It’s the thing that every business owner dreads. It’s mortifying, stressful and can cause you heart palpitations. I’m talking about being slammed on social media. Someone Tweets about how bad your customer service is. Or you read a blog post that’s a less than stellar review of your operation. Or a disgruntled customer posts a complaint on your Facebook wall.
While behemoths like Telstra and Dell have entire social media teams to deal with this kind of scenario, what can you do as a small business owner if someone decides to bag you in 140 characters?
Catriona Pollard is principal at CP Communications, a boutique agency specialising in public relations and social media services. Pollard says that the first step is to ensure that you’re actually listening in the first place. After all, you can’t rescue a tattered reputation if you don’t even know that it’s taken a beating.
Pollard says: “Use such tools as Google Alerts, Twilert or TweetBeep to set up alerts for mentions of your brand. Use Monitter to see a live feed of tweets related to or containing your brand name. Using Twitter regularly and monitoring your business feed is a must, both in terms of customer service and crisis management.”
If you discover that people are talking badly about you, what do you do then? Well, it’s just like the schoolyard. When you hear your name whispered in the corridors or discover there are unsavoury remarks being written about you on the back of the toilet door, you can either bury your head in the sand – hoping that it will go away – or you can deal with the issue head on. However, it’s vital not to get emotional. You need to approach each interaction with professionalism and sensitivity.
1. Terrible tales on Twitter
So someone’s Tweeting they’ve had a dud meal at your restaurant or bought a faulty product from your store. What do you do about it? “Customer service is the cornerstone of any business so it’s important to make sure you are equipped with the skills to offer great customer service online just the way you would in person,” says Pollard. “This means responding to all questions, comments and complaints in a timely and helpful manner. Negative comments and complaints have to be dealt with as quickly as possible and there are ways of doing this.”
Pollard suggests direct messaging the ‘tweeter’ if they are already following you. However, if the tweeter is not following you, she suggests sending them a polite public reply. “Ask them to follow you – and follow them in return, if you’re not doing so already – and take the conversation into private messaging,” she says. “You only have 140 characters to reply to a query. Don’t turn the problem into a long string of back and forth messages. Try to find a solution as quickly as possible. If you can’t, try and get contact details such as email or phone number from the customer so you can deal with the problem on a more personal, and less public, level.”
2. Facebook frustrations
If someone has written a negative comment on your Facebook page for all the world to see, it can be disheartening. Pollard says these can’t be ignored. “You need to respond to the issues your fans post on the wall,” she says. ” If you don’t deal with them, it will appear you are ignoring them. And what happens to an angry customer who thinks they are being ignored? They get angrier!
“Put yourself in their shoes. How would you like to be treated? Often they are simply after an apology. If the issues escalates, move it to a private conversation and off the public wall. As a general rule, negative posts should not be removed by the administrator. That highlights that you aren’t willing to take customer feedback. However if their problem has been resolved, then you can ask them if they are willing to remove the post.”
Pollard points out that if you’ve taken the time to create a supportive community that values and respects your brand, half your battle may be won. “You may find that your community steps in and responds to the negative and hostile ‘fans’,” she says.
3. A bagging on your blog
If someone makes a negative comment on your blog, you need to be pro-active with your response. “You should not ask the blogger to remove their comment simply because it is negative. This can be seen as avoidance and an attempt to save face without addressing the complaint/criticism,” says Pollard.
Your reaction will depend on what the commenter is bagging. When it comes to criticism, Pollard suggests thanking the person for bringing the issue to your attention and then explaining how you will take action to resolve it. If the commenter is actually misinformed about an issue, Pollard says: “Address them thoroughly in your reply. This will show both the person who has made the comment and all other readers that you are paying attention to the conversation around your brand and re-establish legitimacy.”
And then there are the grammar pedants who will point out your typos and misuses of punctuation. “Thank the person for bringing mistakes to your attention and rectify immediately,” she says.
Be pro-active not reactive
Instead of fearing the negative comments that could come your way via social media, it’s worthwhile to be pro-active about establishing your brand and your expertise. A good way to do this is by participating in forums. These might be industry-specific forums, small business hubs or simply forums where your target customers hang out.
“Position yourself as the industry expert by answering questions on these types of discussion groups,” says Pollard. “Register for the forums that may have discussions around the topics relevant to your brand and pay attention to what people are saying. Don’t rush to participate until you have a better idea about the tone of the conversation and how you can best contribute. When responding to the thread, avoid any mention of your business unless it’s on-topic and helps you make your point. A natural product of networking is branding. When you participate regularly, people will begin to remember and recognize you, and this together with an appropriate signature will brand your business and potentially even drive traffic to your site.”
Ultimately, when you get slammed in social media, it’s an opportunity to get feedback about your business and, if you handle it correctly, you may turn a cranky customer into a raving fan.
This article first appeared on Nett.com.au