How to respond to social media criticism

It is often said that there is one great thing about blogs and social media, and one equally bad thing.

The great thing, obviously, is that they have given a voice to thousands of intellectuals, remarkable people, and revolutionaries that would have otherwise gone unheard. Thousands of new ideas are out there, millions of people are joining the conversation, and new relationships are being created every second of every day.

Of course, the bad thing is that every idiot (including me), every incompetent businessperson, and every malicious internet user has a voice. From abusive blogs to outright hate speech social media groups, the issue of abusive and malicious content on social media networks is one that’s attracted a lot of strong opinions and a lot of discussion.

This quick guide is about balancing the two parts of social media for your business. While social media is a remarkable tool for connecting with your fans, customers, and brand evangelists, it is also somewhere that opens your business up to criticism and abuse. How do you respond? Well, it is really up to you.

Some brands do not tolerate negative discussion, especially when it is public. We have all seen PR meltdowns, whether as part of the mainstream media or through a candid industry blog. From celebrities that lose their cool in public to businesses that issue slightly bizarre and mean statements, the world of poor PR is packed with examples of criticism gone wrong.

If you find your business being talked about in a forum, social media group, or blog, the natural reaction is to become defensive. Fight this urge, as it is quite often destructive for online businesses. Focus on what the key issue is –– what is it that’s caused this problem? — and respond directly, publicly, and in an accommodating manner. A lot of the time, groups will just to mob justice when presented with only one opinion, leaving a biased and one-sided argument. Your job is not to fight back, it is to extinguish and mediate the discussion.

If all goes well, it is possible to convert skeptical, often passion-filled discussers into real fans. The internet, by and large, loves stories of small-time businesspeople toppling giant companies. As such, criticism and complaints from the small and relatively powerless often end up gaining a massive amount of support. Your goal should not be to fight criticism head on, but to work inside the discussion to minimize problems, resolve issues, and leave everyone feeling happy. When people walk away from a discussion pleased with your input, they walk away with a highly positive impression of your brand.

So next time you see your business attracting negative attention, do not investigate with an eye for conflict and personal attacks; approach the situation with conflict resolution and real solutions on offer. Sometimes all it takes to heal a situation is public contact, either through a social media network or a blog post. Approach PR with solutions in mind, minimize the potential for communities to act in groups, and treat every social media criticism as an opportunity for positive word of mouth.

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