The Internet is not as friendly as it often seems. Social media, including blogs, Twitter, online review sites, forums, and the rest, are truly democratic. The problem with a democratic medium is that everyone has both an opinion and a platform to express it. Companies love the positive attention they often get, but it’s much harder to deal with the negative. Here is a strategy to deal with not-so-nice comments.
1) Take a moment and a breath
Stop! The worst possible thing to do when faced with a negative online statement is to dash off a scorching response. Flame wars are bad enough for individuals, but nothing good will result if a company gets involved.
Online media spreads extremely rapidly, so companies must have a speedy process to decide what to do next. A quick internal discussion is a must, but don’t let it get hung up “in committee” for days or weeks. If this happens, you’ve skipped on to step 4 by default and lost the opportunity to do some good.
2) Get some perspective
Think! There is a wide spectrum of negative press. Put the issue at hand in context: How bad is it really?
|All-out flames are more about the writer than the subject.
|Take the criticism and ignore the vitriol and do not respond directly or the situation will escalate.
|Negative reviews are inevitable and can be extremely helpful.
|The writer examined your product and cared enough to write about it; engage behind the scenes, address their concerns, and hope for a re-test.
|Balanced writers will often mix the good with the bad to demonstrate their independence.
|These are your best allies, since they will help your customers to gain a true understanding of your company and its products! Nurture them!
|No one wants to read effusive and unending praise.
|Glowing reviews raise red flags about the impartiality of the writer, reducing the effectiveness of the piece; encourage fanboys to be more objective.
3) Look for a positive angle
Negative reviews can be extremely valuable, especially when they come from experts in the field. Companies can score “brownie points” with their audience by recognizing their concerns, and can turn the tables entirely by addressing them. A reviewer will often be extremely pleased when their issues are fixed and will be willing to write a second review once a new product is available.
Companies should proactively praise and share balanced reviews, even though it is natural to shy away from those containing negative statements. Demonstrate that your product is getting noticed and that you aren’t afraid of criticism and the market will reward you. Beware of overly-positive reviews: Readers take these with a grain of salt anyway, and many assume some nefarious behind-the-scenes quid pro quo.
4) Respond calmly or not at all
If you do choose to respond, you must do it quickly and with a calm, positive message. Leave a comment in the article to let the writer know you appreciate their interest, and ask for clarification or further engagement regarding criticism. Show the world that your company welcomes open and honest communication and that you are responsive to the needs of your customers.
Regardless of the message, consider if you want to respond at all. Although you will likely read reviews of your products very carefully, most readers will not. They will note the name of the company and product, consider whether it is applicable to their needs, and absorb the general tone of the review. They will not likely reject your offerings outright based on a few “cons” in an online writeup!
The old adage, “there’s no such thing as negative publicity,” is provably false for extreme cases, but it applies in general. Companies should roll with the punches and appreciate the thought and attention that goes into blog posts, reviews, and commentary!
Image credit: “North Dakota Guardsmen join four nations to train in riot control” by The National Guard