapted to various situations. That way, when a troll is looking for a fight, you can defuse the situation with a calm and graceful response.
4. Take it offline.
Trolls tend to multiply when one rears its head, so have a plan in place for when it's time to take the conversation offline. By contacting an unhappy commenter directly – or offering ways for the poster to reach you to resolve the issue privately – you can often de-escalate the situation.
These tips can help you wrangle negative situations, but don't be scared off by the threat of unfavorable feedback. Less-than-positive conversations about your company will likely happen with or without your social-media presence. Thus, your presence can increase your awareness of potential hurdles before they become giant obstacles; plus, social media allows you the chance to weigh in and address the issues firsthand. As Erik Qualman, author of "Socialnomics," says, "The beauty of social media is that it will point out your company's flaws. The key question is how quickly you will address these flaws."
— Emma Bica, senior marketing communications specialist, PeopleNet, Minneapolis