Responding to Bad Publicity Online

This article first appeared on Bloomberg Business Week.

Every business loves social media marketing when customers are raving about them in Facebook status updates and Twitter tweets, but what happens when there’s some bad press on a social network? How do you handle a potential public blemish without making it into a full-fledged stain? While the downside of social media marketing is that we cannot control what people say about our businesses, we can use these powerful connectors to make things right.

The key is not to engage in a public dialog with the person who is making the negative statement. A he-said-she-said battle in a public forum could exacerbate the situation. You can and should reach out to the person as quickly as possible with a simple “How can we help you?” and then attempt to take the dialog offline.
On Twitter you can use a Direct Message, and on Facebook you can use the Messages feature to communicate privately with disgruntled customers out of the public eye. Or, in your how-can-I-help response, provide a customer support line for the customer to call. (Make sure it’s open and staffed when you’re giving out the number—you don’t want an already unhappy customer dialing two minutes later, only to find out the office is closed.)

Once offline, treat the situation as you would an unhappy customer coming into your store or calling on the phone. More than likely, if you remedy the problem, the once disgruntled and vocal customer will again take to social media to praise your response, potentially turning bad publicity into good publicity.
What about a public response from you directly? Forget it. Instead, let your fans come to your aid. That’s one of the many upsides to social media marketing: Happy customers will provide both word-of-mouth referrals and defend those companies they prefer doing business with. Let these people be your social media knights in shining armor.

Eric Groves
Senior vice-president, global market development
Constant Contact

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