If there is one objection to social media that I have heard 1000 times, it is this one – “Our company can’t be on social media because people will complain about us.”

That is very true. People complain on social sites like Facebook and Twitter. They complain a lot, and South Africans complain even more than most other people. I think it is a cultural trait.

What these businesses don’t understand however, is that people are going to complain whether your company has a social media presence or not! Would you not prefer to have a platform where people can complain and you can at least have the opportunity to respond? Isn’t it better to at least have the opportunity to be part of the conversation?

One of your clients or potential clients will probably – at some stage – say something negative about your company. This is not the most terrible thing to ever happen to you.


What To Do When Someone Trash Talks Your Company Online

  • Take a deep breath and try not to take it personally. Many small business owners take any criticism as a direct attack on them as an individual. In most cases, this is really not true. Try to be objective, so you can respond professionally.
  • Respond as soon as you are calm enough to do so. If you are screaming blue murder and throwing your toys out the cot, wait for your blood to cool down.
  • Always respond on the same platform the person complained on. If they complained on Facebook, reply via Facebook not via email. It is very important that the entire audience can see how the situation gets handled.
  • The first line should be an apology. A sincere apology. You can’t start by debating the merits of the complaint. Saying “I’m sorry” straight off the bat appeases the offended party’s sense of anger, and may open their minds to what you say after.
  • Don’t argue about what they should have done rather than bringing their complaint onto social media. It is their right to complain wherever they want! Nobody wants to hear, “But you should have told me at the time and I would have fixed it.” They are telling you now, so fix it now.
  • If it is appropriate, explain what went wrong – but do not try to make excuses! Own the problem, admit to it but explain why it happened if it is pertinent. If there was a fly in the soup, you don’t need to say that the bug zapper was broken due to load shedding. Just say sorry and move on.
  • Clearly explain what you will do to rectify the situation going forward. Staff training, equipment repair, anger management classes – whatever the appropriate measures would be to improve your company so the issue doesn’t arise again, commit to doing it.
  • Never throw your staff under the bus! Don’t say that a situation has arisen because so-and-so is an idiot and you are sorry you ever hired him. Why? Well, many of the people reading your response are going to be employees themselves, and they will be imagining their own boss scapegoating them like that. They will hate you for it. Rather explain that a staff member was responsible for the incident and you are working with them to understand what happened, why and then will be taking appropriate action.
  • Give your contact details and ask the person to contact you directly to discuss the issue further if they need to.
  • If they continue to be belligerent and argumentative, do not engage them further! They are then using you as scapegoat, and the impression you leave will be much more professional and “grown up” if you don’t sink to their level.


Exception To The Rules:

If a person is derogatory, abusive or racist towards any of your staff, cut them off at the knees and let them know in no uncertain terms that you will not tolerate people speaking about your staff like that. In that situation your are your staff’s defender and the customer is not right.

Do You Offer Something For Free?

This is such a tricky situation – I have in the past offered a freebie to people who have complained and they have been even more offended than before. Generally, however, offering to fix the problem for free, or provide something else on the house, is a good idea to smooth the waters. If they accuse you of trying to bribe them, don’t backpeddle. You made the offer, so own it. “Mr Brown, that was certainly not my intention with making the offer. Would you like me to rather donate the item to a charity of your choice?” has become a really great comeback that I use often.

Reputation Management – Be Human

Overall the impression you want to give is of a mature, responsible human being. Don’t give an impersonal, canned apology that could be generated by any PR person. Be genuine, honest and open. You will be amazed at the result.

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