Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. For every kilobyte of marketing gold that you can enjoy through using social media for your organisation there is always the possibility that something out of your control can rear its ugly head and cause you a very public problem.
It is part of life for just about every business who makes or sells something. At some point in time someone somewhere in the supply chain will make a mistake. If that mistake happens to affect a consumer who is very active on social media then they are likely to make a noise, and this is where you need to react quickly and efficiently to try and turn the negative into a positive (or shift it to neutral at least!).
“The old English adage is true…you can’t be everybody’s darling, but you can get everybody’s respect if you play fair and prove that you care.”
You need to be in a position to pick up on any mentions that are made about your business quickly after they get posted. That means you need to make sure that your digital ‘ears’ are as effective as possible.
Visit your social media accounts on a daily basis. You don’t have to post something every day but you do need to be actively checking your account so that if someone has sent a message or posted a comment then you will see it and be able to respond in a timely manner.
Each major social network has an app that works on a smartphone. Download them and set the notifications to appear on your mobile device when your account name is mentioned or when someone posts on your account or sends you a private message. You should also set up Google Alerts for your company name to help pick up on comments in discussion forums or blog mentions.
Read the negative comment or message a few times through, at a sensible pace so that you digest fully what the person is saying. Do not skim read it or you may miss out on some important words or semantics that are crucial to the issue being raised.
If you know that a little bit of investigation needs to be done on your part then the first job is to acknowledge the complaint and promise to come back to them very soon when you have looked into the issue. That is a promise that you MUST keep.
A simple reply such as “Thank you XXXX for raising this matter with us. I am very sorry that you have experienced this problem and I promise that I am looking into to it right now and will come back to you very shortly.”
Responding quickly is key as it instantly nips any further posts about lack of care in the bud. ‘I’ is also a lot more personal than ‘We’. Never ignore a negative comment no matter how unfair it seems or how angry their words have made you. Keep emotions out of it and send them an initial caring response.
Always look for a way to fix the problem that the customer has experienced. Try not to get into any sort of debate in a public forum that could become argumentative, as you will never ‘win’ in these situations and you may end up making the issue much bigger than it ever needed to be.
Wherever possible, keep the discussion in the public zone. It is not best practice to try and get the issue taken offline as quickly as possible. The goal should always be to publicly demonstrate that you care about the problem and the person and to resolve it quickly and efficiently.
If the person you are dealing with is being completely unreasonable then be confident that their public responses will be viewed as obtuse by other people who tune into the conversation.
Delete as a last resort
Tempting as it may be, never resort to deleting negative comments or posts straight off the bat. You have to try and get to the bottom of the problem and fix it and have a happier customer at the end of the process.
If you delete something negative without any justification then you may add fuel to the flames. Once the person who raised the complaint realises that you have simply deleted it they will push back and be even more vocal and may start to get some vocal sympathy from other customers. That said, don’t stand for posts that include profanity, racism or personal naming or attacks on team members. These do get the delete treatment and it is easy to explain why if you get questioned about it.
Remember, as this gets forgotten sometimes, they are YOUR social media pages so you do get the final say in what stays published and what gets deleted. But if you engage with people in the spirit of great customer service and treat them as a person that you want to make happy then you will have some good content that you may very well want to stay publicly available to future visitors.
The old English adage is true…you can’t be everybody’s darling, but you can get everybody’s respect if you play fair and prove that you care. A dramatic example, but Alton Towers proved that earlier this year after the horrific ‘Smiler’ accident and their conduct on social media was, in my opinion, flawless.
Enjoy the social media rollercoaster; the ‘downs’ are as much a part of it as the ‘ups’ though…
Ross Hewitt is the Managing Director of Secret Pie, author of the "Savvy Social Media" business book and columnist for various trade & industry publications. His last 'proper' job before setting up Secret Pie in 2010 was Head of Marketing & Ecommerce for Silver Cross.
He began his digital marketing career in 1998, when social networking was something you only did down the pub and when some folk he worked with still thought the internet might 'go the same way as CB radio'.