When you work in the social space, one of the first lessons to learn is how to plan for and respond to routine negativity. Regardless of what we’d all like to admit, not every customer is going to be satisfied 100% all of the time, and there will always be a few who are more than happy to voice their opinions loudly over the internet.
Over the last few years, we’ve watched several well-known brands battle against negative public sentiment due to individual product or service issues, a marketing or PR mishap, or even worse, an accidental yet offensive post gone viral across various social networks. In some cases, we’ve seen how they’ve made their situation worse by their lack of preparation. Here are a few things I keep in mind when responding to negativity on the social web:
The Importance of Research
Before crafting a response, it is crucial to fully understand the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the situation:
- Who is the negativity coming from, and who does it affect? Is the negativity stemming from a frustrated customer, a disgruntled employee, or is it a sly tactic from an overzealous competitor? Does it affect your marketing team, your product team, or should it be escalated to your executive team?
- What was said? It’s important to understand exactly what words were used, and in what context, in order to keep from making unnecessary assumptions.
- Where did the negativity come from, and where do you need to respond? Twitter? Facebook? Your customer community? A blog post by an influential analyst?
- When did the situation take place? A timely first response is crucial to getting in front of a particularly nasty situation, so understanding how much time has passed is key to your crisis response strategy.
- Why did this negativity surface? Was it in response to an action taken by your brand? Was it in response to a complaint posted by someone online?
- How are you going to respond? Will the response come from your community team, or from a higher up at your company? Will you post via social media, on your blog, or write a well-crafted email to your employees?
Once you understand all angles of the situation, you can work with relevant teams within your organization to draft an appropriate response.
The Importance of Timeliness
As I mentioned above, it’s absolutely crucial to understand when the negative sentiment first took place so that you can plan your response appropriately. Remember, about 40% of customers who post about a brand on social media expect an initial response within one hour. If the negativity is highly sensitive, the world will be expecting to hear from you sooner than that.
Also, it helps to rebuild consumer trust when you’re able to respond to a disaster quickly with a well thought out post that doesn’t sound like it’s taken your PR team 3 hours to write it. Customers become acutely aware that your company is listening, and is ready and willing to take action to remedy the situation.
The Importance of Transparency
Take this situation for example: your favorite tech company just recalled one of their power cables for a popular device because it spontaneously bursts into flames. However, they don’t give much information beyond that. You own the device, but aren’t sure if your model number fits with the models being recalled, and you can’t find out any more information about the recall online or by calling the company as their phone lines are, conveniently, busy. How would that make you feel?
During a period of intense negativity it’s understandable that there are certain details that the brand is unable to talk about, potentially for legal or privacy reasons. However, if you have information that you’re able to share, please don’t hold back!
The more clarity you can provide around a situation, then the less resistant your customers put forth in the aftermath. In the example used above, had the company provided more information about model numbers or any warning signs (e.g.: the device would suddenly feel hot to the touch), they would have prevented a lot of customer anxiety.
It also goes a long way to have someone from the brand come forward with a sincere apology, and accept responsibility for the issue at hand. A great example of this was Tim Cook’s letter to Apple’s customers after the backlash around the iOS 6 Maps App failure. His message was honest, sincere, and helped to repair a lot of relationships with customers that had been damaged in the poor product rollout.
Negativity happens to the best of us. Brands that have a strong plan in place for quickly reacting to the poor sentiment in an honest, transparent manner will be those that suffer the least amount of damage once the crisis blows over.