In this day and age, virtual communication and social media are as commonplace as newspapers and other traditional forms of public communication once were. The increased speed in which this information travels, and the vastly greater reach provided by the medium of the internet, open employers up to more exposure than ever before, for better or for worse. This potentially vast online presence can have both perks and drawbacks. On one hand, you can reach your customers on a new, personal level and convey crucial information in seconds; on the other, you also have very little control of who ELSE might be spreading information about your company, whether it is positive recommendations or negative criticism.
This new vulnerability sometimes leaves employers on the defensive when they encounter a negative comment about them online. However, before you comment back, it is important to take a second to cool off, clear your head, and make sure that first, a response is warranted, and second, that the way you respond is beneficial to your cause. Believe it or not, even a negative remark can turn into a positive endorsement when coupled with a well thought-out response from the employer.
So how do you know how, and when, to respond to such criticism? Minda Zetlin published an article on Business2Community.com with some great suggestions. What advice do you have for controlling your online image and responding to the buzz of the world wide web?
You can’t have an online presence, as a company or even as a person, without coming in for criticism, gripes, or even insults. It’s natural to want to respond—the negative comments are there for all the world to see. But should you?
The answer is no…and yes. There are times when leaving a nasty comment alone is the best strategy, allowing the debate to die off for want of attention. There are other times when failing to respond means missing an opportunity to improve your social profile.
How can you tell which is which? Here are some factors to consider:
You probably should not respond if…
There’s a good chance your emotions will show through in whatever you write. Take a walk around the block or beat up a sofa cushion to work off your aggressions. Don’t put anything online until you can do so with equanimity.
You want to point out your opponent’s flaws.
There’s a fine line between rebutting someone’s points and leveling criticism at that person, but you’ll know it when you see it. Explaining that critics are misinformed about a pertinent fact is fine. Noting the spelling errors in their posts is not.
Your critic is egregiously nasty.
If someone posted something insulting, or unfair, you may be sorely tempted to either hurl insults back or loftily take issue with that person’s tone. Do neither. A clearly insulting comment will only make the person who posted it look bad, especially if you don’t respond. Better yet, if you hold back someone else may come to your defense, which is much, much better.
You probably should respond if…
There was a misunderstanding or error.
Some years ago I sent a message to a colleague about their website where I’d tried to upload some information, but the apostrophes in my text hadn’t registered properly. I referred to the problem as “apostrophe catastrophe”—I just couldn’t resist the rhyme.
But my poor friend had been fielding vitriolic emails for days from other writers who were having various problems with the site. (Writers are not always noted for their diplomacy.) By the time he got my message, he’d had it up to here, and he sent me back a nasty note about how calling this matter a catastrophe was way out of proportion. So, yes, I sent back another message to explain that I had really been kidding. If there’s a pertinent error of fact or a missed communication, it may be a good idea to clear it up.
You owe an apology.
If your company provided bad service, or if you said something insensitive without meaning to—say you’re sorry. In fact, I believe you should never miss an opportunity to apologize. Sound crazy? Consider this: Customers give higher ratings when something went wrong, but the company or its representative apologized and made things right than if nothing went wrong in the first place.
You can help someone else.
That’s right—instead of defending yourself, consider posting comments to defend your partners, peers, or even competitors when they face unfair online criticism. Maybe one day they’ll do the same for you.
You have a sense of humor.
One pizza restaurant made up T-shirts with the harshest Twitter criticisms they’d received printed on them. You don’t have to go that far, but showing a willingness to laugh at yourself can raise you in your public’s esteem. It will take some of the sting out of whatever negative thing your critic posted, and you’ll win points from everyone else for being a good sport.