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5 Keys to Handling Negative Feedback on Social Networks

The most crucial component to running an online community is, of course, moderating and responding to comments, conversations and questions.  The Community Manager should have the trifecta of customer service, public relations, and marketing acumen.

When managing an online community, there needs to be a strong emphasis on moderating the conversation and responding to comments and questions. When you are looking for the right community manager, make sure they have the right mix of skills. Customer service is just the tip of the iceberg. Community mangers also must also be adept marketers with a firm knowledge of the principles of public relations.

Never is this last skill more important than when something starts to blow up, in a negative way, on your social networks. Crisis management should be a skill every community manager possesses. Negative conversations and disgruntled customers have loud voices, spoken in a frequency that can carry far distances. Mishandle the crisis, and it can turn into a nightmare of inexplicable proportions. Handle it well and it can actually turn the entire crisis into a positive occurrence.

I can post study after study explaining why some businesses tend to shy away from social media as a central part of their marketing mix. But one I come across most often, especially in dealing with small businesses, is the fear of the disgruntled customer. The worry that someone may say something bad about us. As marketers, we were always taught to never ever expose the negative. Always be positive in any marketing communications. But I don’t have to tell anyone reading this post that times have changed.

When you think about it, you really have a simple choice to make. You either allow your business to have a voice in the conversation, or you let the conversation happen without you. In today’s world, there is no doubt that a disgruntled customer with something to say is going to say it, and chances are they will be saying it online. I think it’s best to be part of the conversation. That is certainly the wise approach to take, but how you take that approach is crucial to ensuring a positive result from a negative occurrence. Here are some key areas to focus on:

Timely Response

Managing social media channels is not a 9-5 job that you tend to Monday to Friday. Your social channels are open 24/7 365 days a year. No Christmas holidays, no summer long weekends. You should really try to get your responses to all comments, positive, negative or neutral, within a four hour turnaround time. One business day should be the absolute maximum. No, this does not mean you or someone from your company needs to be in front of their computers all the time. There are some really good social listening appliances available that can alert an administrator when there are comments made on your social channels. It is important to invest in one. Otherwise you risk a negative conversation carrying on or lingering through the weekend and by Monday morning, you could be in full blown crisis mode!

Be Prepared

Business owners usually have a pretty good pulse on the strengths and weaknesses of their companies. If you know some of the issues your company deals with on a somewhat consistent basis, prepare your community manager. Arm him or her with the resources, statements, links that you frequently use yourself to help quell your customers’ fears or dissatisfaction. This will go a long way to helping your community manager craft a timely and focused response.
The social customer has high expectations of brands and they want us to be accessible beyond the 9-5, Monday to Friday.  As social media channels are a constant fire hose of information 24/7, businesses small or large need to resource accordingly. For larger businesses with customer complaints or call centre, it makes sense to train someone on that team to assist with Community Management outside of regular office hours.  For smaller businesses, there are many social listening tools that can provide automated alerts when there are comments or negative sentiment.

Avoid the Rush

Community managers know the importance of responding quickly. However, you need to make sure your community managers, or other members of the company do not hurry the response. Sometimes you need time to speak with others, research the problem or speak to legal counsel. In these cases, a response should be crafted and delivered that doesn’t necessarily address the issue full on, but instead, buys the company some time. Something as simple as “we are looking into your issue and we will get back to you with an answer in the next 24-48 hours.” You may want to offer the customer some sort of temporary remedy or offer a discount or credit in the meantime.

Clarify Policies

Your social media channels are going to be use a sounding board by your customers. Whether you have an in house community management team, have hired a social media firm or if you take on the responsibility yourself you need to have a method to receive these messages and act on them quickly (keeping in mind to “avoid the rush” as per above). Using social media tools to notify you is imperative but it does not replace the good ol’ fashioned ‘check-in’ on your social networks to make sure there are no outstanding inquiries, requests or comments that need attending to. Most importantly, when clarifying your policies, make sure that your key messages are made clear to those that will managing your community. There should also be a standard operating procedure in place to handle comments that require some executive leadership. Do not leave your community management on an island to fend for themselves. Saying the wrong the thing, like something off brand or worse, off-putting can lead to a customer service nightmare!

Play Nice

Remember that we are all people here interacting with each other. When responding to concerns and crafting and clarifying your policies make sure to remember this. Don’t tell someone who is reaching out on Twitter to go fill out a customer service form on your website. Deal with the issue right there and then. If you have adhered to the other four points above, you will have a response that you will want others to see.

We all make mistakes. There are always going to be screw-ups and the odd unhappy customer. “I have never had an unhappy customer,” said no company EVER. At the end of the day, it’s how you handle these negative moments that will set your company apart from the rest. Handle them with care, treat your customer right and be timely with your response and let the whole world see how devoted your company is to making its customers happy. Turn the negatives into positives!


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