How to Handle Bad Reviews Online - What To Do in A Social Media Communications Crisis

There are two types of bad review situations: one is when you really have screwed up - the other is when people are being vindictive due to some sort of situation out of your control.

The internet never forgets and screenshots truly never go away. This is why, as a business or individual, it is essential to have a plan in case of a social media misstep – especially when bad reviews happen. You cannot just erase what occurred, take back what an employee did or said, or delete what was posted, even if you would love to step back in time and pretend nothing ever happened. Businesses and brands have been ruined by one small mishandled internet snafu.

Let's discuss the first situation: you really did something wrong.

You may not think it could happen to you, nor to your company, but sometimes one mis worded or misconstrued statement can create a social media crisis that gets completely out of hand. One of two things can happen: you can either manage it immediately and take control of it, (and may be even grow from it as a business), or you can try and cover it up and possibly destroy your business as the internet vigilantes come out to play, and believe me they will. Sometimes I think people wait for the latest social media drama to jump on.

Here are the first steps if you find yourself getting bad reviews for something that was your fault:

1) Don't try to cover the incident up and pretend it didn't happen. If you do try to cover up a post that was made, or delete photos or videos that were the issue, the internet will come at you in droves. They will send their friends, and every person who looks for social media drama will be on your page creating more. You do not want that. Not all publicity is good publicity.

{If you want to see what happens when you DO delete a post - check out this tree farm's Facebook page. The internet vigilantes decided 1star reviews were the way to respond to the tree farm's handling of a situation. }

2) If the reviews are warranted - apologize, and apologize immediately. Make sure this apology is genuine. Don't make it about how people should not be so offended, or that you don't really think you should apologize, but you will anyway because people are demanding it. If an apology is done correctly and immediately, the public will actually rally around you, saying you addressed the situation immediately and took action.

3) If you don't know if an apology is warranted, but there is definite internet buzz (including bad reviews) surrounding the incident and your company, make a statement saying: "We're looking in to it". Always acknowledge an incident if there is a growing internet discussion going on about it. People will be looking for information on what has occurred, and if they don't get information from you, they're going to get it from someone who probably doesn't have all the facts.

4) Once you have all of the facts, create a canned response with truthful information about the event that you can cut and paste into any comment section. Always respond with objective facts. The thing that attracts people most to a social media crisis is drama.  That is why it is essential not to engage those who are trolling for a fight on purpose. Responding with facts and a canned response makes them go away faster.  Do not get distracted by negativity – it brings the entire conversation down.

5) Take nothing personally. Every comment someone leaves is a reflection of what is going on in their own life. As soon as you take whatever they say to heart, you will start lashing out at the internet, and that will only make things worse. If you find yourself starting to take things personally, walk away from your computer and make someone else copy and paste your canned response.

THE most important thing to remember in all of this: people will make up information if they do not see something directly from the organization. A positive, on message, truthful response from your organization is essential to making sure false rumors are not created and spread.  People and news outlets will look to social media first for responses to events.  If there is no response, they'll comment on that.  If there is a response, and it is factual, to the point, and as positive as possible, that will help spread the truth.

Understand that these events can be used as opportunities to create trust with viewers, potential advertisers, and current advertisers.  All responses to crises should be made with that in mind. Focus on positive engagement, regardless of response of outside players (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram users, etc) is essential. 

If the bad reviews are NOT warranted - and you did not do anything wrong - take the following steps:

1) Comment on the review in an objective, non combative way. "We don't seem to have record of you as a customer. Could we contact you for more information". Show that you are making an effort to fix the situation, even if there is no situation. Most of the time, your response is a way to indicate to other people that there is actually no cause for a bad review.

2) No matter what they say, keep it objective and non personal. Companies and individuals that make it personal are the ones who get themselves in trouble.

3) If your response is still met with combativeness, and you DO NOT run a governmental page, in most cases you can just delete and ban. That person is just basically looking to get attention.

In both of these situations, never be afraid to just shut off reviews until the situations are figured out and addressed. To turn off reviews on Facebook – go to Page settings, Templates and Tabs, then Tabs. You can turn them on and off there.

Bad reviews on social media are not the end of the world. You need to respond quickly and truthfully to mitigate any damage that has been done to your reputation. Above all keep it professional and objective, even if the reviewer is not. Your audience and future customers are watching.

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