Tackling consumer criticism on social networks

Paul Boag

What is the best way of dealing with negative feedback online? The answer is rarely to ignore the problem and hope it goes away!

Part of my job at Headscape is running private workshops for large organisations. Of the various workshops I run, one of the most popular looks at the subject of social media.

There was a time when this workshop primarily focused on getting organisations to take social media seriously. Those days are now long gone.

Most organisations get the importance of social media, but despite that they continually use it in the wrong way.

They use social media as a broadcast tool not dissimilar to RSS, email or their website. The fail to use it as a two way discussion.

The fear of negative feedback

There are lots of reasons for this failing. However, one of the greatest is fear. They worry what people might say if they are given a voice. They fear negative feedback.

As I explain in my workshop, negative feedback can be incredibly useful. It is not something we should fear, but rather something we should embrace.

This is a theme picked up by Zack King in his post for .net magazine. Zack looks at the fear many organisations have towards negative feedback and suggests a different attitude.

Zack sees negative feedback as an opportunity (and rightly so). He writes:

Instead of brushing negative reviews under the carpet, brands should proactively and transparently address complaints via social media, turning these negatives into a serious positive.

He goes on to say:

Through using social media to deal with the problem quickly and as openly as possible, the brand demonstrates good customer service and, more importantly, confirms their customers matter to them.

Zack has hit the nail on the head and he spends the rest of his post expanding on this theme.

Turn negative impressions into positive experiences

The truth is that whether you engage with them or not, people are out there criticising your brand. By recognising that fact and engaging with consumers directly, there is an opportunity to turn those negative impressions into a positive experience.

Your questions website from McDonalds Canada

McDonalds in Canada understand this. We have all heard the rumours that fly around about McDonalds food. Rumours such as the idea they add sugar to their kids meals or that their burgers contain all kinds of unspeakable things.

Instead of ignoring these rumours, McDonalds have decided to tackle the problem head on with a site dedicated to answering customers concerns.

I have seen similar sites before. Sites supposedly dedicated to answering consumer questions. However, all too often they are actually questions the company would like to talk about, rather than real consumer concerns.

Not so with McDonalds. They have tackled questions such as:

What is even more impressive is that they also include questions they don’t answer. You can choose to follow an unanswered question and if enough people follow, the question will eventually get answered.

This is a brave move by McDonalds, but there is no doubt it is paying off for them by dispelling a lot of the rumours surrounding their products.

So what about your organisation? Is it time for you to embrace the negative comments being made about your brand online?