Gini Dietrich

Seven Tips to Manage the Critics Online

By: Gini Dietrich | April 3, 2014 | 
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Seven Tips to Manage the Critics OnlineBy Gini Dietrich

When I speak, I tell the following story quite often. I tell it so often, in fact, I’ve heard rumors that other speakers tell it, too.

In 2008, I was flying to Denver to speak to two CEO groups for Vistage International. It was the week before the Memorial Day weekend and we’d planned to meet our friends, after my work was complete, in Beaver Creek for the long weekend. I had rented a car for Wednesday through the following Monday.

I “grew up” in a global PR firm where the car rental company of choice was Avis. Because I’ve traveled at least once a week for most of my career, I was part of their Princess Platinum club (I made that up—it was whichever club is their highest).

That status traveled with me after I left the PR firm and started my own business, and I kept it because I continued that kind of travel schedule.

I had no reason to leave them and I was treated very well.

Avis on Twitter, but Not Listening

For this trip to Denver, the Vistage speaking coordinator called to see if I could add a day on the front end of the trip to speak to one more group. Not a problem on my end, and we called Avis to have them add to the reservation.

We were told they were out of cars and I’d have to find one for that first day somewhere else.

Politely explaining I was in their Princess Platinum Club, we asked if they could send a car from another location.

The customer service rep said they had a car at another location, but that I would have to “take a cab” to get there.

At this point, it was very early in the world of Twitter, but being an avid user, I went online to see if they had an account there.

Guess what?

They did!

Their Twitter handle is (or was at the time; the account is now suspended) @wetryharder.

So I tweeted:

@wetryharder Having a problem extending an existing reservation in Denver. Can you help?”

Hertz to the Rescue!

Crickets. Nothing. Not a peep. But a few minutes later, Hertz tweeted me.

They said:

So sorry to hear about our competition. We can help!

They helped me get a car for my entire trip, gave me the same status I had at Avis, and sent me on my merry way.

About a week after I got home, Hertz tweeted me and asked how the trip was, how the car was, if customer service was helpful—they were gathering market research.

Then they said if I rented from them again, they would give me their Gold status for free.

I did and I haven’t gone back to Avis since then.

This was in May of 2008. In September of that same year, I received a letter in the mail from Avis asking what it would take to get my business back.

Four months had gone by before they realized someone who typically rented at least one car a week from them was gone.

The original tweet went unanswered.

Hertz was monitoring the social networks and Avis was not. They weren’t even monitoring their own handle. And they lost a loyal customer because of it.

Social Media is Scary

I tell this story because participating online is very scary to many, many business leaders.

They’re fearful if they spend the time and resources to open their organizations to their customers and prospects, the critics will come out of the woodwork and they’ll have a crisis on their hands.

When, in fact, the opposite is quite true.

The critics are already there. They have a voice. They are using the social networks to talk about you. Now you have the opportunity to not only listen, but to respond.

Sometimes all we want is to be heard.

Manage the Critics Online

Following are seven tips for managing the critics online.

Create an internal policy. Everyone on your team—both internally and externally—needs to understand what your policy is for managing critics online. A bad situation can be made worse by a well-intentioned employee or external partner who doesn’t understand your policy. The policy should lay out who will respond to critics, what they’ll say, how quickly they’ll respond, and what to do if someone not authorized to comment sees or receives a comment.

Be cautious. When dealing with critics, particularly if they’re anonymous, you don’t know how severe the reaction could be or how successful they may be in creating an online crisis involving hundreds or thousands of others. A good rule of thumb is to publicly say you hear them and you’d like to discuss offline. Then take it to the phone or in person. Get it out of writing so you can hear the tone of voice or see body language. Don’t get defensive or engage in a back-and-forth debate online.

Assume the best. Even if you think the answer is obvious or right in front of their face, sometimes the critic is misinformed, doesn’t know where to look for the information on your site, or may be unwilling to search. When they complain about the obvious things, be helpful, pleasant, and non-defensive. You should never assume malicious intent until you’ve covered the obvious.

Consider the medium. Unless you run a sports, religious, or news site, it’s unlikely anonymous trolls will want to spend their every waking moment criticizing you. So keep your goals in mind. Consider the medium of the criticism and the message of the critic. If it’s directly on your blog or on Facebook, it’s far more difficult to ignore than in a tweet.

Deleting posts. While deleting posts may remove the damage for the time being, when people discover you’re doing so, they’ll take you to task for that… and it won’t be pretty. Consider a politician who lies about his affair. Soon enough we all find out; cue news conference, with his family standing next to him, to admit the affair he lied about for months. It’s far worse to be found out later than to attempt to ignore it to begin with. And, when you’re transparent about your blemishes, an amazing thing happens: Your community comes to your defense and the critics sulk away.

Use common sense. Take your corporate hat off and think like a human being. No one wants to be talked to in corporate jargon or to be showered with pre-approved PR messages. Be understanding, listen, and make things right. Don’t act like a robot that can only repeat one or two messages. Use common sense when responding. Ask yourself if the critics have real complaints or they’re someone just harassing you. If it’s the former, be patient and give the person time to vent their frustrations.

Have a written external policy. The policy should describe when you will delete comments or ban critics, and establishes the tone of the conversation allowed on the site. For instance, the policy at Spin Sucks is that you can’t swear (we’ll edit out the swear words if you do) and the discourse must be professional. We once had a troll who copied and pasted his rude comment to the top of the stream every time the community pushed it down. He had been responded to, so we told him that if he continued to do that, his comments would be deleted and he would be banned. He stopped doing it. The written policy helps you moderate the conversation in a professional but open way.

It’s a very uncomfortable position to be in.

None of us want to be criticized.

But, as the saying goes, if people either love you or hate you, you’re doing something right.

This is an excerpt from chapter 4 of the newly released, Spin Sucks. If you buy your copy this week and email me your receipt, I’ll send you $200 worth of free content, including webinars by both Marcus Sheridan and Andy Crestodina.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

  • Avis sure was running flat on all all tires. Too bad OJ Simpson wasn’t promoting them back in the day … it would have saved us all the chase;)

  • annelizhannan  Ba da dum!

  • This was one of my favorite stories in the book because of Hertz’ response. Unfortunately, there are many stories about companies losing loyal customers to their competitors because they weren’t savvy enough to be monitoring online conversations.
    I won’t even try to be as witty as @annelizhannan. When will Livefyre add a photo option? 😉

  • bobledrew

    Great post. Both for the example of how a company can fail, and how another company can capitalize.

  • Oh no one of the 7 deadly sins of social media proof ginidietrich ! You reached way back for a success story that today might not hold true. Your points are excellent and I recommend them to all businesses.

    The challenge today is volume. Avis might get 1000 tweets a day or 10000 we have no idea. So you left out staffing. Unless you staff properly you can’t respond. And if you decide to monitor and use channels (Avis did) you need to commit to them. Few businesses do. In fact my experience is most staffs wind up like a deer in headlights. They wind up caught up in customer service and lose the channel for other uses due to staff limitations. But some staff well and have excellent community managers. Morton’s and Chobani do pretty damn good.

    Yesterday I blogged on simple listening for small business. Every business should have the streams of their 3 biggest competitors to see who to follow, engage, and try to steal from.

  • Common sense? Uh oh….

    Because my social star doesn’t shine quite as brightly as yours, I have not had to deal w/ too many trolls online (a few however), but my right hand person in the agency makes me sit on an e-mail overnight when she knows I’m upset about something and feel I need to get my point across. 

    If you are ‘firing’ back at someone, it usually doesn’t end well and no, they don’t hear you any better either. 

    Even if you have to eat a little crow, taking the high road is usually not a bad thing; and being consistent with that is not bad either.

  • I have had so many small businesses tell me they don’t want to get online because of the potential of a crisis. I share stories like yours to demonstrate what is already happening to their business without them even knowing it. But I found a new strategy! Now, I research their competitors before a meeting, to show them how they could have used social media to gain a customer.

  • jolynndeal  I love to use that strategy, too! If you don’t already, show them LinkedIn groups where competitors are talking about the prospects they’re courting. I love it when people do that because it’s so easy to call and say, “I understand you’re looking for a new <insert product or service>” and get yourself in the door.

  • bobledrew  Thanks, Pepe.

  • bdorman264  Your right hand person is right. You should ALWAYS sit on the written word overnight. We always feel better after a good night’s sleep.

  • EdenSpodek Just wait…we’re doing an announcement with them this month on new features.

  • Another story I love, and to jolynndeal’s point below, is the one you tell about the CEO who saw a negative comment on Facebook about the “elderly care home” worker who messed up one of the resident’s hair! I’m paraphrasing – but he was terrified, and you coached him to respond to the very angry complaint, and help make it right, and before he knew it the same person was posting about how great the place was, and how thrilled she was to have received such personalized customer service. But, I agree, trolls are trolls, and at some point you need to shut them down.

  • ginidietrich Agreed – that right hand person sounds like a real asset.
    To a point that came up in the Q&A yesterday: I think the tendency to fire back quickly instead of taking the time to calm down comes up a lot in cases where brands have interns or fresh graduates running their social media. One of the great things about millennials is how quickly they tend to respond when it comes to social, it can be a great asset – but that instant-response tendency can also get you in trouble.

  • ginidietrich I don’t do that, but what a great idea. Thank you!

  • ginidietrich I love the Avis vs Hertz story. I can understand your frustration with that situation. I’m amazed by how many brands are listening on Twitter. I’ll get tweets from time to time from brands that I might have tweeted out a link to a story. They typically thank me for mentioning them. This engagement is crucial on Twitter, so I’ve noticed a few companies here and there that are not listening when they should be. The biggest missed opportunity I can remember was when Tide should have been listening during a NASCAR race back in 2012 that was delayed. The track officials were using Tide to cleanup the track.

  • I’m curious as to the story of the suspended @wetryharder handle… It looks like they switched to @Avis in May of 2009 (thank you first tweet search!) Brand recognition? Too many negative experiences like yours ginidietrich? The possibilities are endless!

  • kaitlynworkman You know, I don’t know! It could be they dropped We Try Harder in their messaging? I am trying to think of a commercial now. Hang on. Yep! After 50 years, they dropped the tagline.

  • @jason_ They used Tide to clean the track?! That’s incredible! I’m going to have to look that up.

  • belllindsay You know who that is, don’t you?

  • Eleanor Pierce That just comes with experience. You make one mistake where you’ve fired off something and it bites you and you never make that mistake again. But it’s precisely why we want someone overseeing young professionals in these very public venues.

  • ginidietrich that makes sense. There’s always a story… They obviously don’t “try harder” so that was probably a good call 🙂

  • kaitlynworkman HA! LOL!

  • ginidietrich Someone is in trouble now. Not sure which one of us. 😉

  • ginidietrich I do not!

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  • I remember the Avis story, how funny is that?!

    Yesterday there was an on the radio – online reputation management – all about fixing the bad reviews, but no mention of fixing the bad product/services. The kicker: it also talked about using the law to clean these up, as they damage and defame your business. It’s a thing now – vendors putting it in contracts that they can sue you if you post a negative (but accurate, provable?) review. *shakeshead*

    Brands have to protect themselves, customers aren’t always right and expectations are a challenge to manage. No matter how hard you work, you can’t be perfect all the time. Negative – true or false or troll – will happen. You have to monitor, you have to train employees, you have to expect it and plan to address it. If only sense were common; people can and will read between the lines. They can tell when an irate customer expected miracles on a nothing budget or when they’re misdirecting blame. Build a strong enough community, they’ll keep coming, supporting you, even set the record straight. And FWIW, I’m always cautious about anyone w/ nothing but ‘perfect’ glowing reviews; plenty of things I think are fantabulous but rare is it that I find something perfect without room for improvement.

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