How Your Small Business Should Be Handling Negative Social Media Feedback

Most small businesses make huge mistakes when negative feedback comes up on social media.

They either make up a lame excuse, become a pushover, ignore it, or get super emotional.

These reactions come because nobody is sure how to handle negative social media feedback.

Everyone is afraid it will kill their reputation online.

And, yes, that is a real possibility.

However, small businesses have to learn that negative feedback comes with the territory on social media.

Handling it correctly can not only save your reputation but can offer you a chance to make your brand better.

Feedback, both negative and positive, is an opportunity to open a dialogue.

Honest opinions like these are the real-world reflection of your brand’s customer experience and product quality.

This is what the world sees when they see your logo.

Sure, sometimes it’s an unfair criticism.

Don’t ignore or censor these as they still require some sort of response.

But sometimes it’s a real shortcoming.

When you receive negative feedback, you need to take a close look to see where your product or company fell short.

Your customers expect you to take these complaints seriously, and you should meet their needs.

They’ve taken the time to offer you this feedback.

You owe them that much.

In most cases, you won’t need to offer a formal apology.

Customers don’t always want that.

What they want is the assurance that you’ll improve.

It shouldn’t be a false promise, either.

Consider it an opportunity to get better.

Use it instead of spending money trying to make your brand look better through reputation management campaigns.

“How,” you ask?

I’m going to cover that with you today.

What Forms Can Negative Feedback Take On Social Media?

Before I dig into how to respond to negative feedback, I should go over what it may look like.

Any time a customer lets you know that they were dissatisfied, it’s going to come in one of three forms.

Each one requires a different response.

There’s a level of etiquette that each requires, and sometimes the difference is subtle.

So, without further ado, let’s look at the forms that negative feedback can take.

Minor Problems And Support Issues

Most of the negative feedback your brand will receive on social media comes in the form of a minor complaint.

There was something about the experience that went wrong for the client.

Maybe it was a faulty product or a dissatisfactory conversation with customer service.

Fear not, for these problems are the easiest to resolve.

Act quickly and this will never make it past a minor complaint.

First, acknowledge the problem with the customer.

It’s better to handle this part publicly so your audience can see that you take complaints seriously.

Next, offer to work out a solution in private.

Through the social network’s direct message platform, find the solution that best addresses the issue.

The reason it should be handled in private is to prevent others from abusing your solutions.

If an offer for a refund or free product is the best solution, you want to avoid making that visible to those who might scam you.

Once a resolution is found, acknowledge that there was an optimal conclusion in response to the original complaint.

Major Issues You Should Work On

Sometimes a customer’s feedback stems from a real problem in your system.

It can revolve around a flaw in your product or service or result from the way your company handles customer care.

Generally, it’s not made up or minor.

And, if it isn’t handled quickly or it’s managed inappropriately, it could become a big problem fast.

The most important response you could give is to let your audience know that you’re looking into it.

But you need to follow through, examining what’s happening to find a solution.

A great way to circumvent this feedback is to follow up with clients within a few days of interaction.

Ask for their feedback on your product or service and the interaction that went with it.

If you can get them to contact you directly about any issues before they turn to social media, you can prevent these negative expressions from occurring.

Nuclear Customers

When a customer goes “nuclear”, it’s never pretty.

This sort of negative feedback stems from an individual who is incredibly angry with your brand and wants to do damage to it.

Usually, their frustration is a result of neglecting earlier complaints, but it can occasionally occur in protest of something your brand does.

These complaints can cause major nightmares for your company if they aren’t properly dealt with.

Determine if this is a real issue.

Sometimes people make things up in order to defame a company.

If that’s the case, you can take legal action to get it stopped, though a simple act of transparency about the issue in question may clear everything up.

However, if there is a real issue, you need to do something about it.

Let your audience know that you’re aware of the problem.

Apologize with sincerity, demonstrating true regret.

Then give people your plan of action to make it right.

Include a timeline for your plan as well as the specific steps involved.

Follow through and let your audience know when you’ve completed your promise.

This Is How You Handle Negative Social Media Feedback

I covered some of the basic ideas to help respond to negativity on social media.

However, recovering from these hits works best when you have a complete plan.

In the ideal case, you’ll never need the plan.

But should a crisis hit you need to know exactly what to do to make sure it doesn’t become a major issue.

Take these steps whenever you receive negative feedback through your social channels.

Respond To Them Quickly

The most major mistake we make as small business owners is not responding to criticism when it happens.

It can do far more damage than responding ever will.

While many negative comments simply get ignored by the average social media audience (except in the case of a poorly run company), that doesn’t make them any less important.

However, the people who see these comments are still negatively impacted by there existence.

That impact is worsened when you don’t respond.

While the thousands of people who could see it may not mention it when they do, the damage is still done.

The best way to negate that damage is to demonstrate that you heard it and are willing to fix it.

By quickly responding to the problem and searching for a solution, you turn a negative into a positive for your brand.

If you can resolve the problem and get the complainer to mention that resolution, you might even create a positive image from that negative.

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Figure Out How To Fix It Instead Of Who To Blame

It’s normal to want to point fingers when there is a problem.

We as humans don’t like to accept that we’ve done something wrong.

However, that simply doesn’t work in any conflict resolution setting.

Because social media is, like the rest of life, about people, you need to treat the negative feedback that you get there as such.

People want respect.

When you’re friendly and address them personally, they respond better.

If you remember this in all your social media marketing efforts, you’ll be fine.

When these crises hit, avoid getting emotional and deal with the situation.

Remember, you can only control what happens on your end.

Search for a solution, not someone to pin the blame on.

Focusing on problem-solving allows people to see that you respect them.

It shows that you care about their issue and want to make it better.

What it doesn’t do is make them feel small or their problem insignificant.

That goes a long way in demonstrating to the customer, and your social media audience, that you’re a company that cares about them.

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Communicate Authentically, Not Corporately

People want to deal with people.

They hate cold, crafted marketing messages, and they hate canned responses even more.

Social media is just that: people communicating with people.

Behaving like a faceless corporation makes your brand look out of place on social media.

You need to be human in all your social media communication.

There should never be a “stock” corporate response.

Keep the PR department out of these dealings.

Instead, address the problem and the person directly.

Let them know that you’ve heard them.

Again, when someone leaves a negative comment, check your emotions at the door.

Even though it might upset you, they’ve voiced a concern.

It’s not a personal attack.

Show them that you understand how they feel.

Demonstrate that you’re going to fix the problem.

Don’t blame them, even if it’s obviously their fault.

The only thing that might get damaged is your ego.

That’s a problem worth ignoring.

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Be Real

One of the best ways to deal with negative feedback on social media is to let your existing fan base counter it.

Happy customers will chime in and let your audience know that the complaint isn’t a common problem, helping you maintain your reputation.

But some small business owners find it optimal to hire people to pose as fake customers to post positive remarks.

It’s a terrible idea.

Most of the time, a false comment can be rooted out.

In the age of the internet, it’s difficult to lie like this without getting caught.

When that occurs, it’s only going to hurt worse than the original negative feedback.

Instead, focus on building true brand advocates that will come to your rescue when you’re hit by a crisis.

A true statement about how great your company is will go further towards maintaining a good reputation than a false one ever could.

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Allow All Interactions To Remain

When you face something online that might present an unfavorable image of your brand, it might cross your mind to remove it.

Be it a bad review or a negative comment, or even something you said that you regret, having it wiped from the source might seem like a good idea.

But there’s a phrase that people have learned to live by recently, especially in an era where past statements made online are hurting people’s careers.

“The internet never forgets.” Click To Tweet

Choosing to remove negative user content could turn a small issue into a nuclear situation.

It’s a way of ignoring a person that infuriates them, causing them to move their negativity to places you can’t do anything about.

You’ll cause the situation to escalate fast.

Instead, respond quickly and address any negative feedback.

If it’s made up or based on false information, respond with the facts of the situation (preferably with links to back you up).

Allow these things to happen publicly, including the request to move the conversation to a direct message.

The truth will always come out.

Best to make sure you’re not the one hiding it.

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Make Sure You Don’t Let Your Emotions Get The Best Of You

Humans are driven by emotion, even if we don’t like to admit it.

Every decision we make comes down to how we feel.

In fact, a major study was conducted about how emotion and decision-making are linked.

That’s why it’s critical in dealing with negative feedback to understand the emotions that drive the issue.

Your dissatisfied client wants to know that you’re there for them.

You have their back.

By leaving negative feedback, they’re looking to confirm that you do.

Once you understand that concept, you can approach the situation with fact-based responses that gear towards solving the issue at hand.

Most importantly, acknowledge their emotions and respond with appropriate ones of your own.

Show them you regret that they’re dissatisfied.

Apologize sincerely.

Don’t let anyone else do it on your behalf.

Responding in this way allows you to connect with them emotionally and get on the same page.

However, there’s another emotional human involved here: you.

Often, when a customer has a complaint, we take it as a personal attack.

It feels like they’re criticizing us.

When that happens, it’s easy to let our emotions get the best of us.

We can’t let them, though.

Making personal attacks or legal threats to respond to criticism doesn’t help.

It can often make the situation worse.

Childish behavior on our part can only cause them to dig their heels in and make resolving the issue impossible.

Even when your emotions don’t get the best of you, it’s easy to accidentally insult the upset customer.

Although their lack of understanding may be the reason for the issue, pointing it out will only make them defensive.

Continue to focus on the solution, not the reason for the problem.

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Have A Social Media Crisis Response Plan

Do you and your team know what to do when things go nuclear?

For many small businesses, the temptation for employees to “go rogue” is real.

They see themselves as defending the company they work for.

Many of them, under the false pretense that their personal social account protects your business, will do many of the things I’ve warned you against.

Your employees, though they have the best of intentions, will do the damage themselves.

That’s what a plan is for.

When your team is all on the same page and knows how to handle the crisis, things go smoothly.

Consider what might happen if there is a major complaint about a real problem.

What direction could it go?

How could you react?

Understand that your plan needs to be an overall social media response strategy.

Individual campaigns end, but social media is a long-term game.

You need to make sure you have a plan to release as much information about the situation as possible.

Who will handle responding to comments?

Where will decisions be made?

Plan to make those decisions in the most agile way possible.

If you see a crisis on the horizon, start creating fact pages on your website that answer the most important questions about the situation.

Transparency can save your life.

Make sure your team knows your social media policy, too.

Only delete inflammatory, abusive, or hateful comments along with those left by trolls.

Clear guidelines are the best way to make sure your team can help you handle the worst situations.

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Social Media Is At The Center Of Modern Customer Service

As social media steps into a bigger customer service role, you have far more opportunity to make every interaction benefit you more.

There’s an opportunity to upsell and cross-sell.

In addition to the sales benefit, you can use it to keep and calm angry clients.

But it also means you need to be better at handling it.

Those interactions are public, and they will impact more than just the angry customer.

However, that’s why the marriage of social and customer service is so powerful.

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About the author:

Michael McNew
Web developer, marketing innovator, technology enthusiast, and founder of Visceral Concepts, Michael McNew has developed a passion for delivering value to small business, turning his creativity towards image and reputation building for small business owners.