SOCIAL MEDIA BEST PRACTICES
Handling complaints, criticisms and negative comments on social media
Social media provides a forum for feedback and interaction, and good customer service and public relations is vital when operating an institutional, organizational or brand social media account.
However, social media is a unique environment. Unlike a phone call or letter to the editor, a Facebook post or tweet can either escalate or defuse an issue quickly. On occasion, an issue may become bigger than anticipated or even warranted. Do you respond? How do you respond? Where do you respond?
These tips and examples of best practices in addressing these issues can help:
First, be sure to read these guidelines in their entirety before acting.
If you have a team, discuss possible scenarios and ways to address each of them. Have a plan of who should respond and/or who approves any response. Know who should be contacted if the conversation needs to be addressed privately for the poster, and work on some general responses that you and your team can use as a guide. Don’t wait too long to address the situation. Move quickly, honestly and proactively.
Before getting into decision-making, be sure you have a record of what’s being said on your platforms. If the post makes, for example, an accusation or derogatory comment about an individual or group, you will want to have a screenshot should the original post be deleted. You will need proof if the matter is contested or referred to another party, such as student conduct or law enforcement.
Hold back: Don’t delete the comment or post
You have no control over what someone tweets, but you do have the ability to remove comments on other platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Google+, to name a few. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Deleting a negative comment because it casts your organization in a negative light will only serve to inflame the situation and perhaps draw the interest of others. Deleting a criticism or negative comment gives the appearance of hiding something and will lead others to question your integrity. You should, however, remove inappropriate comments (such as råacist, pornographic or profane posts or personal, derogatory attacks on individuals). You also may block users who abuse the page with these kinds of posts or who are using the account to send spam. Except in extreme cases, a good rule of thumb for blocking is “three strikes and you’re out.”
(Facebook has specific settings that will automatically hide profanity or CAPS. You also can hide/remove personal attacks on other users.)
Should I react?
It’s not uncommon to see negative or damaging posts, tweets and comments on social media. The first question you and your team need to ask: “Is it worth it to respond?” If for example, someone has posted a call for assistance, has had a bad experience, or is looking for answers. Monitor your social media for these kinds of posts/tweets/comments. Sometimes people aren’t looking for a specific response but you may be able to help them resolve their issue(s).
Example: “I hate how hard it is to get a student loan! There you go Penn State, you’ll officially be cancelling my classes because I can’t pay for them on my own. Rant over.”
Proactively responding can help the student AND you.
Response: “Sorry to read this. We will touch base with the Office of Student Aid and see if there is anything further they can do for you.”
Example: “The sidewalks are a mess! I’m going to fall and break my leg out here!”
Let them know that efforts may already be underway, but that you’ve heard them and will try to help.
Response: “The Office of Physical Plant is working hard to remove the snow, but please let us know where it’s bad and we’ll notify them.”
Example: “Hey, Penn State, a student at your school is threatening someone on Twitter. What are you going to do?”
When you see an issue that may appear to be a legal matter or, at the very least, a human resources or student conduct issue, begin gathering as much information as you can. Find the posts in question, and let the people who have called it to your attention know that you are taking it seriously. Do not make judgments on your own and refer the matter to the appropriate agency or staff, with screenshots of both the offending post(s) and complaint(s).
Response: “Thank you for letting us know. We’re looking into it now. Can you email us at ADDRESS with details?”
Stay away from:
- a blatant attack that’s clearly rude and outrageous. More than likely the public will see that this individual has a personal problem.
- a known social media user who is only looking to pick a fight (think troll)
- an escalating situation for which your participation will only lead you to lose restraint and tact.
Take the high road
In these situations there’s no way to win. Focus on the wrongs you can right — and move on. It is critical that you never take it personally or engage or challenge the person negatively. Remember, this is in public, and you are being judged by not only the poster, but all of your followers.
When should I react?
Your account’s history should set the tone for how quickly you respond to questions and comments. Most people recognize that smaller units and organizations can’t monitor and respond all day, every day. You should respond as quickly as possible. For the University’s official accounts, staff strive to respond to comments requiring a response within an hour. That doesn’t mean you should jump immediately without doing a little investigating. If you don’t have an answer, it’s ok to say so — but follow that with what you plan to do to find an answer. Knowing that someone is listening is often more important than getting exactly what you want. But the longer you wait to respond, the angrier your audience will get, so working on finding the needed information is important, and letting the poster know that is your intention is even more important.
Example: “We want to thank you for your patience while we look into this.”
Or, “We’re aware of the issue and we’re working hard to get to the bottom of it.”
If the complainant knows they have your attention, they are more likely to stop spreading the anger.
Focus on listening that doesn’t intrude but instead builds relationships and insights. And only engage when you can deliver value.
If you are receiving multiple complaints or negative comments about the same situation, you may reach a point where it is in your best interest to address it in a single post instead of individual replies. Remember, however, that in many cases this is relative to the size of your community. For an account with thousands of followers, 10 comments may only warrant individual replies. Dozens or hundreds may indicate the need to address an issue in a broader way.
What if the situation is sensitive or volatile?
Honesty and openness is recommended — but there will be times when a conversation should move off of your social media platform. You can first acknowledge the conversation on the platform and then reach out to the individuals privately with a number or name of someone they can talk to about the issue. This protects any personal and private information that may need to be exchanged. In addition, it helps move an unhappy person off of the very public platform to resolve a problem that requires outside intervention. Refer to your team’s plan of action and who the correct point of contact would be in these instances.
As noted above, do not delete the post. It’s ok to admit you made a mistake or to keep that conversation online so people can see it has been handled and hasn’t been ignored.
Stay away from an argument. You will never win. You can still respond, just
- don’t get emotional
- remember that they are a real person
- their complaint may be a favor to you. You’re learning how to respond and people will see that you handled it in a respectful way, so they know they can count on that in the future.
Can I get assistance on social media?
It’s great to get other accounts involved if they truly can help. If someone has a question about a class or an event, tag the proper account to get them involved. People generally feel better seeing that you care and are working with others to get answers for them. In addition, it makes our complex University seem smaller and easier to traverse.
Example: “@Penn_State This is ridiculous. It’s been two months and I still haven’t gotten an admissions decision!”
Response: “@USER Hang in there, all decisions will be made by Jan. 31. @PSU_Admissions can let you know if there’s anything else you should do.”
If you get a question or complaint and are unsure of how to proceed, it’s always best to ask for advice. Contact News & Media Relations Social Media staff at firstname.lastname@example.org or (814) 865-7517 any time to talk it through. Bouncing ideas off another person is a perfect way to not only find a solution, but to also anticipate any follow-up issues.
People sometimes seem to forget that there are real people behind the social media accounts. Communicate in a friendly but professional tone and show empathy. It’s easy for people to yell at a faceless account, but once people realize a human is reading their posts, answering questions and acknowledging their concerns, they will usually calm down. Offer a real apology if one is needed. It’s ok to admit mistakes or problems. Offer to right a wrong, if you can. Give them your interest and attention. Be sincere. Be friendly. Be human.
And definitely — thank people for positive comments on social media. The good will you spread is infectious.
As a final hint for best practices: Do regularly monitor your accounts for comments and questions. You should also try to stay on top of conversations that may affect you, but may not be specifically mentioned or posted to your accounts. Tools such as Tweetdeck or Hootsuite allow you to establish searches for keywords that are important to you. Twilert is another product that offers Twitter search alerts — think of it as Google alerts for Twitter. You get real-time alerts of Tweets containing your search terms. Google Alerts, as mentioned above, can send you notifications of any mentions on the web about your organization or specific terms your most interested in monitoring.
For help with Tweetdeck or information on acquiring Hootsuite, contact the Office of Social Media in News & Media Relations at email@example.com or (814) 865-7517.
These guidelines developed by:
Christie Clancy and Geoff Rushton, Penn State Office of Social Media
Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences Social Media Committee