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Ugly social media comments: how to develop a PR crisis management plan that works

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Social media is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful way to interact and engage with current and prospective customers in 2015.

With over 13.6 million Facebook users, another 13 million active YouTube visitors and 2.8 million Twitter users in Australia alone, big and small brands alike are using social platforms to create dialogues with giant audiences like never before.

All this interaction is fantastic for developing positive brand impressions, sure, but what happens if it all goes wrong? You can’t please everybody and, once upon a time a nasty phone call to the complaints department could be handled privately, away from a public audience.

Social media has made the good, the bad and the downright ugly as public as public can be.

It doesn’t matter how good your products or services may be, you’ll always get a complaint or nasty comment.

But, what does matter is your crisis management plan.

How well will you handle the negative comment plastered on your company’s Facebook page? With a carefully considered plan to manage your public relations, damage control can be a breeze.

In fact, negative opinion can even be turned on its head. The team at Infodec Communications are communications experts. We have years of PR experience and in that time we’ve learned a thing or two about how to defuse a potentially damaging confrontation.

We’ve compiled a few tips for how to best deal with negative social media comments. Remember, the worst thing you can do is do nothing.

First things first: NEVER delete a negative comment.

It’s not nice to have a negative or untruthful comment plastered across your Facebook page, especially if it begins a conversation that generates further negative comments.

No matter how much you’d like to just delete the negative comment and have a fresh start, it’s probably one of the worst PR responses you can have.

Deleting a negative comment will simply provoke the angered commenter, resulting in more negative posts, generating a higher degree of anger and promoting the notion that your company ignores unhappy customers.

There is nothing worse than a brand that has a social media presence that indicates it’s only ‘pretending to care.’

Accept you have a negative customer. Take a deep breath and start to use your head. It’s time to respond.    

Keep track of everything: proof is in the pudding.

Negative comments will come up from time to time but some can be crude, abrasive or downright offensive.

Document the comment by taking a screenshot and filing it away for future reference. Many social media platforms allow users to edit or remove their own comments at a later time and this could take your response out of context and embarrass your company.

If the comment is offensive, you will have the right to formally complain about this person’s use of social media and either have the comments removed and/or the offending user blocked. You can also hide abusive comments and the only person that will see those comments is the person who made them and their connections.

Whatever you do, don’t lose your temper.

The internet is a huge environment where people all kinds enjoy almost complete anonymity.

Don’t take the comment personally, even though it may be hard at first. It’s reasonably common for competitors to try and harm another brand with false complaints.

Your negative comment could even be the work of an internet ‘troll’. The act of trolling or writing comments to get an emotional rise out of the recipient is also rampant in the world of social media and online forums.

When presented with a negative comment, you have the advantage of measured response.

Take your time when considering your approach, don’t be impulsive—it most likely won’t only be the commenter who is awaiting your response.

Now for your answer: a respectful, authoritative tone is the key to success.

Regardless of whether the comment is founded or not, it’s essential that you address the complaint head-on.

Never ignore the basis of the complaint. Be courteous in your tone but try to avoid being too formal; speak from the point of view of the company.

For example:

Hi Garry. Thank you for bringing this important point to our attention.

The team at Smith, Jones, Doe & Associates is unhappy that one of our customers is unhappy.

We have a few avenues available to you to correct any mistakes that have occurred on our part and would like to discuss your concerns further.

Please contact us on our customer care hotline on 1800 000 000 where we can learn more about your situation and provide immediate assistance.

This example illustrates the calm and helpful nature of your company’s customer service. Whilst not admitting fault, this response indicates that if the commenter’s claims are indeed fair, your company will not rest until all wrongs are righted.

This kind of response to a negative comment can be a big PR victory for a company: the commenter will most likely be satisfied with your proactive response and take their complaints to your customer care division, removing any negative communication from the public domain. Others who have seen the comment will also find satisfaction with your calm, sensitive and action-oriented position.

Keep your finger on the pulse. At all times.

The online world never sleeps. Big companies devote huge portions of their marketing budgets to hiring social media monitors.

In recent news, Prime Minister Tony Abbott came under heavy fire by making Prince Philip a knight of Australia. Before the papers and TV news began to put together commentary on the controversial decision, commentators across all channels of social media began to stir up a storm of negative discussion.

This storm became so powerful in informing public opinion so quickly that the Prime Minister was moved to undermine the relevance of these channels by liking social media users with graffiti artists.

These ‘graffiti artists’ included Rupert Murdoch commenting via Twitter.

So, to wrap up:

The key to a successful PR crisis management plan is to put it into motion quickly.

Acknowledge negative comments as soon as possible, employ a calm and respectful approach and, above all, present the commenter with a positive step forward. A satisfactory avenue for resolution, away from the public eye is a must.

Remember that social media is public. By developing and implementing a proactive and robust PR crisis plan you will not only restore confidence with the customer in question but with your wider customer base.

If you don’t have time to handle your social media marketing the team at Infodec Communications can help.  Get in contact to find out more.