Deborah Lee
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Too Vulnerable for Social Media? Why Businesses Need to Toughen Up

In the course of my work I see many examples of organisations who have taken to social media quite easily, interacting well with their followers and responding in a timely fashion.

I also see too many companies who have created profiles and yet appear to have given little consideration as to how they should be using them beyond which profile photo to use.

What we rarely give thought to is how we handle feedback. And if there is one thing we can be sure of, it’s this … there will be feedback, and it will come in one of two forms:

The good and the not-so-good.

Typically we revel in creating, delivering and talking about ‘the good’ (thanking people for retweets, compliments and the like). We all love to be supported and praised, don’t we?

The ‘not-so-good’, however, is far trickier for a whole host of reasons …

  • If we’re a fairly large company, the person operating our social media accounts may not be qualified or able to respond (a key stumbling block if you outsource)
  • We may be tempted to react aggressively (who doesn’t take criticism personally, right?!) or even ignore it in the hope it will go away (like toothache, it rarely does)
  • There’s often much confusion when we come ‘under attack’ as it’s unlikely we’ll have all the facts to hand … and without them, how can we formulate a response?

But respond we must, because complaints and grumblings left unchecked and neglected could very possibly damage our online reputation.

Until now, many organisations have adopted a ‘fire-fighting’ approach. It doesn’t make for happy reading when all you see on a Twitter feed is thirty to forty repetitons of

“I’m so sorry to hear that. Please email the details to”

Not only is that demoralising for whoever is looking after their social media account, but it’s  treating the social platform only as an extension of customer service when it has potential to be so much more than that.

So what do we do?

We grab hold of the reins and get it under control, before it takes control of us.

Organisations need a clearly-defined procedure for handling ‘social complaints’. Take it as a given that at some point someone will (fairly or unfairly) take a potshot at you and what you do, and therefore you need to be ready for them. It’s what smart businesses do in most areas of their operations; they manage their risk.


Implement a ‘how to complain’ page on your site, and add access details to all order summaries. Far from being a negative statement, it shows that you live in the real world and that you’re prepared to deal with problems if they arise. If your really can’t bear the thought of this, add a ‘how to praise us’ page next to it 😉

Respond publicly and as quickly as possible to every complaint. I’d suggest something polite and professional, along the lines of “Thank you for bringing the matter to our attention; we are looking into this right now for you” (Know what I love about that? It says ‘we’re taking this seriously’)

Ask the person involved to confirm that they have followed your complaints procedure so that you can locate the details. If you have made the process clear and easy to access then it’s reasonable and fair to assume that they should have followed it first before taking to a public forum to complain. Of course, they may well not have done this, but stressing that your ‘well-oiled machine’ of a customer service function is fired by this process will demonstrate that you take these matters seriously.

Regularly assess your complaints procedure. Don’t assume that the first version will be the only version you’ll need. Great service is provided by companies who continue to move and shape their operations around real-life transactions and the feedback they receive in due course. When customers know you’re listening, they tend to be more forgiving.

Never be tempted shy away from negative comments. There is a world of difference between abuse and less-than-satisfactory customer feedback. You don’t need to take the former, but you do need to swiftly deal with the latter. Don’t let it get out of control.

Unfortunately we can’t legislate for every complaint, or for every unhappy shopper … but we can be very clear, concise and public about our commitment to ensuring customer experience is as good as it could possibly be.

I help companies ensure their social media campaigns are proactive rather than reactive; email me to find out more.

Leave a Comment:

Gav says

Couldn’t agree more. I own and run a website with a good social media presence and always try to reply to posts etc. Recently I contacted a children’s shoe company (not Clarks)about a problem we had with my daughters shoes and they ignored me even after I re posted. The result is they have lost a customer. I can only put it down to company policy to ignore negative comments which is a very bad way to run any form of social media.

Diana Murray says

You are spot on here. Seems to me that this is an expansion of basic good manners (and I’ll try not to be grumpy about declining standards). It also requires employees to be empowered to do the right thing rather than being measured only on speed of turnaround or number of calls / items/ complaints processed. A properly handled complaint can turn a lukewarm customer into an advocate.

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