Opinion

How should brands deal with negative criticism in social media?

Upasna KakrooIn this guest post, Upasna Kakroo has some advice for brands on how to deal with negative criticism in social media.

The open nature of social media channels and the public visibility of many by default has meant that brands can no longer sit tight behind faxed customer complaint letters.

Twitter or Facebook is in fact the new fax. Worse still, is open for everyone to see and search. In most likelihood, a new customer will first go to a negative remark than consider the excessively beautiful ad text that the agency came up with. In a world of dangerously real-time social media fueled fail-whales, is there a way out?

How to handle negative comments on social media is a topic that gets many brands into fizzy discussions. Some brands have put themselves through to absolute social media disaster situations due to poor management, a prime example in recent times comes to mind.

An Indian actress, Deepika Padukone (with a Twitter following of over 10 million) Tweeted out an image from an Indian newspaper, Times of India (with a Twitter following of 133 thousand) that she criticized as being insulting to her as a woman. She immediately garnered industry support leading to over 9000 retweets and many other celebrities/ influencers showing support.

The newspaper instead of plainly issuing an apology decided to fight back on a public platform with essentially what can only be described as a lame tweet reply. This snowballed soon into a whole campaign of people standing with the actress on all other social media platforms and completely put the Times of India in a rather tricky situation.

Times of India tweets

Such examples make it even more critical that Brands need to learn how to respond to negativity. If your brand has to deal with such disasters, what could be the right thing to do?

Enlisted are a few pointers that will help…

1. Listen

Many brands are overwhelmed by the mere nature of social media and the expanse it provides.

Yet, many continue to ignore the multiple tools that have sprung up to be able to sift through the noise. Google brand alters, brand mention tools like Social Mention, Mention, BuzzSumo are up for the takes when it comes to ensuring that every time your brand is mentioned, it reaches you!

You can in fact also listen in to topics, competitor reports to be an active participant in the social space. The worst fate for a negative comment is decided often by how soon you react and reach it. Listening is the first step.

2. Own the comment and respond

I have personally heard brand managers say, let’s ignore it, if we respond it will lead to a windfall of negative comments. And I am the first one to admit that it is a real possibility and can happen. However, ignoring the comments will not serve you either. And it is critical to remember that solving for a genuine negative comment can be a great help to your product and brand, and will allow you to avoid the same comment showing up again. It is critical then to respond to the consumer and listen. It is equally important to do your best to offer help and plan a good response with the relevant team (for instance: customer care, product, sales etc.) that they may be complaining about. 42% consumers complaining on social channels expect a response in an hour. And it is not an uncommon situation where many of them even change their mindset after you listen to them!

3. Take it offline

Unless you want to land up on a Blog or a Reddit subthread or if you’re really gaining steam, then on Mashable as well, go offline. The response to a standard customer response that is negative needs to be what Ken Herron, Social Media Guru and Head of Marketing of Unified Inbox puts forward very eloquently:

It never fails. The most scandalous single comment about your business, your brand, or its people, will be the number one search result. Customers often understand this shift in power better than the companies they’re talking about. The best way to deal with a negative online comment is to own it. Immediately respond on the channel where the comment was made.

Thank them for bringing the matter to your attention, and immediately take it off-line. Off of the Internet. Off of email. Talk to the customer over the phone. Not only does this give you the added contextual insights from speaking with them in person, but enables you to resolve the issue out of the public’s eye. – @KenHerron (Head of Marketing, Unified Inbox)

4. Be respectful

Self-explanatory. We have all experienced rude customer service at some point or the other. Social Media is definitely not the place where you showcase how strong or rude you can be.

Even if you believe the customer is wrong. You do not need to share that view publicly. Just be respectful and polite. That never goes wrong.

5. Create positive content

The single best way to get out of negative brand perceptions is to create good ones. There is no short-cut. It is a long term investment and is a recommended best practice. It is a whole new blog post in itself as to what positive content can do, but in this context at the very least, it allows consumers to view your brand with a balanced perspective. Good marketing means knowing customer pain-points, latent needs and addressing them directly. Be useful, entertaining, authentic as a brand. There is no substitute. Let consumers see you as a thought leader in your space. Work hard at creating original content. There are tools that allow you to add an approval layer between creation and distribution, to allow you to be a hundred percent certain that a piece of content will not harm your brand in any case. This is something very well worth the effort. Examples include: Outbox Pro, Buffer and Hootsuite etc.

In summary…

Many marketers flock over to social media thinking it is a free distribution platform. Far few are fully prepared to handle the aftermaths of a consumer complaint that is now no longer hidden but may go viral in no time. Whether it was a real pain-point in the product/service or a mere misunderstanding, a brand’s reaction has to be planned, prepared and yet instant.

Hopefully as more brands understand the inherent nature of social media, using a strategic approach and the right tools will be norm more than a Monday morning meeting room discussion.

Upasna Kakroo is a digital storytelling consultant for Unified Inbox, a Singapore-based tech startup. She is also the co-founder of content marketing and branding startup Brandanew.

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