When I speak, it’s pretty typical I’ll hear something along the lines of, “What happens when we begin participating online and someone says something bad about us?”

The fact of the matter is, people are already saying bad things about you. You have unhappy employees, upset customers, even belligerent investors.

The web doesn’t change that. Sure, those people now have a megaphone, but you have a huge opportunity. Because you can monitor and listen, you now know what people are saying and how to react to it.

Following are five steps for dealing with negative comments and criticism online.

  1. Recognize people will complain. You can’t control that. You’ve never been able to control it. Human beings like to complain. But we also like it when our complaints are recognized and something is done about them. If someone complains or has something negative to say, respond to them in the place where they’re voicing their concern. Then take it offline. Ask them for an email address or phone number and discuss their issues with them in private. You may have hundreds or thousands of customers. That’s OK. Customer service can manage this if they’re empowered to do so.
  2. Apologize. There are four words that work really well online. They are, “I’m sorry” and “thank you.” It’s amazing what happens when you admit your mistake and apologize. Suddenly the issue becomes a non-issue because there isn’t anything to complain about.
  3. Be exceptionally clear. Sometimes people will voice concern or complain about your return policy or your hours or something beyond your control. The more clear you are in your policies and communication, the better. Say, for instance, someone is complaining about your return policy on Facebook, but it’s very clear what it is and you’ve never strayed from it. Your other Facebook fans will chalk that person up to just being a complainer. You can say you’re sorry they’re upset about it and reiterate your policy. But don’t engage them in debate. Especially online.
  4. Put out the fire. I recently had an experience at a restaurant we love. We’re frequent diners, but we were treated so poorly during our last visit that we may not ever return. When we asked for the manager, he looked down his nose at us as if we were being ridiculous and did nothing to make the experience better. We didn’t expect anything for free, but we did expect an apology. We got nothing. Empower your employees to make the customer happy…within reason. It’s far less expensive than the damage one person can do online with bad reviews, bad ratings, and plain, old calling you out.
  5. Step away. Sometimes a person is being unreasonable and you’ve tried everything in your power to right the situation. We calls those people trolls; they just won’t stop no matter what. It’s important for your online communities to see you try (see the first tip), but then walk away if it’s a no-win situation. I recently was asked to look at the Facebook wall for a friend. The same man is posting crazy and non-sensical things on every one of their posts. It’s pretty clear he’s just trying to stir things up. They had responded to him a few times so other fans could see it. But people aren’t stupid. They can see the same thing I did – he’s just a troll. So I advised her to just let him be.

It’s not an easy thing to do – deal with negative online comments. But if you grow a thick skin and really listen (I mean, really listen), you’ll learn a lot about changes you can make to your products or services.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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