Learning Center

How to Handle Negativity on Social Media

Social media has enabled direct communication with your customers in a way that’s revolutionized business – not only can you easily communicate with your customers, they can easily communicate with you. That’s an incredible innovation with many advantages – but it’s also not without its challenges. Today we’ll talk about how businesses can handle negative feedback on social media.

The risks

In April 2017 there was a huge social media moment involving United Airlines, about kids wearing leggings who were asked to change. The incident played out over Twitter in the worst possible way. As it turned out, there was more to the story than initially appeared (the kids were non-paying guests of a United staff member, which meant there was a dress code — which they had violated by wearing leggings), but United bungled the response, and the situation went viral. A couple weeks later, United also had someone post a video of a passenger being forcibly removed from a plane by police — this was widely seen on Facebook, Tumblr and elsewhere, and may have even gotten bigger play because United was already in the news over the leggings incident.

But the reality is, most small businesses are never going to have something anywhere near this damaging happening on social media. Large companies that have thousands of employees and serve thousands of customers daily, like airlines, are more at risk by far. Even so, the United/leggings incident would never have become a social media sensation if it hadn’t been witnessed by a Twitter user with tens of thousands of followers.

So small businesses shouldn’t be afraid of social media — again, the actual risk of something damaging happening is very, very low. But it’s not impossible that you’ll have to respond to a customer who’s had a negative experience, or someone who simply loves to sow discord on the internet – in common parlance, a troll. This podcast is about how to deal effectively with this kind of situation.

Facebook Page settings

Facebook is one of the most common social media used by small businesses, so we’ll start by taking a look at Facebook Pages. Facebook has built in a variety of settings to help you set some ground rules. Under the “general” tab, you will find:

  • Profanity filter: This exactly what it sounds like.
  • Page moderation: This is a filter that disables posts or comments that use certain words you designate. This can be a useful tool in some contexts — for example, if there is a particular hot-button topic relating to your business that you don’t want discussed on your Page, or if your Page tends to attract spam postings. However, be aware that if people are determined enough they’ll find a way around this filter — even if they can’t post what they want, they may simply find different words to say the same thing, and/or take their negativity elsewhere on Facebook. That said, the overwhelming majority of small businesses will never need to use this filter — do not worry about enabling it unless several similar postings or comments on your Page give you cause for concern.
  • Age restrictions: This is useful if your product or service is something that isn’t suitable for children, such as tobacco products or alcohol, or a nightclub.
  • Country restrictions: There are a few types of products that attract spam from abroad. We don’t recommend enabling these restrictions unless there’s a specific reason for it, however.
  • Visitor posts: You have three options here. You can disable posts by other people on the Page entirely, or set it so posts by other people are reviewed before they are published to the Page. (Note that this applies to posts to the Page only, not comments made on the Page’s posts.) A few industries, notably banking, have regulations that restrict how they are allowed to use Facebook Pages to communicate. But unless your industry has these regulations, we don’t recommend enabling these restrictions.
  • Messages: You can enable and disable messages to the Page, a feature that can be important for any Page that expects to attract a lot of interest (for example, a celebrity’s Page). Do not restrict messages to your Page unless there’s a specific reason to do so — if a customer wants to communicate with you, that’s a good thing, right?
  • Admin emails: You can also change the settings so that Facebook will send a message to the email account(s) associated with the administrators’ email address(es) when someone posts on your Page or gives a review, which can be important if you’re not on Facebook all the time.

Under the “edit page” tab, you’ll find a setting where you can turn reviews off. But again, this is not recommended. If your products and services are good, you’re bound to get mostly positive reviews even if there’s an occasional negative one. And even if you do get a negative review, it probably will not hurt you much on average. In my experience people are pretty good at recognizing trolls, or people who just want to complain. That said, if you’ve gotten a lot of negative reviews, it’s best to address the reasons behind those rather than react by turning reviews off on Facebook.

What to do if you get a negative comment or review

Most businesses, especially those that are business-to-consumer, will have to address a negative comment or review at some point. Your options vary a little bit depending on how the person expressed their opinion, but the first thing is to try and take the exchange offline as soon as possible, and to respond as quickly as you can. After all, reasonable people with legitimate complaints are generally more interested in being listened to than anything else. I recommend commenting on the post that you’ll send them a direct message, and then handle the complaint out of the public area.

You have to research the situation — what actually happened? If it’s a product defect, can you identify what’s wrong? If it was an interaction between the customer and a member of your staff, does anyone remember the incident? After you’re sure you have all the information, you have two questions to answer:

  1. How can you address the problem or complaint?
  2. How can you make it up to the customer?

If it’s a negative review on Facebook, you’re stuck with it – for obvious reasons, Facebook does not let you cherry-pick reviews. But the occasional bad review won’t hurt you – if your products and services are generally good, your reviews will be more positive than negative, and in my experience people are pretty good at recognizing reviews by cranks. If your Page has a lot of bad reviews, well, you have bigger problems that need to be addressed.

If it is a visitor post to your Page, don’t panic – your exposure on this is actually pretty small, because the only people who will get a notification about this are that person’s friends. No one else will see it unless they go to your Page directly (it will not show up in their newsfeeds). Facebook makes it possible to respond via direct message – again, comment on the post that you’ll send them a direct message, and handle it in a non-public way.

If the complaint comes in the form of a comment on your post, more people are likely to see it — and it is not possible to prevent visitor comments on Page posts. The good news, as we’ll discuss next, you have some options for ways to handle negative comments on your posts.

Hiding comments and posts

It is possible to delete posts and comments – but better yet, on Pages admins can “hide” a comment by mousing over the little carrot arrow in the upper right corner and choosing “hide.” When you do this, the comment disappears for the public but remains visible to the commenter and his/her friends. The commenter cannot see that you’ve hidden their comment or post, so they are not further inflamed by the fact that their message has disappeared – it’s a great solution in some cases. But in most situations, I recommend taking a very light hand with moderation, and only delete or hide comments that are untrue, hateful, or in some way damaging beyond the fact that the person has a negative opinion of your business.

If you reach the point where it becomes obvious that the poster is more interested in making trouble than a resolution to the complaint, you can choose to delete the comment and ban the commenter. It’s not the first thing I suggest, but this is something that you can do if someone is repeatedly behaving in a hateful manner.

If you are in the unusual situation where a lot of people are making negative comments on your posts (and you are unable to address the reason for this), your situation is a little tougher — Facebook does not allow moderation before comments post, nor can you prevent people from commenting. Again, you can delete or hide comments after they’ve been made, so in these rare cases you have to decide how heavily and how often you want to moderate. Bear in mind that people can and will take their negativity elsewhere on Facebook, where you have no control — in groups, on other relevant Pages, and on their own profiles — and you don’t want to encourage them to do so! If you are dealing with something situational, a better route might be to post relatively infrequently until the problem has blown over.

How to respond

Again, take it offline if you can, and respond as fast as you can. The longer you don’t respond, the angrier the customer gets. Some people are on Facebook more or less constantly, and they assume everyone is! As noted above, you can ask Facebook to email you when people post on your Page or post a review – check for that in the settings if you are not on Facebook regularly. Even if you have to say, we’re looking into this and will be back in touch as soon as we can, responding quickly is imperative.

Your response should be polite and calm. Try to avoid a defensive tone if at all possible, and take it out of the public arena. Apologize if appropriate — and remember, you don’t have to accept responsibility or admit wrongdoing to apologize that the person had a bad experience or doesn’t like something. But if your company did screw up, admitting it is important. Thank the customer for letting you know, and explain to them what happened in a neutral tone. Finally, tell them how you are going to fix it.

A few notes about Twitter

Twitter is a little bit of a different animal. You are not likely to run into much of a problem unless someone with a huge number of followers tweets something about you – again, the United/leggings incident was sparked when someone with tens of thousands of followers observed what happened and tweeted about it. But the average number of Twitter followers is about 200, and only a fraction of a person’s followers will see the tweet — so again, your exposure is pretty small, unless lots of people start retweeting. But unless whatever is alleged is truly egregious, this is highly unlikely. If in fact you receive a negative tweet or comment, the same guidelines about responding quickly and taking it offline apply.

Notes about Yelp

Yelp is a social medium that’s designed to help people, especially travelers or anyone unfamiliar with an area, find recommended restaurants, stores, attractions, and other services. It’s primarily used on mobile, so that people on the go can find what they’re looking for.

Although Yelp focuses on consumer services, it also covers business-to-business companies. Like many social media, it will create a profile for your business automatically, and you can “claim” it to make sure the information included (such as opening hours, etc.) is correct. You should definitely claim your Yelp profile, especially if you are business-to-consumer.

Yelp users are encouraged to rate the businesses they patronize, as the entire point of the social medium is to help people find, say, the best pizza joint in town, or a clean, nearby laundromat. If you claim your Yelp profile, you’re able to to respond to negative reviews — and regularly reading these reviews can be a really direct way to learn what your customers love about your business, as well as what you might improve.

Google Alerts

What about comments, posts, and articles in other types of media? A Google Alert can help you monitor when your business is mentioned on the internet — in a newspaper article, review, social media, blog posts and more. Years ago, many businesses had to hire expensive “clipping services” that would scan the media and send them any “clips,” such as articles or reviews. With the miracle of the modern internet, with a Google alert you’re asking Google to perform that same service, completely free of charge. It’s not foolproof, but it’s a great way to help ensure you don’t miss something important.

To set a Google alert, go to google.com/alerts, and type in your business name — it’s a very straightforward process. Google will send you an email only when it finds any new mention of your company.

Conclusion

Having basic ground rules for dealing with negativity on social media is a good idea for any company. Make sure you trust the judgement of the people who are your social media administrators, and that they have a game plan for what to do in the event of negative comments or posts. In short, the same basic rules of providing good customer service apply on social media — just think of how you want to be treated when YOU have a complaint for a company, and you’ll do just fine.