Social media amplifies the voices of consumers and gives them a platform to voice both praise and criticism at the click of a button.

Businesses often struggle with how to approach negative comments on social media, but engaging with customers and their criticisms can go a long way: 45 percent of people say they would view a company more positively if it responded to negative comments on social media, according to the Clutch 2018 Consumer PR Survey of 532 social media users.[i].

A negative comment on social media does not have to mean a blow for your company’s online reputation; there are strategies that will allow you to recover while strengthening your brand.

Experts at top public relations firms talked about three ways businesses can handle negative comments on social media.

Respond Quickly

Before social media, companies had time to strategize when faced with criticism. Now, people expect companies to respond on social media and quickly.

Eighty-three percent of people expect companies to respond to comments on social media within a day or less and 38 percent expect companies to respond within an hour or less.

“The speed of information in general is accelerating,” said Laura Reagen, a PR expert who specializes in the healthcare industry.

Social media fosters an “instant” culture. People expect companies to engage with them on social media and quickly because there aren’t any barriers preventing them from doing so.

Although people expect quick responses, this doesn’t mean they expect a quick solution.

“It’s not like we’re telling people, ‘You have to fix this immediately within a day or less or hour or less,’” Reagen said. “Your response has to make people feel like they’ve been heard.”

When businesses receive criticism on social media, they should first respond to the negative comment. This shows the customer and others that the business cares and is working to address the issue. After that, the company should consider the nature of the concern and how to best handle it, whether on social media or offline. 

Be Proactive

Implementing a proactive social media strategy allows companies to have more control over conversations happening about their brand.

“Social media gives a channel for direct communication with end users and consumers,” said Jason Sherman, a PR expert based in Chicago. “They can either be reactive or proactive, but the smart ones are figuring out how to be more proactive and build communities that attract and create engagement with those members.”

By being proactive in their social media strategies, businesses can reclaim their online narratives and not only get in front of crises before they happen, but build an online community around their brand.

To do this, businesses should be proactive on social media, consistently monitoring conversations happening around their brand and responding quickly to comments. Businesses should also be proactive internally, ensuring they allocate enough resources to their social media strategy and make it cohesive across departments.

“Actively monitoring your brand and reputation can prevent adverse news and negative commentary from influencing a decision of potential customers and business partners,” said Sameer Somal, a PR expert specializing in technology planning. “You’ve got to be proactive and make sure it’s a total team approach, aligning your technology, marketing, and sales resource allocations. It can’t be siloed; it has to be integrated.”

Use Social Media as an Avenue for Customer Service

Customers will continue to use social media as a way to voice their concerns. Businesses can regain some control by embracing social media as an extension of customer service.

Most people (58 percent) say that social media has made customer service easier for consumers. It can make it easier for businesses, too.

Companies that embrace social media as an extension of their customer service efforts can closely monitor social media comments and respond in a controlled and professional way, as they would a customer service complaint.

Social media is already a way for customers to voice comments about companies and people already expect companies to use social media to engage with them.

“You can’t call Netflix on the phone and complain,” Reagen said. “The expectation is you’re going to solve this online.”

Companies cannot avoid negative comments on social media. Consumers do not expect companies to be perfect, but they expect companies to acknowledge their comments on social media. People want to be heard and want to know that companies care about their concerns.

“I encourage companies to look at their social media relationships in the same way they’d look at any other relationship,” Reagen said. “It goes a long way in making people feel like you respect them and that your brand comes across as compassionate.”

Responding to criticism quickly, implementing a proactive social media strategy, and using social media as an avenue of customer service are three ways businesses can approach negative comments with grace while elevating their brand.

[i] https://clutch.co/pr-firms/resources/how-social-media-transforming-pr-consumer-business-relationship

Toby Cox is a content writer and developer for Clutch, a B2B research and reviews firm, reporting on topics relating to public relations and emerging technologies.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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