Brilliant Facebook

Don’t Fear the Negative

“What if people complain?”

“Isn’t this just going to give people a place to say negative things about us?”

“Is social media worth it if we hear as much bad as we do good from customers?”

These are questions that people who run companies ask when contemplating social media. While it’s rare that a brand will turn down the opportunity to promote themselves on social media simply because of the “what if?” potential, it’s still something that drives fear into the hearts of their stewards. The reason is simple: all of those questions come true eventually.

It’s not a question of “if” people will say something negative about you on social media, but “when.” It will happen eventually, and then the question becomes something different entirely: what will you do about it?

That’s where the fun begins. You see, in my perspective, complaints on social media are a good thing. You might think that’s a crazy idea, but hear me out. It isn’t a good thing that people are complaining, but you can do something about it when it’s on social media. If they’re just complaining about your company with their friends or family members at the dinner table, there’s nothing you can actively do to resolve their issues and they’ll continue poisoning the well in the process. Those complaining on social media? You can resolve their problem and turn them into an evangelist, both enhancing their experience and your brand in the process.

Take this situation for example: in the past, I handled social media for a larger company, and there was a customer who was having repeated issues with our product. He was loudly complaining about it on Facebook. Instead of deleting his posts or ignoring him, I reached out and asked him about the issue he had with the company. I then asked he restate the issue in an email, so the information could be passed on to the right department. Once we began corresponding, I resolved his issue and managed to save him money on his service. He was overjoyed. The next post on Facebook from this person? A post to all of his friends touting how our company went above and beyond for him, and how we had a customer for life because of that.

There are a lot of different ways you can deal with negative commentary on social media. You can ignore it and hope it goes away. You can delete or hide the comment. You can respond in a similar fashion to their comment or try to placate them with an apology. Any of these options may work in the short term, but ultimately, if you have a solution for this person, offer it. Nothing will work better in the long-term than that, and it can generate extremely positive results.

Both Twitter and Facebook have ramped up their offerings to help corporate users manage these issues, as well. They’ve armed brands with solutions that enhance your ability to resolve issues in a cleaner fashion. Twitter expanded its direct message functionality to allow you to write more than 140 characters, giving you the ability to provide more expansive (and private!) responses to people who are complaining about your brand and following you. Facebook has rolled out functionality that allows brands to respond to comments privately as well, and that’s a boon to page managers the world over.

Negative comments can be positive in other ways as well. As this article from Marketing Land talks about, paying attention to commentary from those who like or follow your brand can be beneficial in terms of assessing internal issues. What are the issues that are impacting your clientele? Who is being affected the most? These are key questions and ones you can ascertain if you analyze the complains for your benefit rather than ignoring them.

Don’t just look at the comments coming directly to you, though. Social listening via tools like Hootsuite can help you take the temperature of your brand on social media. While you’ll need to decide on a case-by-case basis whether or not to respond to those who aren’t tagging you in their complaints, it’s still valuable to find out what issues these people are running into. Doing that may help you ensure that other customers aren’t impacted in the same way.

Social media can be a very negative place. It can be an incendiary environment that brings out the very worst in people. It’s natural for brands to consider that when thinking of what to post. You don’t want to intentionally upset the people who engage with you on social media, but you shouldn’t shy away from those who have had bad experiences, either. After all, problems only exist until you find a solution. Remember that the next time someone says something bad about your company on social media. If you handle it right, the next post could be the same person praising you.

This piece is written by David Harper, our online media strategist. He develops and implements online and social media plans for our clients, and has 8+ years of experience working on some of the largest social media accounts in the state.