When you run a business, image has a big role in whether you succeed or not. You spend money for building goodwill among your existing clients. You spend money for marketing in the aim of getting new customers. But sometimes, one wrong move might prove to be disastrous, especially if word about certain failures spread virally online. These may be in the form of bad product reviews, bad customer service experience or even rants pointed toward your direction.
The litigious route
We live in a litigious society after all, and oftentimes businesses resort to the law when they feel they have been bad-mouthed. I’ve experienced this one time or another in the course of my involvement with several blogs and new media networks. There was one time when I received a demand to take down some content on a blog that was allegedly libelous to the complainant’s company. Thing is, the blog in question wasn’t even mine. It had been submitted to a blog directory that the company I work for owned. In some cases, the content in question is not even a blog post, but sometimes a comment posted by a third party.
Sometimes these legal cases do prosper. But most of the time, they not. This would only go to show that the business entity involved may not necessarily be well-versed in social media. Being quick to do damage control through the courts would give the impression that you are a bully, and that you are using lawsuits as a tactic to scare off anyone who dares talk or write about you in a bad light.
Filing lawsuits left and right can also be very costly and time consuming. So unless a blog post or any online content consists of blatant, baseless accusations against you with the intent of being malicious, then litigation is probably not the best way to deal.
Fighting fire with fire
I think the better way to deal with complaints found online is to address these online, as well. If you already run a blog or other social media presence (like a Facebook profile or a Twitter account), then by all means you can use these mediums to air out your side. If not, then it’s high time you set up a blog or other social media account of your own. I suggest you also post a comment on the original source of the complaint, be it a blog post, review, tweet or any other content online.
Don’t just be outright defensive, though. That also gives the impression that you’re too quick to the draw. Here are a few things you can do to help clean up your image and also build up goodwill along the way.
- Identify yourself. Are you the business owner? The customer service manager? Tech support? People will believe you if you have clout, and if you have direct affiliation with the brand, product or service in question. Most small businesses have a small operation, with only a few staff. It’s a good idea to respond if you can speak for your business yourself. If a business owner himself engagse the audience, then this would be viewed as being more sincere than if it were the PR manager (or even a hired PR firm) who would be doing the talking.
- Check and double-check the facts. Don’t be a victim of fraud or online bullying. Be sure that the complaint is valid. Was the product wrongly shipped? Was the product really defective? Was there a problem in the production line? Was someone in your staff rude?
- Identify possible problems. Nobody’s perfect. And while any business strives to give the best to its customers, chances are there will be some clients who will not be satisfied. Sometimes, it’s a defective run in your production line, and you might have to recall and replace a few items. Sometimes it’s a design flaw, and you would really have to redesign from ground up. Maybe you do have a rude customer service personnel (or at least someone who has had a bad day) and you need to take action. Be sure to identify the source of the problem. This way, customers won’t view your brand or product as a failure in its entirety. There’s always room to improve and grow, after all.
- Apologize. Issue a personal and a sincere apology, if you feel that there was some shortcoming on your end.
- Offer a solution, or at least an explanation. Some problems can be easily solved. Products can easily be recalled and replaced. Services can be re-done. However, if it’s something out of your control, then be sure to state this also.
The essential factor here is communication. Connect with your audience. Engage your audience. It’s even better if you are proactive, and if you are connected with a community of your patrons and customers from the start. This way, people will also feel more comfortable in alerting you to potential problems. Your audience might also be kinder to you if they know you’re part of the community.
Connect. Engage. Communicate. That’s what social media should be, from a business standpoint.