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12 Methods for Defusing Negativity on Social Media

broken-egg-sad-faceSocial media is a fantastic way for up-and-coming startups to build their brand while developing a loyal community. But while sharing content and helping potential customers is great, what about negative comments and trolling complaints? We ask 12 startup founders: Should companies respond to EVERY customer complaint on social media — even if it clearly seems like it's meant just to elicit a reaction? If so, how should you handle it?

The following answers are provided by members of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

1. Use a Focused Response

Every single customer complaint is not worth it. However, I do strongly feel that 99+ percent of the time a focused response presents a larger opportunity for your company's brand and audience. It tells them more about who you are and how you handle both the good and the bad.

- Parker Powers, Millionaire Network

2. Answer Every Person, Not Every Complaint

Every customer who submits a complaint should receive a tactful, informative response. But when it becomes clear he is using social instead of customer service channels to complain, we do not engage because it's intended to elicit a response rather than a solution. My community manager's time is too valuable for her to double as a customer service rep; her focus should be on nurturing the brand.

- Xenios Thrasyvoulou, PeoplePerHour

3. Respond if It's Respectful

We respond to every complaint we get as long as the commenters are being respectful. If they're trolling, we ignore them (or delete their comment). If they're not, we're always surprised by how open and flexible most complainers are when presented with a thoughtful answer.

- Derek Flanzraich, Greatist

4. Always Engage

Both positive and negative comments deserve at least one interaction, and it's a great way to create value. Even the most absurd comment provides an excuse to communicate with the community, and a professional response turns a negative situation into a teachable moment.

- Jason Kulpa, Underground Elephant

5. Step in When Necessary

It's not always necessary to respond to every customer complaint. While building your brand, you should gain a loyal customer base that will sometimes defend your brand for you. You definitely want to monitor the conversation and step in when needed, but sometimes letting your community respond for you is an effective method.

- Michael Patak, TopstepTrader

6. Respond to Everyone Within Reason

As a new company, we respond to every comment to not only show concern, but also to show interest in engagement. We want our members and potential customers to feel they’re being taken care of. Respond in a manner that speaks to everyone in that channel. However, after you reach a certain size, it’s beneficial to establish response criteria for scalability purposes.

- George Bousis, Raise Marketplace Inc.

7. Reply Once

At TheBeautyBean.com, we have a policy of always replying once. If we can then engage in productive dialogue, we'll continue, but if the complainer is just looking to get a rise out of us, we move on.

- Alexis Wolfer, TheBeautyBean.com

8. Embrace Trends and Avoid Provocation

While it’s important to never hide from trending concerns, that doesn’t mean you should fall prey to bait. Engaging with overly hostile or irrational tirades can demote you in the eyes of followers. Engage genuine concerns, but don’t engage provocation.

- Sam Saxton, Salter Spiral Stair and Mylen Stairs

9. Kill Trolls With Kindness

Posting for shock value is called "trolling," which is a form of bullying. So, if legit complaints overwhelm your accounts, you've got restructuring to do. But, ignoring trolls is a wasted opportunity. Responding to trolls can help you garner sympathy, positive attention and allies for your brand. Just kill them with kindness and wit. Expose and outshine them.

- Manpreet Singh, Seva Call

10. Spin It Every Time

If a complaint is meant to elicit a reaction, your team should spin it to show that customers have a positive experience with your company. After all, if you're putting it in writing, you want to make sure it puts your company in the best light possible, especially if it is reposted or shared.

- Benish Shah, Before the Label

11. Every Response Is a Potential Sale

Everyone who reaches out via social media just wants to be heard and acknowledged by the company. Whether it is valid is not always important, but by responding, you create an opportunity to turn the complaint into a positive. Even simply saying, "I'm sorry. We will work to fix this in the future," goes a long way. Use every communication as an opening to create a lasting impression.

- Aron Schoenfeld, Do It In Person LLC

12. Always Reply

Always respond, especially when your company is starting out. The customers you interact with at the beginning become your base. If they are impressed, they will tell their friends. If they are disappointed, they will tell the world. Acknowledge your errors, fix your mistakes, and in the event that you aren't able to make someone happy, at least tell them why your policies are the way they are.

- Emily Doubilet, Susty Party

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