By Ashley Verrill, Contributing Editor.
Customer service expert, consultant and author Micah Solomon told me recently about one question that consistently dominates group discussion at his public speaking events: “Isn’t my brand and company in danger out there in the social media universe?”
The truth is, you can’t guarantee safety when any teenager with a grudge can share their angst online to a broad network—fast. It behooves any business to prepare for this possibly. This is particularly true for convenience stores and other retailers that experience hundreds of customer interactions every day. Whether it’s your fault or not, every one of those consumers is a potential online detractor.
Unfortunately, you can’t simply bury your head in the sand and avoid social media altogether. So what can you do? Here are four tips Solomon shared with us recently for managing your response under social media assault.
Know You Can Always Turn a Negative to a Positive
So let’s say you wake up one morning to a flood of tweets about your store’s decision to carry a certain controversial product.
“Boycott [@Store_Twitter]! They carry [product x]! Unacceptable! Total #FAIL.”
Stop. Breathe. Then reach out to the sender directly. It’s important not to be defensive or contentious in your response. Be thoughtful and sincere. I’ve taken this approach again and again, and most of the time these online critics are so surprised they actually convert and become brand advocates.
When you do respond directly, be sure to post publicly first so the customer’s following, and your’s, can see in writing that you listen and respond if there’s an issue. You want your social media network to know that you care. Then, take the conversation “backchannel,” or to a direct message or email. Include an email address and phone number you have immediate access to. And, of course, express sincere regret and concern when you do connect with customers directly.
Respond Fast or Face the Fiasco Formula
Solomon said the social “fiasco formula” goes a little something like this:
Small Error + Slow Response Time
= Colossal PR Disaster
In other words, the force of social media embarrassment is proportional to how much you delay your response. I’m sure you’ve heard of things “going viral.” Social media mentions have enormous velocity online, particularly negative ones.
To avoid this potential, be sure your social media team has clear standards for response time. More than half of Twitter users expect a response within two hours of tweeting a company, according to a recent Oracle report.
Don’t Fall Victim to the Streisand Effect
Even in cases where a social media user exaggerates the truth, or even lies, you need to repress the immediate inclination to get defensive online.
This brings us to Barbara Streisand. In 2003, the singer experienced a windfall of negative publicity after a failed attempt to sue the California Coastal Records Project for posting images of her oceanside mansion. Her aggressive response offended some and damaged her reputation.
“Any public, digital argument with a customer is an exponentially greater risk for your company than the old-fashioned kind of argument that didn’t involve social media. Make sure everybody who represents your company online understands the big picture. The future of your company could depend on it,” Solomon said.
Prevention Before Mitigation
“Unhappy customers are unlikely to complain through public methods if they know they can efficiently use email, phone, or a feedback form to reach you directly—and if they feel sure that their problem will be addressed immediately,” Solomon argued.
A lot can be accomplished by making yourself available—make contact information obvious. Provide comment boxes, chat online and reply to feedback. You can even chime in on online forums. Provide an easy way to respond directly at the bottom of every corporate email you send out. Become known for your response track record.