Last week you read why it's important to stay on top of what is being said online. This week... read how to respond to online bashing in a professional way.
When a comment is warranted, the best advice is to be professional in the same way you would when responding to criticism through traditional channels.
Even negative comments have something positive to offer, Dan Fowler, instructor for social media strategies for the University of California-Irvine, Webster University and Concordia. "Negative comments are usually venting for some reason or another and really are a cry for help or attention-both things that you can give." If you don't, he warns, others will step into the discussion, "and it may not be the kind of energy that you want evolving."
Being polite and persistent works when responding to inflammatory comments, Joel J. Ohman, CFP, licensed insurance agent, the owner of an insurance agency in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area and the founder of InsuranceProviders.com . "Reach out to those posting the negative comments in a polite way and be persistent in working to make sure that their grievances are properly addressed." Taking these discussions off-line and out of the social media environment is an important best practice here. Contact the individual directly, and individually, via email or phone and post a comment to this effect, so others online know that you are being responsive.
"Even if you are unable to totally win over the offended party at least the online record will reflect that you made an honest effort to help them in any way that you could," says Ohman.
While it may seem counterintuitive, Fowler encourages seeking additional input from others who may have had similar negative experiences. This does two things, he says:
- Reasserts the idea of community
- Shows that you are not afraid to truly help your customers
Adults, says Fowler, can be a lot like children who don't get their way-they throw tantrums. To effectively deal with the situation, he advises redirecting that energy into more productive channels. "By opening the discussion up it actually diffuses the power behind the negative comment and opens the door for new, positive dialogue about solutions and how you, personally, can help," he says.
Amy Littleton, senior vice president at Chicago-based PR agency KemperLesnik, notes that some of the top online brands have a strategy of letting their fans speak for them. This requires first establishing a strong following of loyal customers who will be willing to step in if a commenter begins spewing negative remarks. "A lot of companies have done a really good job of building their brand," she says. "They're out there, talking and listening and responding. They're really getting involved; when someone comes in with a negative comment and kind of disrupts the culture that's been created, people will respond on their behalf."
Dan Weedin, CIC, CRM, is the owner of Toro Insurance Consultants in Poulsbo, Wash., and speaks frequently to insurance professionals. He says online attacks "usually involve a bad customer experience or claim gone bad." Rather than avoid these situations, he advises viewing them as an opportunity to make a bad situation good. He offers best practice advice to those who are concerned with navigating the potentially risky terrain of online interactions:
- Practice-consider potential scenarios and how you would respond to them. "Practice makes the process much easier to handle if it does happen."
- Have someone on staff in charge of social media, and trained on proper responses.
- Never ignore negative comments. "Take responsibility. Ask questions. Respond professionally. But don't ignore."
- Examine who the comment is coming from and what they are trying to accomplish. Is it a legitimate complaint?
- Don't get angry. "Or at least, don't write angry," he says. "No good ever comes from hastily typing an angry response and hitting send."
Social media is here to stay, says Littleton. "It's the world we live in now and it's going to continue to be that way. So burying your head in the sand is not the solution." Instead, as she and others suggest, the best approach is to recognize the opportunity that engaging in online conversations-even when the tone of those conversations is critical-can provide.