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Handling Online Criticism as Your Reputation Grows

The Internet has provided a catalyst for celebrities, industry personalities and brands to grow global reputations. However, it also offers a platform from which an individual or anonymous group can wreak havoc. Invariably, the bigger the target, the greater the focus. Understandably, this can be off-putting for businesses and individuals; however, this needn’t be the case, especially if you learn how to handle online criticism.

In life there are usually three ways of dealing with naysayers and critics:

1. Ignore them and hope they go away
2. React angrily, giving them a piece of your mind
3. Respond with reasoned debate and an apology if necessary

The first of these solutions is the easiest, but it can also be hugely damaging. If someone has a genuine grievance, then giving them the cold shoulder is unlikely to do much to appease them. It’s surprisingly straightforward to appear cold and distant online; deliberately ignoring legitimate queries is certainly one way of achieving this.

Arguably, the only situation where it is acceptable to ignore comments, particularly on social media sites, is when individuals are clearly trolling. By rising to the bait, you can attract further criticism and encourage others to join in. You can, as with the recent case of Tom Daley and also other celebrities, including Stan Collymore, retweet antagonistic messages to highlight the issue to police and other followers.

Getting Hot and Bothered

Being in the public domain won’t always be a bed of roses. Mistakes will happen from time to time, more often than not, someone will usually be there to shine a light on any such issues. If a customer complains about poor service in a bricks and mortar store or has received a faulty product, the last thing you want to do is infuriate them further.

Sure, you might be annoyed, you might even believe that the claims are false, but don’t let your emotions betray you. A vitriolic tirade at a blogger or a hastily worded reply on Facebook could haunt you for years to come; costing more than just a sale or two.

Plenty of brands and individuals have decided to take this approach to customer service, with inevitable consequences. Back in January there was a classic example of an online meltdown by Boners BBQ in Atlanta, whereby the company’s owners decided to abuse a customer who complained about their service. This is not the way to endear yourself to the world, particularly if you choose to air your dirty laundry in public – in this case, on Facebook.

Providing a Measured Response

Sometimes, appeasement is the name of the game. Thanks to social media, it couldn’t be easier to locate and respond to disgruntled consumers and fans. Whether somebody has chosen to contact you directly or just used a brand name, it is easy to set-up alerts that are triggered instantly. Whether you choose a readily available tool like Tweetdeck or a more advanced service, such as BuzzMetrics from Nielsen, knowing what’s being discussed out of earshot can be extremely useful.

When a situation arises, provide a measured response as soon as possible. Even if it will require further investigation, acknowledging a message is better than leaving somebody waiting for an answer. Of course this will need to be followed up, and treated accordingly.

Even if the person is making false claims, you can always contact them and ask them to call you or point them towards a feedback section. Again, the idea is to just diffuse any potential situations before they can spread and get out of control.

Don’t Fear Growth

The only thing that you need to be concerned about is expanding your business, not the consequences of doing so. There are a lot of scare stories about online blunders and the damaging impact of trolls; but as long as you keep on top of things and avoid rogue messages, you should be fine. Set up brand searches and alerts so that you know when you’re being mentioned and monitor your social profiles for comments and feedback.

Ignorance is not always bliss and rudeness won’t be forgiven. So have clear guidelines on what people can say, how quickly responses should be made and also the tone of your company’s accounts. Whether you’re fun and quirky or serious and professional, there’s plenty of room to grow an audience for your brand on social media. So don’t be scared of what might happen, embrace the opportunities it affords.