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How to handle negative feedback on social media

By Emily Gee | 24 May 2019


In 2017, United Airlines experienced one of the worst social media firestorms in Internet history, after a passenger was filmed being dragged out of an aircraft by flight crew members.

The video was shared across social media platforms around the world, sparking all manner of memes targeting the airline for its poor handling of the situation.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, United eventually responded to the criticism and things quickly took a turn for the worse. What followed is sure to become a textbook example of what not to do in a PR crisis.

How you handle complaints can greatly affect the outcome

  1. Failing to acknowledge a mistake can turn into a PR disaster.
  2. It is inevitable to come across angry customers online.
  3. A framework is needed to respond to negative feedback.

1. Failing to acknowledge a mistake can turn into a PR disaster.

United Airlines issued what they considered to be an apology—the rest of the world, however, did not see it that way. In their apology, the airline refused to acknowledge the mistake and continued to defend the actions of its crew. 

The effect of this social media disaster reportedly lost the company $1 billion, with its shares dropping 4%.

While negative feedback may not have the same devastating effect on your business, it is still concerning to imagine how one bad review may impact something you have worked so hard to build.

2. It is inevitable to come across angry customers online.

In today’s connected world, social media is an important way for many businesses to engage with their customers. It provides direct access to customers, many of whom are interested in engaging with your brand. But things can go wrong, and every now and then you will have to deal with an angry customer.

3. A framework is needed to respond to negative feedback.

Since social media is a public platform, you may be concerned about what these comments can do to your brand image and reputation. That is why it is essential to have a framework for responding to negative feedback on social media

While an outraged customer is less than ideal, a bad customer experience can transform into a positive one when handled correctly.

Here are some ways you can manage negative feedback about your business on social media:

How to handle negative feedback on social media

  1. Have a strategy for responding to negative feedback.
  2. Address every complaint publicly.
  3. Reply promptly.

1. Have a strategy for responding to negative feedback.

business man typing

Whether you have a social media team or one social media manager, it’s a good idea to implement a company-wide strategy for responding to negative feedback. This will keep your communication consistent and provide your employees with a list of social media dos and don’ts. 

You may choose to designate one person who will be responsible for handling all social media comments, which may make it easier to monitor and manage. An effective strategy should include information on:
  • How to deal with spam, inappropriate comments or “trolls”
  • Rules and behaviour guidelines for users
  • How and when to address negative comments
  • How to address comments from users recommending competitors
  • Who should respond and when they should respond
  • How to effectively monitor comments and brand mentions

2. Address every complaint publicly.

people holding up speech bubbles

You may be tempted to delete and block users who are giving you negative feedback, but this can backfire if the user finds out and continues the conversation on his or her own page. Addressing complaints is always recommended over covering them up or ignoring them. 

Social media is about transparency, so the more transparent you are as a business, the greater trust you can build with your audience. By acknowledging and addressing comments, you show your customers that you are responsive and able to resolve complaints quickly.

If you aren’t able to offer an immediate solution, reply to the comment and ask the user to send a private message to resolve the issue. 

You can publicly acknowledge the complaint with a simple; “I’m sorry this has happened [person’s name], please send us a private message with your information so we can sort this out for you” - this way your other customers can see that you are handling the situation.

If a comment is blatant spam, offensive or inappropriate, it can be safely deleted or hidden as these types of comments do not serve any purpose and can even harm your page.

3. Reply promptly.

reply promptly concept

Social media posts happen in real time, so the best course of action is to reply as soon as you can. According to data from Convince and Convert, 42% of your customers will expect a 60 minutes response time and 32% of them expect a response within 30 minutes, meanwhile 57% of respondents expect the same response time at night and on weekends. 

This may not be feasible for every business, and certainly may not be expected for small local businesses - but it is good to keep in mind that there are different expectations when it comes to social media.

Remember, you cannot control every comment made about your business. To avoid a similar fate to that of United Airlines, it is a good idea to act fast and take responsibility publicly. By dealing with comments on your page and ensuring the customer is being listened to, you can minimise the risk that they will post somewhere else (such as on their personal page) where you can’t control the outcomes. 

Need to equip yourself with social media skills for your business?

To get the most out of social media and to understand how to use it as a marketing tool, it’s best to be armed with the most up-to-date knowledge. 

Upskilled’s comprehensive social media courses focus on using social media to grow a digital presence and market your business or help other businesses do the same. 

You can either start with Upskilled’s short course or dive into the Diploma of Social Media Marketing (10118NAT) to start building your career and getting an expert handle on how to use social media for business.
 
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