"Your call center sucks." "The software upgrade you promised still hasn't been delivered. When will it happen?" "Your product looks different to how it appears in your advertising." "How can buying more of this help save the environment, as you claim?"
All fairly standard complaints, yet many organizations, conscious that bad experiences and reviews travel much further and faster than positive ones on the Internet, remain unsure how to handle negative online discussions.
Some - too many - choose to bury their heads in their hands and hope the problem will somehow disappear. For others, not least in Asia, the prospect of losing face remains a deterrent from engaging in social media, or at least in any meaningful form.
For the majority, the issue is more structural - siloed teams having to deal with questions and complaints that they don't understand or over which they have no responsibility, thereby making their response, or lack of it, appear unresponsive, uncaring, even evasive.
Whether it is called customer service, community management, online reputation management, or simply reputation management, the ability to identify and contain negative discussions before they escalate is a critical skill that all organizations and all parts of the organization in the social media front lines need to learn.
Before working out how to respond to online complaints, first it is essential for companies to have a systematic approach to assessing which negative posts or discussions they should prioritize and respond to. Some useful process maps have been developed to help companies, trade associations, and governments work out which types of posts to respond to and how to do so.
Yet these graphics typically fail to point out the importance of the broader context of these discussions and how or why they may be escalating. Here are some additional criteria that can be helpful in evaluating negative conversations:
Assessing negative conversations requires regular listening to online discussions and managing of your official channels, a good understanding of the kinds of topics that may cause your organization problems, and close relationships with the myriad internal and external stakeholders who may be impacted by online discussions.
Above all, it calls for a cool head and good judgment.
Complain image on home page via Shutterstock.
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Charlie Pownall is a senior communications consultant with twenty-plus years’ experience in Public Relations and Digital Communications. A corporate and social media communications specialist, he started his career in government writing speeches before moving into journalism, in-house corporate communications, digital marketing and, for the past six years, social media. Previous employers include Burson-Marsteller, WPP, Syzygy Group, Reuters London News Radio and the European Commission. Charlie is a member of stakeholder engagement consultancy WATATAWA’s Catalyst Group of independent consultants and experts. He is also a Senior Consultant at communications skills training, coaching and consulting firm Simitri Group and an Associate with VMA Enhance , a specialist corporate communications training firm. Charlie writes extensively on marketing and communications, and has authored white papers and reports on reputation management, stakeholder reporting and investor relations. His Corporate Reputation In the Digital Age white paper was awarded at WPP’s prestigious annual Atticus Awards 2011.
December 12, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT