Fear of Social Media

You’ve read for years now that your company should be engaging in social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) and “participating in the conversation.” But that means sometimes encountering someone who will call you names while saying your service sucks and your policies are so bad that your business should be boycotted. Who would want that, right?

Having to participate in conversations where you or staff represent your company and everyone else can be anonymous is an unfair playing field. You want to be positive and professional while they can call you names and make baseless accusations. Run, run away fast, seems to be the best advice.

I feel your pain. I really do. I’ve been called all types of nasty names and accused of all sorts of malfeasance, of course, wrongfully so. Yet, I continue to engage people on blogs, in forums and on social media sites who are being very critical of brands I represent. Is there something wrong with me or is there a method to this madness?

People will say you need a thick skin to engage critical opinions online. That’s true to a certain degree but it is simply easier to do if you keep some things in perspective.

  • Critical comments are not always made to be mean or cruel but because they actually like your company, product, service, etc. and are trying, sometimes clumsily, to provide you with feedback that you can act on.
  • Not everyone is basing their criticisms on real experiences. People are prone to take a colorful, exaggerated stance based on minimal information. Your ability to identify and selectively engage or ignore them will save you from wasting a lot of time.
  • Sometimes it’s enough to acknowledge a complaint and your company’s inability to address it. We can’t and shouldn’t try to be all things to all people. Just because there’s one very vocal advocate for some new feature or service doesn’t make it something that will improve the experience for the majority of your customers.

So even with this prepared mindset, why bother responding to potentially misguided, ill-informed, negative comments? The answer is quite simple; they give you the opportunity to improve your company, your products, your staff and your perspective of your marketplace.

The initial reply to someone making a negative or critical comment in a public forum is to acknowledge it and seek clarity. Ask for details, ask for specifics, and ask for suggestions. In other words, find out what is really being complained about. You are likely going to be greeted with a more fair-minded response that you can then work with. And when you’ve been able to address their concern, improve your business and ensure a minimal likelihood of the problem occurring again, you will be seen as a responsive business worthy of word-of-mouth referrals and repeat business from your newest loyal customer.

A comment like, “I tried to buy something from ABC Inc and their service sucks, never going back,” might reveal poor customer service that NEEDS to be addressed. “I am sorry to hear you didn’t have a good experience. What happened?” is an appropriate way to engage such a complaint. Such feedback would be like having secret shoppers who work for free.

Sometimes you should take the conversation offline, out of the public view. Suggest the other person email or phone you or send them to a web page where they can leave a detailed message, including their email address and/or phone number. The reasons to do this include:

  • When the conversation is not appropriate for a public forum (swearing, libel, slander, baseless accusations, etc.).
  • When a lot of information (detailed explanation of what happened) or personal or customer account information is needed.

Another key to engaging in social media conversation, like most everything, is follow through. If you ask someone to elaborate or send you an email explaining their complaint, you must acknowledge their effort and if further response is needed after evaluation or investigation of their information, then it must be done and in a timely manner. Keep them in the loop as best as can be done.

I’ve spent a lot of time here explaining what you should do. Now here are some things to avoid:

  • Making promises with no guarantee of keeping them. “Thanks for pointing out that missing feature. We will include it in a future model,” is such a promise. Unless you are responsible for product design, development, and manufacturing, there is a probably a good reason that feature is missing. “Thanks for suggesting that feature. We will consider it for future models,” is a much more realistic and noncommittal reply.
  • Giving specific dates for fixes, product launches, etc. The best way to disappoint someone is to give yourself a deadline and then miss it. Again, there are many things that often get in the way of our best intentions. “We are currently underway in fixing the problem and will notify you here as soon as it is ready.”
  • Taking things too personally. There’s a saying in sales, “Customers don’t decide they don’t like you. They just don’t like your product.” You can have a great relationship with someone who doesn’t see value in your product. Be respectful and even appreciative of their point of view. We can all use another friend.
  • Disagreeing with complaints. Sure,¬†you see your company as perfect. Guess what? It’s not. It’s staffed with imperfect humans who make mistakes. Look to your marketplace to point out where you can improve; where your product fails to live up to expectations, who on your staff is rude when left alone with customers, which salesman is making exaggerated claims, where your company sucks and can be better.
  • Directing complaints to another department that doesn’t communicate back to you. People need to know that whoever in the company asked them about their problem is involved in fixing things and not just giving lip-service.