By Jenny Tobias, Social Media Marketing Manager, Social2B

Social media removes the filters that traditionally barred people from getting their views heard by the wider public. Without help from large media organizations, until now it always took a lot of work for an individual to get noticed. This is no longer the case.
From the customers’ point of view, this can be a good thing. Many unhappy consumers have received speedy refunds and apologies from companies after complaining publicly about them on Twitter or Facebook.

But for businesses or even governments it can be a double-edged sword. The recent ousting of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak can be traced to a video posted on the site of a restaurant owner setting fire to himself in protest at bread prices in the world’s first so-called “Facebook revolution”.

With such a low barrier to entry, people are expressing their views about corporations that have done them wrong… and are getting heard. Comcast’s reputation suffered when a disgruntled customer uploaded a video of one of their technicians snoring on the customer’s sofa. After musician Dave Carroll’s guitar was snapped in half on a United Airlines flight, he penned the witty “United Breaks Guitars” song, which quickly racked up millions of views on YouTube and received widespread media attention, doing considerable damage to United’s already ailing reputation and leading to a 10% drop in its stock price[1].

The occasional complaint from the customer is inevitable once in a while. But what happens if that customer, before bringing the matter up with your customer service team, posts something negative for their 500 Facebook friends to see? What if your business is small and local and something like that can have a real effect on your revenue?

So how should you react to negative feedback on Social Media?

Sarah Palin has a reputation as being a rather aggressive editor of comments from other users on her Facebook page. After the terrible recent shootings in Arizona, as many pundits were pointing out the fact that Palin had targeted Giffords in the November election, anyone watching the page closely would perhaps not be surprised by the efficiency with which comments such as “their blood is on your hands” and simply “hypocrite” were deleted within a couple of minutes, while positive ones were left.

But tactics like this are transparent and deeply unconvincing. The most important factor in inspiring trust of businesses on social media is whether “the dialogue is open to both negative and positive comments“(37% of those surveyed in an Invoke Solutions survey cited it as “Extremely important” with responsiveness of sponsor/author not far behind at 30%).

So what are the best practices for dealing with negative feedback?

First, listen to what is being said. Do not react angrily. Is it a valid complaint or mere trolling for a reaction?

Then, if you can, try to take the dispute out of public view, using a separate channel like email if possible.

Thirdly, try to address the issue immediately, without delays. This is especially pertinent for businesses like airlines (as United discovered to their cost) where the problem may be very time-sensitive. On no account should you delete all negative comments, as people WILL notice.

Finally, try to turn constructive criticism into an opportunity – for example, perhaps you could run a contest to crowdsource suggestions on how to improve your product or service.

For more tips on managing your brand’s reputation on Social Media and dealing with negative comments, see Social2b’s slideshare presentation, “Best Practices for Managing Negative Comments on Social Networking Sites – What Executives Need to Know in 2011”.

[1] Ayres, Chris (July 22, 2009). “Revenge is best served cold – on YouTube: How a broken guitar became a smash hit”.