Social Media – Bad Reviews and Complaints – Blessing or Curse?
by Sue Ellson
After dealing with several ‘complaints’ and negative reviews via social media recently (two posts on Meetup Groups that I run), I started thinking about the value of being on social media.
Firstly though, I would like to say that these comments were based on the users not reading the full instructions and inferring inaccurate information from my post.
You see a lot of my clients are very reluctant to ‘go online’ and put their business on social media – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or others. They are worried about getting a bad review or a complaint and then not having the ability to remove that bad review from the internet.
Well, depending on where the review is posted, there are a couple of options:
1) No right of reply (rare)
2) Option to reply (a must do)
3) Option to delete (rare)
So it quickly becomes obvious what you should do, get online and if a bad review does appear, reply.
Complaint Handling in the Past
I remember working at the RACV back in the year 2000. That was in the days before the use of popular social media. Complaints still came in via the post and sometimes via email. My job was to find out what happened and draft a response from the CEO. In most cases, there was a misunderstanding in communication – so as soon as this was resolved, everyone was happy.
In some cases, there was a legitimate concern and this required resolution. In some cases, there was a completely inaccurate complaint designed to generate an illegitimate insurance claim, so naturally, their claim was not successful. However, what I learnt from this process was that finding out both sides of the story was very important – and that is how a resolution was secured. Formal correspondence closed each case.
So what should a business do? Go on social media or not?
For a variety of reasons, business owners are now even more apprehensive about social media than the past. I guess the immediate viral nature of social media can give people an overestimation of its destructive power. In the past, so many people feared ‘front page of the newspaper’ media coverage – now, some people would be glad to have front page of the newspaper and not a hash tag on Twitter!
In all reality though, how long does a story remain on the front page or a hash tag remain in popular circulation? This too shall pass.
We all know that as soon as someone hears about you or your product or service, they are likely to put your details into Google. What comes up? If the only two references are your badly completed LinkedIn profile and your out of date website, that is not a good look.
If you don’t have a presence on some form of social media, many people will wonder whether you are serious about business or not. They may also think you are not ‘real’ because you don’t have adequate representation. If this consumer uses Facebook as their main access point to the internet, they may decide if you are not on Facebook, you don’t matter.
I am being a little bit over dramatic here, but I am trying to make a point.
In my view, both you and your business needs to be on social media – at least as a ‘place holder’ to reserve your ‘real estate’ property online. Ideally, you would post or update your profile at least once a month and start by using it as a broadcast tool, but you should be there.
Essential components on your social media profile
Firstly, you need to have a complete profile – with photos, logo, website links, background, consistent message etc so you look like you know what you are doing!
Secondly, you need to have your settings adjusted to suit your personal style. If you do not want people posting to your Facebook page, turn this functionality off. Comments cannot be turned off, but you can be notified when they occur. Adjust these settings for each profile you have.
Monitor your profiles at least once a month. See if anything has ‘slipped through’ and if a complaint or comment has gone through, make sure you respond to it. Rather than ‘accuse’ the commenter, be nice. You can explain your side of the story and if necessary, apologise and offer recompense. If the accusation is correct, you can acknowledge it and say how you will fix it in the future.
Also make a point of liking and responding to positive comments too.
Why do people complain or write bad reviews?
I have often found that many people make a complaint because they did not have all of the facts. For example, in the ‘complaint’ I mention above, I made it perfectly clear in the Meetup Group that I would not be attending the event and I gave everyone accurate and complete written instructions to follow both in the group online and via email – and yet, these very same people did not follow the instructions (wear their own name tag and follow the map and photo) and then complained. This is clearly ‘not my fault’ but it is what happened.
So I still needed to apologise for any inconvenience caused but I also needed to explain why I was not at the event – because I was hosting an event and coordinating another four all at the same time! I was doing this free of charge and I have offered free advice on the Newcomers Network website since 2001 – so clearly, I did not have an ‘ulterior motive’ for running the event via Meetup.
Anyway, there was still a lesson to be learnt here. Whilst I could not organise a host for the event (at least one person who would share their name and mobile phone number for lost people), what I could do for a future event was organise a host who simply arrived on time with a sign – that would have made the group even easier to find. So this was my lesson – a blessing, not a curse, from this complaint.
I also needed to correct their perception that I was only after money – so I addressed this by explaining my history. Surprise, surprise, the person ‘complaining’ did not say ‘thanks’ or comment back. However, anyone reading this message after the event can see that there was simply a misunderstanding that was explained and in my view, they can see that Newcomers Network responds and is genuine.
What about people who intend to cause you harm?
This is a little more tricky. There are some people who are willing to write unsubstantiated bad reviews to jeopardise your business success. Fortunately, these are rare. But again, the same principles apply – reply. Always respond in a positive manner with an explanation, an apology if needed and a form of compensation if appropriate.
If you found out about a new restaurant and you looked at their reviews online and every single review was five stars and fabulous, would you REALLY believe that they were all true? To be honest, I want authenticity.
I don’t expect everyone to like me. After all, it is not about me. It is about the value I offer through my services or information and whether or not there is a fair exchange. If I choose to do it for free, for me, there is an implication that the other person must also take some responsibility for successful implementation and I see this as a way of empowering the individual.
Some people do not want to be empowered, they want everything for nothing. Again, if I simply reply in a polite and constructive manner, this can again be seen as a positive by another discerning person who looks at the answer and says ‘that is fair under the circumstances.’
How can you mitigate risk?
Do your job well! Think of any potential problems and learn from past mistakes and experience. Then, when the opportunity arises for you to secure some good reviews or feedback, help your clients and customers do it. There are various ways:
1) Invite them to do a review on your Google+ page (these ones are Gold because Google loves them!) – recreate a link that looks like this so that they can click on the link and go directly to your Google+ page https://plus.google.com/+Sueellson2/?review=1
2) Invite them to review you via your industry portal (for example, if you are a restaurant, via your listing on Urban Spoon)
3) Invite them to review you via another review portal (for example, on a well known business review website like Word Of Mouth Online WOMO)
4) Install a plugin on your website so they can review you in relation to your specific service on a specific post or page of your website (if you use a WordPress Plugin like WP Customer Reviews by Go Web Solutions, your star rating will show up in Google Chrome search results)
5) Make sure you respond to likes, comments and shares on social media. People like people who say thank you even more than those who just respond to complaints or bad reviews! If they make a positive comment, see if you can ‘like’ it.
If you have all of these ‘good’ reviews online, one bad review will be viewed in context rather than in isolation.
Removing bad reviews
Unfortunately, not all bad reviews can be removed. Google does have an ability to de-index a page from search results under certain circumstances but the first action they suggest is that you contact the webmaster to remove the content (not always possible). Again, most discerning consumers will see isolated bad reviews as sour grapes rather than a serious cause for concern, particularly if you have responded appropriately.
Finding bad reviews
Even though your social media settings may alert you to bad reviews or comments on your online profiles, other mentions may not come to you directly. For this reason, I suggest that you set up a Google Alert on both your name and your business name (and perhaps your most significant products or services). This is like having your own personal ‘media watch’ service – Google looks for new instances of your search terms and then advises you when they appear in search results. This is not a comprehensive watchdog (particularly if the website is not indexed regularly), but it is a good back up procedure.
Remember, we live in an online world – you cannot ignore it – but you can manage it with these tips. There is no need to be fearful, like every challenge in business, you need to have a strategy and also policies and procedures to deal with it. Remaining positive and informative is much better than negative and derogatory. Humour is not appropriate either. Authenticity is fabulous and at the end of the day, it is just another risk that you can manage…
If you have any further questions or concerns, please contact Sue Ellson directly.
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