Social media has paved the way for increased connectivity between businesses and consumers, providing customers a platform for direct interaction and engagement with companies. This has given formerly detached companies a human side, making brand loyalty stronger than ever. However, this also means that every dissatisfied or angry customer now has a voice that can be plastered on the Internet permanently. The possibility of negative social media feedback on sites such as Twitter, Facebook and personal blogs can seem like a serious threat, especially since they are out of a company’s control. However, with proper execution, it can be dealt with in a way that is beneficial to everyone.

Here at Intrepid, we use a variety of methods to handle negative social media feedback. Here are five simple steps to help you plan ahead for dealing with negative posts with productive, positive responses.

  1. Be aware so you can react.

In order to respond to negative social media comments, your business needs to be aware of your company’s social media presence. The expansiveness of the Internet might make this seem like a daunting task, but it is much simpler than you think. Tools such as Google Alerts allow companies to monitor social media posts by sifting through specific terms and keywords that relate to your company and emailing you when they appear. Tools like this will help your company gain a better understanding of its reputation on social media, as well as ensure you are responding to negative comments in a timely manner – something that could make or break you.

  1. A prompt response is key.

Features such as sharing and retweeting can help a negative post pick up traction very quickly. To avoid a snowball effect, responding swiftly is crucial. On social media, this means in a few hours or less. Customers often turn to social media when they feel that their voices are not being heard anywhere else. Even a quick “We are sorry to have inconvenienced you in any way. Please DM/message us so we can address your concern.” is sufficient to buy time and make the customer feel noticed. This also takes the conversation out of the public eye while showing that your company is diligent about addressing its customers’ concerns. Ultimately, a prompt response could be the difference between retaining a customer and losing them, and even some of their followers, forever.

  1. Know the difference: customers vs. instigators.

That being said, social media gives everyone a voice. This means that companies must be able to identify between legitimate customer concerns versus an Internet troll. Usually, customers who post on social media are using it as a platform to vent to their friends and followers but would prefer to stay a customer. Simply listening, acknowledging their complaint and following up with a course of action, in some cases, is often enough to satisfy them and retain them as a customer.

Sometimes, however, people’s complaints can seem to be irrelevant or insubstantial. In these instances, responding politely with the facts is the best course of action. If a complaint really does lack merit, ignoring it is also a possibility. Remember, removing the post should always be a last resort. Deleting posts only irritates the customer and can add fuel to the fire, so this should be reserved for extreme cases such as if the post includes distasteful statements that might offend other customers.

  1. Keep a file of social media interactions.

To make sure a negative comment doesn’t spiral out of control, make sure that you document the original post and your response. Features on Facebook and blogs allow users to modify comments after they are posted, which could be problematic if they try to twist your responses or change their original complaint. Taking a screenshot of the original post and response will allow you to protect your company and will ensure your company is not blindsided or forced to look incompetent in the public eye.

  1. Saying sorry is usually the best solution.

Finally, when responding to a customer, simply apologizing can go a long way. Saying sorry can be difficult, especially when you know it is not entirely your company’s fault that something went awry. But it is still important to think of the issue from the point of view of the customer. They probably do not have the same information as you do about a snafu at the factory or a delivery problem, so it is usually most beneficial for everyone if your company takes accountability and offers compensation of some sort to fix the issue (tip: apologize publicly, but offer compensation privately so that other users don’t try to take advantage of your company). This is the easiest way to ensure that a customer remains a customer. In most cases, it also halts the potential for others to jump on the bandwagon and sharing the negative post across other social media sites.

Social media can be a tricky territory with the interactivity that comes with it, so having a game plan and understanding how to respond to aggravated customers will do a lot to benefit your company in the long run. Following these steps will guarantee social media remains a helpful tool instead of a destructive force.

-Nicole F.