One of the biggest fears for companies entering the social media world is receiving criticism from users or customers. Often, we hear that they are concerned about what people will say to them, about them, or that they will look bad on social media.

Guess what- they are already saying stuff about your brand!!

Regardless if feedback is positive or negative, people are talking about your brand. That’s why it is important to monitor these conversations and engage in social media to give your organization a voice. However, determining how to respond when someone is taking about your company on social media can be difficult at first. Start by reviewing the feedback and determining what the tone is. Most comments can be categorized as positive, negative, or offensive. Here is an overview of how to handle each situation:

Quick Reference Guide for Responding on Social Media

Positive Comments

Not every comment you receive from a customer will be negative! If the situation is positive, respond to them and thank them for the compliment. If it’s constructive feedback for your business, thank them for the suggestion! Don’t worry if you can’t thank everyone who says something nice on your page, but do your best to reach out to as many people as possible. It will help to boost future engagement with your page.

Negative Comments

If someone is providing negative feedback to your organization, you need to pay attention to what they are saying and determine your response. If the person has a legitimate customer service issue, try to reach out to them and resolve it. It’s usually best to resolve the issue through a direct message (DM) or through e-mail. Try to avoid resolving the issue in a public way, but make sure they know you are paying attention. A good way to do this is to respond back (publicly) asking them to DM or e-mail you to discuss the issue further. If the issue is not something you can handle, or is a complaint about a specific product, let them know that their feedback will be reviewed by the appropriate department (and make sure you let that department know). Follow up to make sure the issue was resolved and provide updates to the customer.

If the person makes an incorrect or false statement about your brand, respond with a link to the factual information. For example, if they are accusing your company of practices that you do not engage in, try to find a third party source that refutes their statement. Or, if they are confused about how your product or service works, give them a link for more information. Quite often, customers in this situation can easily be turned into raving fans!

If the person is being a social media “troll” (complaining for the sake of complaining), just being mean-spirited, or venting, it’s a good idea to just do nothing. This can be difficult, but keep in mind that responding back will often lead to a public debate via social media which can be more damaging to your brand. By doing nothing, you’ll find that your other fans will likely come to your defense and respond to the troll in support of your organization.

Vulgar/Offensive Feedback

This situation can be very difficult to handle. Typically, this happens on Facebook because of the ability to publicly post on your wall and comment on your updates. People will still have inappropriate or vulgar comments on other social media channels, but it is less likely to directly damage your brand due to the platform they are using. When determining how to handle this situation, think about your organization’s culture and standards, and apply them to the decision.

If the comment is extremely vulgar or inappropriate, remove it immediately. It’s a good idea to let that person know why you removed it and what the rules of engaging with your fan page are. Beware of potential “backlash” from that user for this action. If the situation continues, you have the option to ban that person from the community, but only do that in an extreme case.

If the comment is “questionable”, you can comment back and let them know they are welcome to comment and provide their opinions but ask them to refrain from using profanity/offensive language. Make sure you let them know what the rules of the fan community are and that they will be blocked from the page if they do not adhere to them. Do not be afraid of blocking them from the page if they continue their inappropriate behavior.

Fan Guidelines

Regardless of how you handle comments on your page, it is a good idea to have some rules or guidelines posted somewhere on your profile. This way your fans will know what kind of questions will be responded to and what kind of behavior is appropriate. Best Buy does a great job of outlining this on their Facebook page, along with setting the expectation for customer service responses. The Grand Rapids Griffins also does a great job discussing the rules of their page while keeping it light and fun!

On Twitter, many companies will have separate accounts to handle customer service issues. Delta has an account for their brand, along with a separate Twitter account (Delta Assist) that monitors for customer issues. This is a great idea for large brands so they can avoid flooding their followers’ streams with customer service responses. For smaller organizations it is not necessary to manage separate Twitter accounts, but it is important to be clear about what your intentions are on the 140 character network. If you do not intend on responding to customer service issues via Twitter, make sure you let your followers know that by putting that info in your company bio. The key to social engagement with customers is transparency.

Balancing social interaction is a tricky thing. You want to create an environment that encourages all types of feedback but you need to be prepared to handle the occasional social media “troll”. Remember to keep your tone as positive as possible with all responses, regardless of the situation, and always encourage quality, constructive conversations. Developing your process for how to handle all types of comments on social media can be difficult at first, but becomes natural as you get in the groove!

Christina Torri works with Social Media and Internet Marketing clients for Mindscape at Hanon McKendry