As a brand on social media there will come a time when you have to deal with negative comments, and so you need a series of tactics to help you through these choppy waters.
Social media is a wonderful thing that has enabled everyone everywhere to communicate in ways that were unknown to us 20 years ago. However the fun and entertainment that you can get from engaging with social media is tempered with a societal shift towards a number of people interested only in negativity, trolling and argument.
For some people, journeying around social media and picking a fight is a sport; the arguing *is* the entertainment for that person. Even with those people who aren’t trolls who are out to cause chaos intentionally, there is a general leaning toward sharing strongly opinionated views.
Shouting at a screen rather than a real person and typing out a diatribe on a keyboard is a way some people choose to communicate which can be pretty alarming if you are on the receiving end. They might not necessarily do this if that person were face to face with you, so when dealing with these people, you have to be prepared to be firmer in your own resolutions too.
When dealing with a complaint in-store, it’s usually a private transaction between you and that person with no more than the other customers waiting in line as witness. Face-to-face you have the benefit of eye-to-eye contact and the ability to read someone’s body language to help you navigate the problem presented to you. On social media, you have only the words you type, which need to be brief and to the point where possible and without ambiguity, so that misinterpretation cannot also step in to cause further grief. This brevity can sometimes be the reason why misinterpretation and the ensuing disagreements come in though.
Time is also of the essence. No matter how strongly a customer feels about their complaint, they won’t stand in your store for hours or days arguing with you. They will eventually go away, which brings any issue to its conclusion no matter how passionate your customer feels at the time they make the complaint.
This is unlike your detractors on social media who can resurface over and over again over the course of the day, or even over weeks and several months. They will sometimes try and drum up an audience of supporters too, which makes it feel as if you are under siege. And you certainly are under siege if a group of people manage to successfully organise a boycott of your brand.
However, if we dial it back from these kinds of extreme examples, there might be a good reason people make complaints.
Brands that have questionable business practices will find themselves on the receiving end of criticism about their service levels or their products.
Equally, social media can sometimes be the only route some people can take to get an answer out of a brand on an issue. If your phone lines are managed by a traditionally scripted call centre or you have a contact us email tree on your website that is unfathomably complex, it’s far easier to contact the social team, who are paid to be online and responsive. So your customers in this sense would be taking the path of least resistance to make themselves heard.
Whatever the reason for the negativity that you see on the social media channels you manage, you will need a strategy for dealing with it.
If you get lots of negative feedback themed around your customer service or the quality of your product or service, then the first tactical manoeuvre is to fix that first. And so, in this way treat this kind of negative feedback on social media as you would a customer focus group that helps you fix your business practices.
There are some quite straightforward ways of silencing trolls and people that are out to hijack your brand online.
On Facebook if somebody keeps unhelpfully spamming and commenting on every post you make, you can hide those individual comments from showing on your public timeline. The person making the comments won’t know that they have been hidden, and it allows you to carry on with your day.
If you get a repeat offender you can also block them from the page, which they will notice you have done, and so resorting to this kind of tactic should be a last resort for people who just bear you ill will.
Over on Instagram you can delete individual comments on posts by swiping the comment to the left and clicking delete. Instagram seems rife with auto-posted bot comments that are triggered by certain hashtags you might have used. No one needs to see these things in their timelines, so swipe and delete. You can also delete comments from followers who spam your posts with negative comments, but use this technique only for those people who fall into this category. Deleting comments that complain about your service or quality of products would otherwise be seen as censorship.
You can also archive whole posts on Instagram that have become problematic. Archiving is a good technique for keeping access to those posts for future reference or use, without having fully deleted the posts.
When you restrict someone’s account on Instagram, all comments they make going forwards show for them in their view of your timeline but don’t show in public for your other followers. You will be able to spot restricted comments as greyed out comments on your posts that you can read and then choose to allow if you wish, or leave them hidden. Any private messages from restricted accounts will come into your ‘message requests’ area after you have restricted them as well. This is a useful technique for managing problem followers without having totally blocked them, which people can often take as a sign of open warfare having been declared!
On Instagram just like Facebook, you can also block certain accounts if restricting isn’t enough for repeat offenders – though again, they will be aware you blocked them, whilst being unaware you have restricted them, so blocking is a last-choice action.
As you can see on Instagram and Facebook it’s quite an easy process for stopping people posting spam and outright offensive comments that have no place on your timeline.
On Twitter it’s more difficult to control what others say because people are effectively using their own account’s timeline to reply to your tweets, or to make posts of their own. Naturally, they have the right to speak in whatever way they would like to on their own accounts and there’s nothing you can do to stop them tagging you in on negative posts.
Many of the problematic boycotts and campaigns against brands happen on Twitter due to the difference in the way it works to Facebook and Instagram. It is harder to tap into a group of like-minded strangers on FB and Insta, but movements of people can grow quickly on Twitter.
Twitter has the ability – usually driven through hashtag campaigns – to whip up a passionate audience where lots of people can suddenly join a cause, which is a headache if you are on the receiving end.
On this platform, if you are campaigned by someone who is spamming you, or someone who is being abusive, then there is a series of techniques to deal with these people.
If somebody posts something offensive, spammy or illegal on one of your posts, you can report it. These reports will then be reviewed by Twitter who will take action on whether to remove the comments or not.
If someone persists in commenting on your posts in order to derail your timeline, if they are irritating to you you can mute that person. You can click either on the comment or on their profile and use the three dots to access the mute button. You will then no longer see anything that they comment on the threads that you put out that are about you. This might be enough for you just for a quieter life however, all your followers will see what they are posting and you won’t be able to see them.
So there is one further step which is to block them. You can block that user which will stop them from seeing your timeline at all and as a result stop them from commenting on your posts. Unlike the mute button where the person being muted won’t realise that they have been, when you block them they will know.
When you block them, you won’t be able to see them either on Twitter and so you can’t check what they might be still be saying about you, but often this is enough for you to have a quieter life. Blocking someone is something they definitely notice when they come looking for you again on this platform, and so use this when needed but not as a general way of repelling negativity.
If you want to fight back a little, then you can also take your time to report every comment as spam or abusive, followed by reporting the account itself as being spam or abusive or fake… and *then* block them! Twitter can only act on accounts that have been flagged with them and so it is worthwhile trying to reduce the number of trolls out there. Every time their account gets banned by Twitter, they have to set up a new one under a new handle. And who knows? One day they might grow up and realise they’re wasting everybody’s time.
The most important question is, when should you use these tools? There are some pretty black and white examples already given in this article so far, but you shouldn’t think that deleting comments and blocking accounts is the way you should be dealing with all customer complaints and criticism levelled at your brand.
The desire to delete and block people may be strong to make the negativity disappear and to tidy up your brand’s social timelines, however you need to employ a different tactic when it comes to more honest forms of negativity that have been directed towards your brand.
We have come across some companies that choose not to get onto social media because of all the negativity that’s already there about their company. Not being online doesn’t stop that from happening – just because you are ignoring something doesn’t mean that people aren’t saying it. It just means that your brand isn’t involved in the conversation and therefore has no control over what people are saying about you.
The more time-consuming, but a much more ethical way of dealing with negativity about your brand is by resolving to deal with it head-on. By addressing negative comments, you can often find that you can resolve issues or ‘turn someone’s opinion around’ with your response.
When you receive a complaint or a one star review online, for instance, take some time to read it, look up the name of the person on your customer database to check if you can see they were actually a customer. If you can identify them, check what was already said to them in your call logs or by email replies if this is how they were in touch. You need to get a picture of what has already happened that has led to them making contact on social media in this way. When you’ve done your research, you need to think about how to respond.
If people are complaining about the quality of your product or service, then you need to devise an answer that addresses the issue courteously and attends to the complaint in a civil and helpful manner. On social media, everyone else is watching to see how you react and so you need to be mindful of dealing with responding to the customer in hand, but also how your reply looks to outside observers.
Answering back on a negative comment is part- “customer service response” and part- “reputational management” for your brand, and so you need to craft a reply that services both needs. Regardless of whether you feel the complaint is unjust or not, think carefully about your reply before clicking the send button.
One small tactic to open any response is to apologise to the customer for their discomfort/inconvenience/outrage, or you can thank them for being in touch and raising the issue. Starting your response with positive reinforcement is a way of acknowledging they have a valid point and are being heard, which is a calming tactic. You also need to show them that you are their ally and want to resolve their issue rather than take a defiant or oppositional position to what they have said.
A tactic that can also help you avoid a public flaming before it can get out of hand is to offer a call back by phone. If you have no idea who the customer is in order to investigate their issue before making a reply, you will need them to give you their order details or their postal address so that you can investigate what went wrong.
For this kind of scenario you can encourage the customer into the private messaging area of your account, as no matter how strongly they feel, they will not want to share their private details on your public timelines. Once they are switched to DMs the problem can then be dealt with ‘off-air’ which contains the problem in a less inflammatory environment. Over on your public timelines, what is left there for outside observers to read is a complaint that was answered promptly and courteously by the business with an apparent resolution.
If your private conversation to resolve the customers issue goes well – as very often it does do once you start interacting with someone one-to-one – as your parting shot on the conversation, you can also ask if they would remove their one star review now that they have received a resolution to their problem.
We find that the strike rate for this is pretty low unfortunately – people who have got what they want often trot off into the sunset leaving you with a one star review hanging around on your profile which is very frustrating. However if a small proportion of customers agree to update their reviews and comments or agree to delete them, then that’s a small step in the right direction of removing negative sentiments about your brand. So it’s worth a try.
There is one further tactic you can have in your armoury and that is to ‘do nothing’.
Sometimes you will see comments that are just ‘sour’ or sarcastic. For the sorts of posts that are negatively directed at you or about something you posted but that there is no outcome being sought other than to just say something negative, then a do nothing approach can sometimes be the best approach. If it’s not a direct complaint about your business, sometimes these comments can be left unanswered and they will eventually sink away on your timelines largely unnoticed, for which you need to judge on a case by case basis.
People making comments like these are often their own worst enemy. If your first reading of a comment is that someone is being unreasonable, untruthful, complaining in tones that are completely out of proportion… or they are being just a bit of a “Negative Nancy”, chances are that other people reading the comment will think that too and will dismiss the comment.
You will also see sometimes that other customers step in on these kinds of comments and will take up the argument on your behalf. In this way the issue starts to fix itself, with you just needing to watch on silently. As long as you make sure people don’t start abusing each other, the situation won’t get out of hand.
Ultimately your social media feed belongs to you and to an extent you get to set the rules of how people behave within it. If you want to nurture an open and friendly environment, you need to be open and friendly with people.
Communicating with people when they talk to you is good manners, but it’s also best practice on social media. Many complaints are nipped in the bud right away when people realise a brand’s social media channel is manned. Keyboard warriors find it much easier to shout into an empty room. Demonstrating that someone is sitting there and is prepared to answer them back can sift out a lot of negative comments from ever happening in the first place.
So take ownership of your social channels and work them to make them a place that you control and not the trolls and thread hijackers.
We hope that you found this article useful. Take a look at the other social media help articles we’ve put together:
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