How do you deal with antisocial behaviour and negative comments online? Much like offline, you can ignore it, call it out, or attempt to engage.
One of the greatest key hurdles raised by managers in embracing social forms of media is that people might post unfavourable comments.
It’s an issue that Dan Slee tackled head on last week in an excellent blog that cautioned against arguing with idiots online.
“In my long experience most people are not looking for a fight but [are] looking for information or maybe sometimes to let off some steam. A professional and human voice can really help.”
Conversations behind your back
The fact is that if your product or service doesn’t meet expectations, your customers are almost certainly already criticising it online.
I’d urge you to search social networks and the web for comments about your organisation, its products and services, and your market.
If your customers believe that you treat them badly, produce poor products, avoid taxes, or are unethical they will tell you given the opportunity and if you don’t give them that opportunity, they’ll do it indirectly.
You’d be wise to listen to their concerns.
It’s much better that any criticism is direct so that you can deal with it rather than having negative comments shared around social networks and the web.
Most people are reasonable offline and online
It’s a truism of the web that people are more likely to share critical feedback via electronic means, rather than face-to-face, but if you take the effort to listen and respond your efforts are likely to be rewarded with advocacy.
The challenge for organisations is managing these conversations. Communications and public relations must be integrated with customer service and marketing. That’s the shift to social business.
In order to engage in social networks organisations need to adapt human characteristics such as a tone of voice, openness and a sense of humour.
They also need to be able to manage conflict. Not all conversations on the web are polite.
Check Twitter when one of the mobile networks fails, the comments on a YouTube video with more than 10,000 hits, or the Wikipedia Talk page for a topical business or political issue.
Ending the conversation
If an organisation makes an authentic and reasonable effort to engage with customers and prospects, and still the criticism flows then you need to know when to walk away.
There are occasions when you simply won’t find an area of mutual understanding – to cite a formal definition of public relations.
Know when to say enough is enough and acknowledge that there are some customers that you’ll never please or are best off without.
Hotels and restaurants fear bad reviews on TripAdvisor. If you get a bad review address it directly, never be defensive, learn from it and move on and celebrate your good reviews.
If there is an error on a Wikipedia page related to your business or important information that has been omitted head to the Talk page and clearly state your case along with a third-party source.
Respond to criticism on your blog, website or other forms of owned media. Publish a clear policy for when you publish and respond to comments and when you don’t.
Similarly on Facebook respond to comments but don’t engage with the spammer that posts a comment on every single post.
But what if that audience is anonymous and you have no way of identifying its motivation or purpose?
The Internet allows anyone to hide behind an online persona and even to create a fake online persona. So-called trolling sees individual post anonymous negative comments online.
A study by Lancaster University last week found that boredom and amusement are among the top motivations for trolls. These are unlikely to be future advocates for your organisation no matter how hard you try to engage.
A hard line moderation policy is key to dealing with trolls. Set your policy, make sure you publish it and share it with your community and then police it robustly.
I’ve been exploring this issue and more with Steve Earl for our upcoming book Brand Vandals due out in October. Our conclusion is that if you’re authentic with your audience you usually find that people are a lot more reasonable than you realise.
This blog first appeared on Two Way Street by Stephen Waddington. Wadds is Chariman of Admiral PR and Marketing and European Digital & Social Media Director at Ketchum and President-Elect of the CIPR. He is author of Brand Anarchy and Brand Vandals; and editor and contributor to Share This and Share This Too.