When Social Media Bites The Hand That Feeds

Posted on April 24, 2012. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary, Public Relations Pointers, Social Media | Tags: , |

Joliet Jake

Joliet Jake (Photo credit: harry harris)

Fight social media fire with fire? Small retailers have no choice but to buck up when it comes to online reviews.

Peeved customers no longer suffer in silence. They take to the Internet, to voice their displeasure over ill-treatment, real and perceived.

People are not afraid to speak up on the Internet. They’ll say things online that they couldn’t or wouldn’t say face-to-face.

A Critic In Every Corner?

Then again, the Internet has unleashed the inner critic in all of us. Millions of people now peck or swipe away — with rapture unfettered —  at digital devices, hammering out pithy commentary on movies, meals, tourist attractions, liquor stores, hardware stores, auto repair shops…about the only things that don’t get reviewed are jails and prisons, it seems. Who knows? Maybe someone like Joliet Jake is spitting out reviews of prison commissaries and in-cell amenities somewhere on Facebook or Yelp.

The point is, retail blood is spilled on the Internet every day by disgruntled customers. If it hasn’t happened to your business yet, odds are it will. No it’s not a certainty. Neither is getting called to jury duty – some people slide through life and live to a ripe old age without ever being hailed into jury duty too. Luck of the draw, really.

TV Story Captures The Dilemma

A recent news story from Los Angeles’ KABC-TV illustrates the plight of restaurateurs caught in the cross-hairs of online critics today: Under Fire.

Respond, Yes. Retaliate, Maybe Not.

But you don’t want to just be a sitting duck either. Prepare yourself for the eventuality of being digitally panned in some fashion or the other.  Consider this scenario: Someone visits a retailer’s restroom, discovers its blanketed with the rudest of graffiti, snaps a picture of it on his iPad, posts it to Facebook, and voilà – damage done! Maybe the graffiti was of very recent vintage – a leave-behind of the Sharpie-wielding patron who just preceded our visitor into the loo. The feckless critic won’t take such an eventuality into account. She’ll just run it up the Twitter pole and there you have it – your business image besmirched.

Some of the best advice going is to:

  • Stay cool. Analyze the situation. Is the criticism valid? If so, you might be best served by responding politely and with a positive attitude to the critic in the online forum. Thank the customer for pointing out the issue, and reward them with a small token of your consideration for being a good customer – a discount coupon, free meal, whatever seems appropriate. Then correct the problem, of course.
  •  Don’t be abrasive or defensive. The annals of the Internet are already chock full of horror stories about businesses that responded harshly to customer online commentary.
  • Unless it’s really out-of-bounds, you can’t win. You’re better off taking a slight loss, and moving on. Grin and bear it, in other words. If it’s an egregious assault on your business, one that you believe is without merit, you may want to see if you can convince the operator of the service to remove the comment. That won’t prevent the poster from re-posting somewhere else, of course.
  •  If it’s a problem that occurred because of circumstances particular to the customer’s visit, you may want to respond calmly and patiently to the criticism. Accept responsibility, explain the situation and what you’re doing to make sure it won’t happen again. Do this online, in response to your critic’s posting. Offer to talk – communicate – off-line or via private channels in order to resolve the dispute as well.
  • Remember, your goal is to resolve the situation as peacefully and equitably as possible, so you can continue to go about your business of running a great business.

Bouncing back from a harsh social media experience can be daunting. The trick is to turn it to your favor. A fresh public relations approach may be just what the doctor ordered, too.

Your thoughts? Experiences? Stories, horror, happy or otherwise?

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