What to Do With Antisocial Media

Social media allows companies to get customer feedback more readily than ever. But there are both hazards and opportunities in working with socially empowered customers.

No matter what you think of your company’s customer service, its product, or its image, you’re going to get feedback, not all of it positive, online. When this happens, keep in mind the following four principles for working with customers in a social setting.

1. Social-media customer service is, at its heart, customer service. And it needs to be done superbly.

If you set up an expectation that you will assist, interact with, and engage customers through social media, then you need to do that and do it just as fabulously as you do it in other channels. In my mind, this means that you should involve the people who are your company’s customer-service experts in leadership roles, same as you would in any other channel, yet many companies that I consult for do the opposite: By default, they’ve let technical experts rather than people experts head their social-media teams.

This is a mistake. If your social responses are inferior to—or not integrated with—those in your other channels, they are hurting your brand. Social-media customer service, at its essence, is service, plain and simple. It’s service at a faster speed, with more hazards and quirks involved. But it’s service.

2. Avoid the Streisand effect.

When someone attacks your business online, you may be tempted to call your lawyer or otherwise try to intimidate the offending commenter into removing the post. I’d think carefully before doing that. The reason? Your reaction will tend to bring excessive publicity to the issue. There’s even a term for this: “the Streisand Effect,” named after Barbra Streisand, who sued a photographer in a failed attempt to remove a photo of her mansion from the California Coastal Records Project, a strategic backfire that resulted in greater distribution of the photo than would have happened before.

At the very least, threatening your customers does nothing to reduce the damage—and is very likely to backfire. Look at this hilariously written backhanded ‘‘retraction’’ by a restaurant guest under legal threat, and consider whether coercing a customer into such a response really serves your business.

3. Turn twankers into thankers: Reach out directly to online complainers.

OK, now that you’ve fought off the urge to fly off the handle, you can respond in a considerate, positive manner. Let’s say you’ve spotted an outrageous tweet about your firm: “Company X double-bills all customers—Must Think We R Suckrs—_FAIL”

How should you respond? If the person behind this message follows you on Twitter, that makes you able to send him a direct message—so do it. Include a direct email address and direct phone number. If, however, said complainer isn’t one of your followers, you must figure out another way to reach him. How about replying publicly, on Twitter, listing your email address and expressing your chagrin and concern? (In an online forum such as a blog, TripAdvisor, or Facebook, you can respond similarly, but through the comment mechanisms available there.)

By responding this way, you have a good chance to move the discussion out of a public venue and into a one-on-one situation, where you can work directly with your antagonist without thousands of eyes dissecting every move or, worse, catching bits and pieces as things progress, without ever grasping the whole story. This dispute resolution approach is like an in-store situation where you take an irate customer aside, perhaps into your office, to privately discuss the matter, giving you both a chance to work together to arrive at a resolution.

And, after a successful resolution, politely ask the complainer to amend or even withdraw those original ugly comments.

4. Avoid the fiasco formula: a digital stitch in time.

Can you spell F-I-A-S-C-O? The formula is: Small Error + Slow Response Time = Colossal PR Disaster

That is, the magnitude of a social-media uproar increases disproportionately with the length of your response time. Be aware that a negative event in the online world can gather social steam with such speed that your delay itself can become more of a problem than the initial incident. A day’s lag in responding can be too much.


Article Posted in Portfolio.com by author and speaker Micah Solomon (www.micahsolomon.com.) His new book is High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service (American Management Association/AMACOM, May 2012).

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