If you are trying to figure out if as a business owner you should reply to negative comments on social media. Stop.
Yes, you should.
Ok. Now the question becomes how, and that is the real question.
Should I respond publicly?
Mostly yes. You want potential customers to see that you do not ignore criticism or feedback because you do care about the experience your customers have.
However, that does not mean that the entire response needs to be public. You do not want to discuss anything that is sensitive in public. And you do not want to get into an argument with a customer in public.
So if it is something that is not going to be resolved with a simple “we are so sorry for the mix-up, we have addressed it. Please let us know what else we can do” or a “we are sorry you are unhappy with this product and appreciate the feedback. We have credited your account,” you should go private, but still respond with something as simple as “Thank you for contacting us. We apologize for this inconvenience and one of our customer service representatives will call you by the end of the day.” And of course, make sure to do what you say you will do because that person, as you know, leaves negative feedback!
And if the private conversation ends satisfactorily, you may want to go back to that thread and thank the customer for their time and mention how glad you were that the company was able to provide a satisfactory resolution!
Public Accusations about the company or staff?
This is another time when you will probably want to respond publicly, especially if falsely accused because the narrative is already out there. If your company or employee has been accused of harassment, racism/sexism/homophobia or fraud, you definitely want to 1. Investigate 2. Respond.
Power is under scrutiny right now, and often times when people speak truth to power, power ignores it. But we tend to forgive companies, even powerful ones, who slip and repent. Take Starbucks for example. Right in the middle of the Black Lives Matter movement, Starbucks sent a memo to employees telling them they cannot wear BLM pins or shirts at work.
The social media world went mad. Posts listing black-owned and locally-owned coffee shops as alternatives to Starbucks were everywhere. It took Starbucks hours, not days, to issue an apology and change their policy. They did not deny it. They fixed it publicly.
Should you be funny in Your Response?
We have all seen some amazing and witty responses from companies who get criticized and respond with a zinger. If you have not, check some out here. However, in any case, that it is funny, it is never a customer expressing true dissatisfaction with a service or product. Rather it is a commenter poking fun at the company or product.
My favorite one in the above article is the first one! A Twitter user tagged Smart Car to say “Saw a bird had crapped on a Smart Car. Totaled it.”
Smart Car responds: “Couldn’t have been one bird [...]. Sounds more like 4.5 million (seriously, we did the math).
That’s funny. But it would not have been funny if the user truly had a ruined car from some minor inconvenience and Smart Car responded with a denial and a joke.
Like all jokes, time, place and context!
Recently, Instagram made it easier to pin comments to the top of a thread and delete comments in bulk. Their primary move for this was to help reduce bullying on their platform.
I would always delete a comment that bullies employees or other customers. To leave racist, sexist, homophobic or other attacking comments up there is to condone it. Engaging with them is time-consuming but also it only highlights their bigotry. Just delete them.
But, never delete a negative review, no matter how persistent the poster is or how erroneous in your view. Try to resolve it. If you get to a point where there is nothing more to do, professionally exit that conversation and leave it. To be seen deleting comments will look like all of your feedback is staged or washed.
Your social media tells customers and potential customers who your company is and what the values are. While all companies have a different brand and persona, none want that to include the words “liar,” “false” or “inauthentic.” Possibly even more than how you post, how you respond to criticism will tell people who you are!