This month’s Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly column: How to negotiate negative feedback

For the past two years, I’ve written a monthly column focused on social media for the Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly. This month’s column features some advice about how to respond when you receive negative feedback on your Facebook page (or anywhere else in the social sphere, for that matter).

How to negotiate negative feedback

One of the great things about social media is that it’s a conversation. Social media provides an excellent way to connect with your customers because it gives them the chance to start a dialogue of their own or be part of a conversation you’ve started.

This also, however, presents a tremendous challenge to businesses: What happens when the conversation includes negative feedback? How do you respond? Answering that question can be especially difficult for those of us who grew up in a marketing environment where the conversation was much more one-sided.

The fact is in the social media environment critical comments are not only a possibility, it’s likely that any business making effective use of social media will encounter them on its Facebook page and elsewhere, at least occasionally. Even the most successful business can’t please everyone.

So what’s the right thing to do when this happens to your business? One thing’s for sure: In most cases, the wrong approach is to ignore negative comments, delete them or take a combative stance. That will only amplify the situation and lead to more problems.

How you proceed, however, is somewhat dependent on whether the comment represents:

  • Constructive criticism (e.g.: “I bought your product expecting X, but it would be so much better if it did Y.”) This deserves a response, of course.
  • Simple criticism (e.g.: “Your business stinks!”) This deserves a response, too, even when no specific request is made.
  • Profanity, ranting, threats of bodily harm, etc. (No explanation needed.) This is the rare instance of someone in the audience clearly overstepping the bounds of acceptable behavior. It has no place on your Facebook page — just as it would have no place in your building — so it deserves to be deleted. To protect yourself you should post community standards on your page that describe behavior or speech that won’t be tolerated.

Many businesses understand this in theory, but they have trouble applying it in practice. Why? First, it can be hard to determine the difference between simple criticism, for example, and something that deserves to be deleted. And second, you may consider the post to not be worthy of a response, especially when it comes from a customer you know and perceive to be hard to please.

There’s one thing that’s absolutely essential to remember when addressing a critical comment in the social media environment: your response should be directed not just at the individual who posted the critical comment but also to the audience at-large.

Here’s an example: Let’s say a hard-to-please customer has called you several times with a complaint. After multiple attempts, you haven’t been able to resolve the issue, and you’re not sure you’ll ever satisfy him or her. Despite the impasse, the customer decides to take the conversation to Facebook, posting the same complaint he or she voiced on the phone. Your instinct may be to ignore the post since it’s already been addressed or since you believe you don’t have anything left to say. While that may be true in reference to the customer who posted the complaint, it’s important to consider how your response will be perceived by everyone else who visits your Facebook page. After all, they don’t have all the facts, and they may be inclined to empathize with your customer since they’re coming from that perspective. In any case, they will pay close attention to how you respond in order to see how they would be treated in the same situation.

What will your audience look for in your response to anyone who posts a seemingly reasonable criticism on your page?

1. First, they want you to apologize. Even if you don’t think you were in the wrong, you should acknowledge that you’re sorry for not meeting their expectations.

2. Second, they want to know that you’re responsive. Do you respond quickly (ideally within 24 hours)? Do you offer to resolve the issue? Do you give the person posting the critical comment the option of messaging you via your Facebook page or otherwise contacting your business directly?

3. Third, they want to see a closed loop. After a resolution is reached, if the outcome is positive, did you go back to the original post and thank the person for taking the time to talk and for working with you on a resolution? If not, the problem may appear unresolved.

This may seem like a lot of work, and it is. But it’s part of the bargain when you deploy social media. How you respond to one customer will speak volumes to everyone else who sees your response. Keep that in mind and make sure that you understand who the real audience is before you decide how to respond.

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