When I speak
, I typically hear something along the lines of, "What happens when we begin participating online and someone says something bad about us?"
The fact of the matter is, people are already saying bad things about your brand. You have unhappy employees, upset customers, and even belligerent investors. The Web doesn't change that.
The Web gives people a megaphone, but it also gives you a huge opportunity. Because you can monitor and listen to conversations, you now know what people are saying and how to react to it.
Here are five steps to help you deal with negative comments and criticism online:
1. Recognize that people will complain.
You can't control this. Human beings like to complain. But we also like it when someone recognizes our complaints and does something about them.
If someone complains or has something negative to say, respond to that person in the place where he voiced his concern, then take it offline. Ask him for an email address or phone number, and discuss the issues in private.
You may have hundreds or thousands of customers, but that's OK. Customer service can manage this if they're empowered to do so.
There are four words that work really well online: "I'm sorry" and "thank you." It's amazing what happens when you admit to your mistake and apologize. The problem suddenly becomes a non-issue because there isn't anything to complain about.
3. Be exceptionally clear.
Sometimes people will complain about your return policy, your company hours, or something beyond your control. The clearer you are in your policies and communication, the better.
For instance, say someone complains about your return policy on Facebook, but the policy is very clear and you've never strayed from it. Your other Facebook fans will chalk that person up to just being a complainer.
You can say you're sorry she's upset and reiterate your policy, but don't engage her in a debate, especially online.
4. Put out the fire.
I recently had an experience at a restaurant I love. I'm a frequent diner, but was treated so poorly during my last visit that I may not ever return. When I asked for the manager, the waiter looked down his nose as if I was being ridiculous, and did nothing to make the experience better.
I didn't expect anything for free, but I did expect an apology. Empower your employees to make the customer happy, as long as it's within reason. It's far less expensive than the damage one person can do online with bad reviews, low ratings, and plain old calling you out.
5. Step away.
Sometimes a person is unreasonable, even after you've tried everything in your power to right the situation. We call those people trolls; they just won't stop no matter what. It's important for your online community to see you try (see the first tip), but then walk away if it's a no-win situation.
A friend recently asked me to look at her Facebook wall. One man kept posting crazy and nonsensical things on every one of the posts. It's clear he was trying to stir things up.
The friend responded to him a few times so other fans could see, but people aren't stupid. They could see the same thing I did. I advised my friend to just let him be.
Dealing with negative comments isn't easy, but if you grow a thick skin and really listen, you will learn a lot about changes you can make to your products or services.
Gini Dietrich is founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, Inc. A version of this article first appeared on Spin Sucks.