7 ways to respond to social media critics

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Even the most reputable businesses will be subject to criticism on social media at some point. Sometimes a critic’s complaints may be legitimate; other times it may be a social media troll trying to stir up trouble and attention. Either way, because social media are public platforms, how you respond will be observed by thousands of people, and will contribute to their overall impression of your brand.

Here are 7 strategies you can employ to defuse potentially inflammatory situations.

1. Respond

Most companies will respond to complaints that they believe to be genuine, but not to other complaints. The trouble with this strategy is that other people are watching. Not responding can be interpreted as a lack of care, or an inability to listen. Dishonest complaints will not always be apparent to other users who do not have the inside knowledge of the situation that you do. Even in situations where the complainant is obviously a social media troll, if you can respond with grace or neutrality, this will speak volumes about the integrity of your business to other social media users. Complaints should be responded to within 24 hours.

2. Think before you react

When illegitimate or downright rude complaints are posted, it is tempting to respond in a combative or defensive manner. Instead, take a brief time out and consult with other members of your team on how to respond. Brainstorm a few possible scenarios. Dealing with complaints as a team helps prevent knee-jerk reactions which could damage your businesses reputation.

3. Don’t make assumptions

Before responding, take time to review the customer’s version of events against your records. Sometimes the customer’s complaint may sound highly implausible because no one else has ever experienced that problem. But don’t dismiss it or assume they are mistaken until you have all the information and have checked with the relevant departments or distributors. You are in a better position to respond once you have gathered all the facts, rather than work off assumptions.

4. Inject some fun and playfulness into your response

When caught in a faux-pas, sometimes you can turn a complaint into a positive by acknowledging your mistake and poking fun at your own company. Introducing levity and humility shows your brand’s personality and can disarm critics very easily.

5. Acknowledge mistakes honestly 

It’s often been said that denying a problem makes a problem bigger. This is true of social media complaints as well. Most people will be appeased with a simple and direct admission of wrongdoing and an apology. However, going above and beyond to rectify a situation can sometimes turn a slighted customer into a loyal brand advocate. Consider what you can do to make amends to the customer in question, and consider how you might be able to improve your processes moving forward so future customers don’t encounter the same issue.

6. Take the conversation offline

If a complainant is particularly aggressive or if a person’s complaint is of a sensitive nature, take the conversation offline as soon as possible. You can do this by responding to their public comment with a simple statement that says: “We’re very sorry to hear of your experience. Please could you email us at complaints@thiscompany.com and we will look into this matter immediately and get back to you. We’re very keen to resolve this issue for you.” Make sure to include the name of the customer service representative who is posting the response at the end of the message as this lets the complainant know who they are dealing with and can follow up with.

7. Avoid automated or generic messages

Many aspects of social media can be well served by automation but customer complaints is not one of them. Last year, a payment provider experienced a technical glitch that resulted in my incoming payments not being paid out. Hundreds of other businesses were also experiencing the same issue and the company in question wasn’t answering emails, social media comments received automated, generic responses and no status updates were posted about what was being done to fix the problem. Each situation will be slightly different and will require human, not robotic, interaction with the affected clients.

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Luke Chaffey
Luke Chaffey is a senior member of the KBB Digital team, and heads up the search marketing division. With a keen eye on innovation and developing digital trends, Luke regularly attends the Google Partners Masterclass, and is also a prolific writer for websites such as Yahoo, The Australian Government (Digital Business sector), Kochie’s Business Builders, Smarter.Digital, KBB Digital.

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