Evaluating negative social media feedback

dealing with negative feedbackImage credit: Evolve Digital Agency
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The harsh reality for a brand having a social media presence is dealing with negative feedback.  Everything from the quality of service, availability of product, poor treatment by an employee, or expressing disapproval over a policy, encompass things that a business owner should stay on top of.  Typically, big companies have the budget to afford a social media team that will respond to customer feedback.  Smaller businesses, even one-person operations will struggle with this given the lack of resources.

Since feedback through social media is unfiltered and direct, it doesn’t take much for feedback to adversely affect your brand’s image.  The feedback can be as constructive as “I was at your store in Boston and you don’t carry Casio watches anymore,” but as frivolous as “I hate that you play club music in your stores.”

Fundamentally, a customer’s experience should always be as positive and successful as possible.  While a company can train its employees, inform them of specific policies, and can do their best when screening talent, bad experiences can happen.  It’s worth noting that people aren’t robots; they’re humans that will make mistakes, but like anything else, it’s how the mistake is resolved that makes all the difference.

Brands have to strike a balance when responding to those bad experiences as they want to make amends with the upset customer, but there are a number of customer complaints that are just for the sake of making noise.

Knowing the difference between trolls and constructive feedback

Brands should always be open to constructive criticism and amenable to changing their ways when customers express overwhelming disapproval over actions they take.  While it’s impossible to please everyone, ultimately, a brand must do what will help it grow and prosper.

There are a handful of legitimate complaints:  Discontinuing a product, negative customer experience, change in corporate policy, online purchasing not working, or indirectly, marketing gone bad.

A social media team can respond to and field these complaints because they are directly addressable, and in some cases, the team can reach out to individual locations to work out the problem.

There are  also a handful of complaints that come in the form of trolling:  People who complain for the sake of it, people who will comment on every update made for the sake of attention, commentary untreated to the campaign at hand, and those that will turn a simple advertisement for a sale into reminded everyone else how that person was wronged by the brand five years ago and they’re still holding the grudge.

While social media managers should respond to trolls when appropriate, there are times when it’s more effective to delete the comments.  While you don’t want to sanitize a thread, it’s important to remember how the trolling comments make the thread and your brand look.

Managing a brand’s social media account is different than your personal account.  When someone is speaking for a brand, they’re speaking for something that has the potential to reach a mass audience, even to the point of being written about in mainstream publications.  Considering that the marketing plan of a brand includes reaching out as far and wide as possible, the social media team has to be careful as one botched update can result in disaster.

Some guidelines on dealing with trolls

As someone who runs a few blogs, and who regularly engages controversial material on social media, I have developed some guidelines that I think could be applied on brands.  It’s imperative to remember that each brand should have a social media policy and plan that should be adhered to.  Some brands can get away with things others can’t, there are some fundamental principles that can be applied across the board.

Keep appropriate commentary visible for transparency while directing inappropriate commentary to an appropriate forum

Your audience needs to know that you are addressing feedback, no matter how many customers are adding insult to injury.  When customers see that brands care about their concerns, it deflates their anger, and chips away at their platform for expression.

Threatening commentary should be directed to law enforcement if the person seems to present an immediate danger to your business, or any associates;  otherwise, forward it the targeted facility and let local and district managers deal with it.  Don’t bother to talk them down, or quote policy, but you can cordially inform them that their message has been forwarded to appropriate people.  Make sure you keep a separate folder for screenshots of these comments as threats can present a greater danger down if people aren’t aware of their existence.

Vitriolic comments can be deleted it as there’s no room for such behavior on a public forum.  Should the offender continue, then ban them from commenting.  Brands do have the right to moderate their forums how they see fit.

Should the disgruntled person message your brand’s page directly, try to work with them to diffuse the issue.  While you’re not a hostage negotiator, or a therapist, sometimes the issue at hand was explosively handled by another employee.  Once you’ve ascertained the problem, and if the person offers specific information about the issue, start forwarding that information to someone that can address is more directly.  This also creates a record of the event should there be a repeat occurrence.

Naturally, if the commentary is spam, automatic replies, or what are known as sock accounts (accounts created for the purpose of harassment), delete them.

Banning a user from commenting

Banning a user should be a last resort, considering it can be viewed as an act of unreasonable censorship, and it can make your brand appear to only tolerate dissent and complaint at their convenience.  Dissent and complaint should always be reviewed and handled according to your brand’s social media policies.  Never delete negative comments unless they are vitriolic, threatening, or they contain personal information.  No brand wants their image harmed by negative feedback, but much like discarding letters of complaint, it doesn’t change the fact that people are complaining.

If your team is going to ban someone from commenting from any of the brand’s pages, consider making it temporary.  Even being banned from a physical location is only temporary in most cases.  Of course, if the banned user was threatening harm on your business, customers, or associates, make it a lifetime ban.  Threats should also be documented carefully in case you have to get police involved.

Proactive moderation

Good moderation starts with proactivity and having a plan in place.  Brands can invest in apps and software, and they can tweak settings and filters to make the job easier, but it all comes down to how your team handles the brand.

  • Know your brand and what it stands for.  Have links to specific policies and FAQs handy for quick copy and paste.
  • Anticipate and discuss answers to questions that you know will be asked, even if the answer is, “Our hours for Christmas Eve are 10AM – 6PM.”
  • Understand that regardless of how big your team is, your team won’t be able to address it all, and it shouldn’t try.
  • While moderating commentary from your audience, keep an eye on your associates.  While social media policies may regulate what non-social media associates may say on company channels, that doesn’t preclude them from doing so.  Sometimes a tense situation can be made worse by a disgruntled associate who starts disclosing unauthorized information.
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About the author

Mike Rana

Mike Rana is one of those people who is hard to define, though he's not immune to being labeled for something. He likes to talk about many topics including technology, business, politics, education, psychology, and human behavior. In his spare time, Mike enjoys traveling, people watching, analyzing the world around him, writing about his life experiences, absorbing information from various social media channels, and trying to be the voice of reason in the political arena.

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