How to Respond to Negative Comments on Social Media

Do you know how to respond to negative reviews and comments on social media?

From Facebook and Twitter to TripAdvisor and Yelp, social media helps us to connect with our customers. Unfortunately, this also open us up to criticism.

How do you react when someone says something negative about your business?

If you’re like most humans, your natural instinct will almost always be a defensive one. “No! They’re wrong!” As much as we might like to, acting on that trigger response just isn’t helpful.

What Can You Learn From the Feedback?

Usually there’s something to be learned from negative feedback. To do this, you need to rise above your defensive feelings to find the grain(s) of truth in what’s being said, even if it’s hard to hear. How can you use this feedback to improve your business? You can usually tell if someone is just looking to get a rise out of you for their own enjoyment vs. if they’ve actually been to your business or used your services and are speaking from some point of experience. Either way, you can’t ignore negative feedback.

Respond Swiftly & Professionally

Once negative comments have been made, it’s important to step up to the plate and show that you’re a professional brand. Never ignore negative feedback. It won’t go away. Show that you know how to face criticism by responding in an appropriate manner.

The golden rule in communications is to make sure that you reply so that your customer feels heard. You should:

  1. Acknowledge what they’ve said
  2. Apologize for how the experience has made them feel
  3. Own the problem
  4. Explain how the problem will be dealt with so that future customers won’t have a similar experience
  5. If possible, do what you can do to rectify the situation for the customer

Negative comments are important and you should always respond–or get marketing and communications professionals to respond on your behalf so that you don’t bungle your reply!

Acknowledging the customer so that they feel heard, and apologizing for how the experience made them feel can go a long way in improving their perception of your business. However, you can take that one step further by trying to fix the problem. For example, many restaurants will give customers a gift certificate to come back and try the restaurant again–free of charge–in attempt to change the customer’s perception and to make a better impression.

No business is perfect. Some negative reviews are expected. By showing that you know how to respond, you can build your brand’s credibility.

Case Study – Food Basics

Aka. a case of botched Social Media Management

This week I came across the worst case of customer relations and communications “fail” that I’ve ever experienced from a large corporation. NB: Please note for this case study, it’s not about whether or not you like or dislike the original ad, it’s about how a company has handled their customer relations on social media.

The Original Ad

Food Basics, a large budget grocery chain in Canada, boosted an image on Facebook of a roasted chicken posing to be “sexy”. The caption with the chicken said, “I’m too sexy for this post.”

This was a provocative image to share. Whoever is running the social media marketing for Food Basics surely must have known that it would be controversial. Some brands choose to be provocative on purpose, while other times people who are underqualified for their marketing and communications positions make mistakes that can damage a brand.

It’s hard to know if Food Basics thought through the consequences of their ad or if the scandal they created was completely accidental. For some businesses, any publicity is good publicity. I don’t think that was the case in this instance.

Knowing your Audience

The first problem stemmed from the lack of “knowing your audience”. While some of Food Basics’ customers found the image and caption to be funny, others took offense. In Canada where Food Basics operates, a 2015 survey conducted by the Vancouver Humane Society and administered by polling company Environics showed that 33% of Canadians, or almost 12 million people, are either already vegetarian or are eating less meat.*

How NOT to Handle Feedback

The real problem, however, came with their incredibly poor response to their first negative reaction to the image. In response to the simple, to-the-point comment, “This is offensive,” Food Basics responded, “If sexy chicken’s wrong, we don’t wanna be right!”

And so the scandal began.

Dozens of comments from other customers followed, lashing out at Food Basics, both for the ad but especially for the way that they responded to a customer.

There’s a big difference between responding as an individual with your own personal opinions, and responding as a corporation. In their flippant response, Food Basics showed complete disregard for a customer by making a joke. What followed was extreme backlash and a #boycottFoodBasics movement.

How You SHOULD Handle Feedback

It’s important to be professional and mindful of your customers. On social media, it’s not just about the individual customer who made the comment, it’s also about all of the other people who will see your response. At the very least, an appropriate response to the comment would have been:

“Dear customer, we’re sorry that you find this image to be insensitive. We were just having a little fun but we certainly did not mean to offend anyone. We will take your comment to heart and we thank you for your feedback.”

As a brand, you’re not obligated to act on every piece of feedback that customers give you, but Communications 101 is that you demonstrate that you’ve listened to the feedback so that the customer feels heard. In this case, the response from Food Basics was actually more offensive than the original photo because they showed complete disregard for a customer.

Maybe Food Basics doesn’t mind the bad publicity. At this point in time, the image–and the increasing number of controversial comments–is still up. If Food Basics does decide to listen to the unhappy feedback, the best course of action will be to remove the image and issue a formal statement of apology to anyone that they’ve alienated.

The bottom line: it costs less money to keep a customer than to find a new one.

For an example of a large Canadian organization that’s doing a very good job managing feedback on their social media, Scotia Bank is doing all the right things. I noticed an ad for them in my Facebook newsfeed on the same day and I was impressed by how well they were handling their feedback.

Managing Your Brand’s Reputation

At the end of the day, you can’t afford to have your brand mismanaged. Something that might seem amusing to the undertrained intern that you’ve put in charge of social media could end up costing your brand thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, in business.