This article first appeared on PR Daily in July, 2015. I’ve spent years talking about the benefits of social media marketing—especially its ability to bring in leads and sales.
Some businesses have embraced social media and online reputation management, but there are many more sitting on the sidelines.
One reason business owners steer clear of social media is they don’t want to open themselves to online attacks. They figure, “If we’re not participating, no one can say anything bad about us.”
That’s not true.
A day will come (if it hasn’t already) when someone will talk about your business online. It’s better to participate in that conversation and communicate your value than to let your competitors do all the talking.
If apprehension is keeping you and your business off social media, you’ve come to the right place. The anxiety caused by doomsday scenarios (both real and imagined) can make even social media veterans think twice about exposing their business to scrutiny.
If the fear of a social media attack weighs heavy on you, know there are strategies and tactics to mitigate attacks and even turn critics into fans.
Here are 10 tips for dealing with social media and online reputation attacks:
1. Implement an internal policy.
Every person on your team must know and understand your policy for managing online criticism. Institute a social media policy at hiring. For current employees, gather them in groups so you can discuss your policy, answer questions, distribute copies and have everyone sign an acknowledgment that they received the policy.
2. Get to the bottom of the initial complaint.
People are often just looking for ways to vent their frustration. Empathy is critical.
3. Consider the source.
I’ve seen many social media complaints and online reviews from people who are not-and never will be-customers. Some people are out to create trouble because it gets them attention. The crowd will often come to your defense.
Sometimes the source is a former employee or competitor. There are legal remedies for dealing with them, and online platforms are getting better at assisting organizations with this.
4. Have a written external policy.
A written policy for responding to any engagement will help you moderate conversations in a professional, yet open manner. Your policy should explain when to delete comments or ban users, and it should outline ways to handle discord.
5. Assume the best.
We’ve all been guilty of jumping on the negativity bandwagon when we face criticism. When you’re defensive, you close the door to a speedy resolution.
Instead, be helpful, pleasant and non-defensive. This will defuse the situation and give you more time to determine the real issue. Never assume malicious intent. Most of the time, you can rectify the problem.
6. Listen, and respond quickly.
Social media is a 24/7 presence, and a lot of organizations have realized they have to shorten their response times. If a customer is having issues, listening and responding quickly can prevent the situation from becoming bigger than it ought to be.
7. Own your mistakes.
Sometimes your critics tell the truth, which isn’t easy to hear. Humility, even when it’s painful, can scatter animosity.
Owning your mistakes reassures future customers that you take feedback seriously.
8. Be human.
When you’re transparent about your blemishes, an amazing thing happens: Your community comes to your defense.
9. Refrain from deleting posts.
We tend to have a knee-jerk reaction to delete a post that’s causing trouble, but remember: Once something is on the Internet, it’s there forever. Deleting a post may temporarily remove the damage, but if people notice you’re deleting posts, they’ll take you to task.
10. Do nothing.
Sometimes it’s best to stay quiet. There are a few good cases for ignoring a critic.
Some people (trolls) just want to cause trouble. You may even know who yours are. Responding to trolls only adds fuel to the fire. Don’t waste your energy on them.
No matter how great your organization is, someone will always criticize you. Don’t miss out on social media marketing’s advantages. Arm yourself with strategies and tactics to mitigate critics and defuse attacks. Open your business to new possibilities.
Kathi Kruse is a social media marketing expert, consultant, blogger, speaker, author and founder of Kruse Control. A version of this article originally appeared on the Kruse Control blog.