Negative social media posts can cause real damage to your business. Here’s how to respond.

Social media offers new businesses unprecedented opportunities to reach customers quickly and affordably. However, like just about everything else on the Internet, it can be a double-edged sword.

How you respond to the inevitable negative posts and reviews can be a defining moment for your enterprise.

Rule No. 1: never, ever counterattack. No matter how brilliant, witty or richly deserved, you will harm your reputation and your business by going on the defensive.

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When the negative comment appears, the first question to ask, and answer honestly, is, does the comment have some truth in it?

If yes, respond in three steps:

1. Fix the problem.    

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2. If you can, contact the customer (via the phone number they provided for a dinner reservation or appointment, for example), respond directly, thank him/her for bringing the matter to your attention and explain what you have done to remedy it. Extend an invitation to come back, on the house. Your ideal outcome is that the complainer files another post describing how responsive you were.

3. Regardless of the above, post a response yourself with thanks and your remedy.

If the negative comment is truly unjustified, things get a bit more complex.

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First, if it is one bad comment among many good ones, it probably won’t influence anyone. In a strange way it can even add credibility to the positive reviews. Unless it is a serious charge, let it be.

Next, consider the nature of the complaint. If it is trivial, absurd or irrelevant, that will be apparent to most readers. You should probably ignore it. Ditto if it is obviously really angry or vicious but not really plausible. A few deep breaths and a glass of wine may help in this situation.

If it is something out of your control, a brief response stating so (and possibly why) is almost certainly sufficient.

If the comment is plausible but not true, see if it can be resolved privately, if you have the customer’s contact information.

If you can’t reach the customer, or that approach doesn’t work out, then a response stating your case may be in order. It is best not to reject the complaint outright; instead, clearly and simply explain the circumstances. Be positive. After you draft your post, walk away for a few minutes, and if possible, have someone else review it too.

Above all, do not get into an extended dialogue if the original complainer rejects your response. You’ve stated your case, case closed. Or as Mark Twin famously said, “Never argue with a fool. People may not be able to tell the difference.”

Don’t Stuff the Ballot Box

New business owners may be tempted to try to artificially accumulate a lot of positive social media reviews and comments quickly. Not a good idea.

Sites like Facebook and Yelp are increasingly sophisticated in the way they track the source of posts on their sites. If you attempt to puff up your reviews yourself, you will almost certainly get caught, and you may get kicked off the site.

Having a group of your friends do this for you may still leave an online trail back to you, with similarly bad results. Even if you don’t get caught, perceptive readers will still probably see through the ruse. Too many positive reviews in too short a time — and fake ones at that — will not appear legitimate.

What was true for the first Stone Age entrepreneur back in the mists of time is still true in today’s information age: A good product or service, backed by good customer management, will lead to a successful business. The good reviews will follow on their own.

Keith Twitchell  spent 16 years running his own business before becoming president of the Committee for a Better New Orleans. He has observed, supported and participated in entrepreneurial ventures at the street, neighborhood, nonprofit, micro- and macro-business levels.



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