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An Interview With Our Director of Social, Jason Sanders

There’s no getting around it. The internet can be a cruel place.
If you have a consistent social media presence, you’ve most likely seen a few negative comments come across your feed. Whether it’s just a frustrated customer or an internet troll trying to get a rise out of you, how your organization responds to a negative comment is critical to customer loyalty and brand image.
Since responding to negative comments can feel like walking a tightrope, we sat down with our Director of Social, Jason Sanders, to get a few tips on how to respond well to unhappy commenters. Jason has led more than a few social media clients through the crucible of social media anger and has come out unscathed and full of wisdom.

1. Personalize Your Response

Jason and the rest of the social team are well acquainted with the fact that internet comments tend to be harsher than real-life comments. “It’s really easy to be negative to somebody else because nobody really thinks that they’re typing to a person but they’re typing to a comment or to another set of words,” said Jason, “remembering that there’s another human being on the other side of a comment is the first step in making sure you treat them with respect and care.” By acknowledging the customer’s name and empathizing with their frustrations, you’re effectively reminding them that this is a human conversation and their voice is being heard. Your customer will immediately feel more cared for and valued.
If your company receives many of the same negative comments, it’s not a bad idea to have a few pre-written responses. But, even these need personalization. When leading a company’s social media accounts that were experiencing a large influx of comments, Jason and the team created ten informative, level-headed responses to the top ten complaints. But, even when using these comments, he had his team personalize each response. “Instead of saying, ‘We’re sorry for your experience, please contact this support email.’ They said it in a way where they referenced the person’s name and they made sure there was context to it . . . people can smell a copy and paste a mile away.” This went a long way in helping the customer feel appreciated and heard.

2. Respond Quickly and Accurately

No matter how personal you make your response, it’s nothing if it’s not delivered quickly.
When a frustrated customer reaches out into the digital realm asking your company to justify your actions, that customer wants an answer. When they don’t get a response they don’t only feel angry, they feel abandoned. On top of that, you could have customers start to dogpile. “If you take too long to respond,” Jason said, “you may have an issue where other people start to pile on. Where they say, ‘Hey! That happened to me!’ and it becomes a much bigger issue.”
Responding quickly is as important as responding accurately. “You need to respond as quickly as possible with a measured, calm response. You could see a message and respond to it within ten seconds but if you haven’t thought it through and you respond, you may be causing a bigger problem.” An inaccurate or defensive response could be worse than a delayed response.

3. Don’t Be Emotionally Attached

One big benefit to being a part of an agency is that we’re one step removed from our clients. “When somebody is very angry online to the company,” said Jason, “we read it and because we’re at arm’s length, we’re able to actually analyze the content of the comment and respond to it without being defensive.” If someone says something irrational or even hurtful to the organization you’re proud to be a part of, it can be easy to lose your cool in your response. And when you do that, “you’re just throwing gasoline on the fire.” said Jason. “All of a sudden it’s no longer about the problem anymore, it becomes a fight.”
Jason has seen this multiple times, especially with employees who have an emotional attachment to their company. That’s why he recommends either hiring an agency (like us!) to run social media or to have a third party monitor social media responses to make sure there isn’t a defensive tone in any of the writing. When a fight breaks out, “even if the customer is wrong, it doesn’t even matter anymore. You’ve lost the opportunity to help them out and help out the other people who happen to be in that situation.”

4. Some Comments Don’t Deserve a Response

An internet troll is someone who is “intentionally obtuse or ignorant just to make you say something stupid or make you angry.” Like a bully in school picking on his peers just to get a rise out of them, trolls play the part of cyber bullies. With all our clients, Jason sets up trolling protocols, which are basically flowcharts to ask, “Is this rational?” This flowchart allows the social team to decipher if a negative comment should be responded to, ignored, or deleted.
If a comment is incredibly irrational and angry, but still seems to have a genuine complaint behind it, they’ll still respond to it kindly. But, if a comment is clearly ignorant and hurtful, Jason will either ignore it or delete it. “Pretty much every single platform gives you an option to hide or delete comments and that’s kind of the nuclear option.” It’s not their go-to move, but if a comment is intentionally hurtful to certain people, they’ll remove it to protect their online community.

5. Foster a Positive Community

In the end, the goal is always to have your brand associated with a positive community.
Jason explains, “Because the internet can be a very negative place you have to nurture a community. And in order to nurture a community, one of the main things that you have to do is protect it from people who want to hurt it.” Creating a positive online community means having a zero tolerance for hateful speech, but also allowing people to express their frustrations when they have them.
Once you’ve set the tone for your online community and get people on board with it, you’ll start turning your customers into advocates. “If you’ve built up a really strong community, you might have past customers or employees who will defend you on your behalf. And that’s a really good thing.” Jason went on to explain that you will still need to respond to make sure the people defending you aren’t giving out false information. But once they’re on your side fighting for your brand and the integrity of the online conversation, then you know you have the beginnings of a positive community.
If you’re looking to create a more positive online community for your brand, contact us. We’ve got people like Jason who know a thing or two about making that happen.