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Outside the net, we hear the echo of our parents in our ears, saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  We try not to openly complain—especially when someone gives us something for free!  Often, this rule gets thrown out the window when it comes to our interactions on the web. 

The result can have positive or negative effects on your business, depending on how you handle it.  On the one hand, you can get a valuable honest assessment about what you’re doing to make your customers happy or unhappy.  On the other hand, if you take unwarranted criticism too seriously, it can end up diluting your brand or even your product.

4 Tips for Managing Online Criticism

1. Try Not to Be Hurt - Sometimes people criticize because they have a legitimate concern, and sometimes they criticize because they’re having a bad day.  If you take things too personally, you will end up causing yourself undue stress, and you won’t enjoy your work as a result.  Take everything with a grain of salt, and consider the source.

2. Differentiate Complaints from Venting - Not all criticism is constructive.  Think about it from the customer’s perspective.  Venting acts like a release—it allows someone to express their frustration when something goes wrong.  Complaining often has no resolution—the complainer is trying to use their dissatisfaction to reinforce negativity.  Customers venting provides an opportunity for a response, while complaints have no next step.   Figuring out which is which will help your business and your stress level.

3. If You Are Wrong, Apologize - Let’s face it, no one is perfect.  Sometimes we make mistakes, and when we do, the best response is to accept fault and apologize.  This does not mean you should apologize every time someone doesn’t like what you have to say.  A good litmus test is the “defensive” test.  If you’re feeling defensive, it probably means you could have done something better, and it’s best to admit your mistake and move forward rather than ignore it.  Be careful not to belittle the opinions or feelings of your followers, as a bad apology can do more damage than no apology at all!

4. Seize the Opportunity - If people are talking to you about something you can change, you’d be remiss to dismiss it.   Think of it as a chance to speak to your followers to let them know you are listening and taking their feedback seriously, even if you don’t agree.  Better still, learn from your mistakes so you can avoid making them again in the future.

Even the best businesses will encounter mixed reactions to what they say and do.  The important thing to remember that when people are reacting, it means they care. When handled correctly, you can turn their interest into success for your business.

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Originally published Jun 18, 2010 1:00:00 PM, updated October 18 2015

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Public Relations