Thursday, 6 November 2014

An Association’s Road Map to Handling Criticism on Social Media

Negative comments are as much a part of social media life as typing updates, retweeting posts and liking statuses.

There are many ways to respond to negative comments about your association and the internet is full of as many horror stories as tales of triumphs.

Responding to criticism on social media has the power to lift your association to new heights or toss its reputation over a cliff. It’s a tough tightrope to cross, so we’ve put together eight tips that will hopefully help organizations cross safely to the other side and make them stronger on the way.

1. Have a Plan

Being unprepared to deal with online criticism can lead to knee-jerk reactions, misinformation and further damage to your association’s reputation.
It’s crucial to discuss how best to address complaints and where to get the right information and answers with other in your organization. Look at several possible scenarios and how go about dealing with them. It’s not possible to predict every situation, but having a roadmap definitely helps when the unexpected comes up.

2. Respond Quickly

One of the worst things an association can do is ignore a criticism or take days or weeks to respond. This delay shows your community and the public that you don’t value them enough to get on the problem right away.

Responding quickly, even with a message that simply acknowledges the comment and lets that person know you are working on a response, shows you care and will work to rectify any problems and meet any need. This show of loyalty and care will keep people coming back even after a less-than-perfect experience.

3. Be Transparent

When an organization receives criticism, the natural tendency is to deal with it in a more private setting. But being transparent with negative comments on your Twitter feed, Facebook page, blog comment section or elsewhere can work to your advantage.

By addressing the issue in a public forum, in a sensitive, calm and constructive manner, it shows everyone that your association is honest and genuinely cares about helping its members and the community. It builds trust, loyalty and engagement as well as neutralizing any accusations of censoring.

There are exceptions to this rule. If comments are hateful, discriminatory or meant to fuel these types of discussions, responding to them and keeping them visible will not help you, your organization or anyone in the community. Delete them and move on to responding to those who actually care about resolving an issue.

4. Don’t Play Tug-of-War

It’s okay to not fight back once in a while on social media. Sometimes those making negative comments will argue with you. Don’t argue with them.

This doesn’t mean you have to back down completely, but always be polite, respectful and try your best to find and solve the issues behind the criticism. If this is not enough, do not engage in an argument. It makes your organization look combative, harsh and unwelcoming.

5. Listen

Listening to negative feedback is important to finding a solution and building your organization, but sometimes the answer doesn’t come after the first response. Longer conversations, through social media, email or over the phone, may be necessary to address an issue that was brought up online.

Again, this doesn’t mean a back and forth argument, but a conversation where you listen to the problems, explain your side of the story and listen and respond once again.

6. Find a Solution and Follow up

Once a complaint has been brought forward, work hard to find the answer to the problem. Keep that person and the rest of your network informed of the progress and make sure to follow up with the individual who originally made the complaint.

Seeing the problem all the way to the end lets your community know that your association is dedicated and treats every one of their members with the same care and devotion as the next. It will also encourage loyalty and trust, which generates great word-of-mouth for the organization.

7. Don’t Be a Robot 

Remember that your organization is there to help real people with real issues. Those who write negative comments are just as human as you are.

Be human in your response to complaints. Whatever you do, do not use a canned corporate response or a generic, one-line answer. This makes others feel like you’re brushing them off; it is disheartening and even condescending. Addressing people by name, mentioning the specific problem and using humor (when called for) are all simple ways to let others know you value them as individuals.

8. Build on It

Okay, so you’ve received a complaint and are in the process of finding a solution. Now is a great time to use these negative comments to generate positive growth for your organization. Engage your online community in helping find an answer to an issue. Ask followers and fans for ways to make your organization better. Your weaknesses will remain just that until you recognize them and fix them. This sometimes requires new perspectives. Some organizations open social media forums that act as virtual suggestion boxes. Not every idea can be put into action, but your members will appreciate the sentiment and you might be amazed at some of the great ideas brought forward.

No two complaints are the same and your responses should be equally unique. When responding to criticism, you should be respectful, quick and strive to find solutions. Providing great answers to issues on social media can mean the difference between your organization falling behind and soaring high.

Author Bio: Marc Cousineau is the President and Founder of Incline Marketing. Marc is passionate about helping non-profit organizations and associations grow and serve members through online marketing and social media.

You can follow Marc on Twitter, @marccousineau2, and follow Incline Marketing @inclinemktg

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at

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