Jun 20, 2013

Dealing With Negative Comments on a Company’s Social Media Accounts

The Q&A Team answers questions from ProfNet readers with advice from our large network of experts. Has there been a question burning in your mind lately, something you’ve been wondering that none of your colleagues can answer? Please send it to polina.opelbaum@prnewswire.com

Dear Q&A Team,

A couple of weeks ago I was assigned to manage my company’s social media accounts. I started noticing negative comments being left on our different accounts, and I am not sure if I should delete/block or respond to these comments. What is the best and most professional way from me to deal with these attacks?

Lost in SM World

_____________________

Dear Lost in SM World,

Congrats on your challenging but exciting new role! Here are seven ProfNet experts who provide their insight on managing negative commentary on a company’s social media accounts:

Define the Attack

“First, define who is attacking you, because it might not be worth your time to pursue,” says Penny Sansevieri, president/CEO of Author Marketing Experts, Inc.  “It’s important to know the difference between an online attack and a difference of opinion. We’ve worked with authors who have gotten bad reviews and wanted them pulled. A bad review is not an online attack — it’s someone’s opinion of your product or book. They didn’t like it and it’s their right to voice that.”

Therefore, “if the negative comments are constructive and have merit, it’s critical to respond in a respectful, conversational and non-defensive way. Explain in a fact-based manner the brand’s position,” says Lisa Gerber, president of Big Leap Creative.

In addition, there can be times where the comment may be a customer service issue rather than a blatant negative comment that is delivered via social media and seems aggressive in nature.

“How you respond, and who should respond, should be known in advance throughout the organization,” explains Chris Dessi, CEO and founder of Silverback Social. For example, he says, “Is there a customer service email you can refer people to? A customer service phone number?”

Responding to a Negative Attack

Wikipedia defines a troll as “someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional responseor otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.

Now that we know the “official” name of the individuals who attack, how do you deal with the attacks?

Peter LaMotte, senior vice president of LEVICK, says, “Your message needs to be clear and firm, and must communicate the company’s pre-determined position. If a firm is clear with their communication and stance, there is little more to add unless the conversation takes a new direction. A clear statement can also avoid time-consuming back-and-forth arguments.”

“The company should always be honest about how they are dealing with the issue,” added LaMotte. “If they legally can address the issue, they should never be anything less than transparent. Transparency shows that you have nothing to hide, so anything less than full transparency will exacerbate the issue. Finally, use your platforms to focus on the positive aspects of the issue. If steps are being taken to address the issue, use your blog to tell the story and then share that content across all of your social media platforms.”

Sansevieri  agrees: “Communicate on your blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook. Don’t stop talking. That’s the first thing many big companies want to do: go silent. Silence is not golden. Be communicative.”

Some issues should be handled outside of social media, says Bill Corbett, president of Corbett PR. “Major concerns should be taken offline for discussions and communications with customers with issues.”

Sansevieri says, emailing the person and having a dialogue may be the last thing you want to do, but “step back and realize that going directly to the source could fix this much faster.”

As far as how quickly you should respond to the attack, Dessi recommends responding “as quickly as humanly possible. Really. No matter what, you must respond quickly. The faster you respond (even if you don’t have a solution for someone), the better. We like to at least say to people: ‘We hear you. Thank you for posting. We’re working on getting you an answer.’”

When to Delete/Ignore an Attack

Complaints that are not respectful or not understandable may be subject to no answer or deletion; blocking of the individual; or other actions, says Corbett.

Specifically, “if there is any inclusion of personal attacks or personal information of employees or stakeholders, the company has the right to delete the comment,” says LaMotte.

Sansevieri shared a case where an individual had to be blocked from Twitter. “A few years ago, one of my Twitter followers asked me to market him for free (no kidding). When I didn’t, he started attacking me on Twitter. We reported him to Twitter and he was shut down, but that’s the extent of what we did. Now he continues to start up new Twitter accounts and tries to follow us, but he is always blocked.”

However, if a comment is deleted, you need to have something to fall back on and explain the reason for deletion, says Gerber. “This is where a social media policy is very important. In your policy you can state that comments that are disrespectful or contain profanity will be deleted. This policy should be posted online somewhere and available to all community members,” he explains.

*See Huffington Post’s comment policy: www.huffingtonpost.com/faq/#moderationprovided by Tim McDonald, community manager of HuffPost Live. You can also read his insight on dealing with trolls here: bit.ly/XTKmEF

A Positive Side to the Attack

“Sometimes, ‘negative’ comments are a good thing, and can be an opportunity for your brand’s customer service to shine and to solve a problem in front of your social media fans,” says Dessi. “I’ve done this for large retailers and it’s always a huge hit.”

In addition, if you’re doing your job well, your brand advocates will also come to your rescue, says Gerber.

Dessi agrees, saying “it’s always better when the community polices this type of activity. The best way to encourage this behavior is to give back to your community, engage with your community, and generate genuine interest and affection for your brand/personality. When there is affection there will be defenders in your corner, always.”

As far as getting involved in the conversation while the community comes to your rescue, Gerber believes that “as a brand, you’ve said your piece. Now your brand advocates are participating. Your job is done.” If you would like to thank your brand advocates for the supportive behavior, “you can message them privately thanking them.”

Managing Across Different Social Media Accounts

Handling negative comments for difference social networks requires different responses, says Dessi. “I like to say that they are the same language, but different dialects. Also, certain social platforms allow for different types of responses to complaints from the community. Recently, there was a long Facebook post response from the president of Carnival Cruise Lines speaking about a ship that has been stranded at sea. He couldn’t offer that depth on Twitter, nor would it be appropriate.”

“Twitter responses should be more immediate,” adds Corbett. “Facebook responses should be well thought-out and provide more information or ask questions.” He adds that tweets have a shorter life span than Facebook and other posts. “In many instances, a response alone is enough to solve and issue.”

Yet, the fundamentals of communications remain the same, said Gerber. “Don’t get defensive, never be angry, and end the conversation if you are going to agree to disagree. The tools simply dictate a change in tactics, but not in strategy.”

Do’s and Don’ts

Dan Grody, partner of Tellem Grody PR, provides some helpful do’s and don’ts for managing negative comments.

DO:

  • Remember that everything will be ok.
  • Respond to negative comments.
  • Take screenshot threads that demonstrate resolution and keep them on file. You will always be able to show your social media team examples of handling negative comments.
  • Direct conversations offline to address matters privately, if situation is not      easily resolved.

DON’T

  • Don’t delete the comments (unless offensive, derogatory, etc.).
  • Don’t stress.
  • Don’t get defensive.

LaMotte adds to the list with a few more do’s:

  • Engage in the conversation where the conversation is already taking place, don’t try and create your own soapbox.
  • Use a single voice of the firm. Don’t allow any employee to engage on your behalf on their own accord.
  • Be a human being; don’t come across like a robot or party-line recording.
  • Be honest about mistakes or missteps. Don’t forget to address your next steps or solutions.

I hope this provides you with the information you need to effectively and successfully manage the trolls and different negative comments you receive on your company’s social media accounts. Good luck!

- The Q&A Team

Written by Polina Opelbaum, editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources.  The Q&A Team is published biweekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Polina, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

image via Flickr user cambodia4kidsorg

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