The internet is filled with opinions and marketing. Well, opinions, marketing and porn, if you want to be exact, but those three cover pretty much everything!

Many companies would much rather prospective clients read their
marketing and avoid any opinions about their products or services. After all, although some of that feedback may be good, it’s beyond
corporate control. For any business that isn’t used to the online
environment, that’s a scary thing.

The reality is that online feedback, reviews and other user-generated content is wonderful. People trust it and peer reviews have tremendous influence on their eventual decision, so positive content is brilliant.

Negative comments are another thing, so how can you respond and when is it right to?

Read on for my take on when you should, and shouldn’t, exercise your right to reply…

How to monitor online mentions

The first thing to do is ensure you are going to spot any feedback. If you have a marketing team, this might be the kind of thing they’d do, otherwise ask your team for a web monitor.

Your employee should regularly monitor Twitter for mentions, keep an eye on any company-specific Facebook groups (only likely if you’re a large organisation) and set up a Google Alerts system so they are informed of any mentions of your business. That covers the main social platforms: blogs, Twitter and Facebook.

Unless you’re a major organisation (in which case, you need a marketing team!), this should not be too much work for one person, it’s really just setting up a few searches.

When to respond

If you’re monitoring the web for mentions then take time to reply to praise. If someone Tweets that they just used your service and thought it was great, reply with a ‘thanks’. It’s polite, it’s proactive and (best of all) it helps even more people see the positive mentions.

What should you do when you come across grumblings? This is where you need a reasonably savvy company person in charge of responses. The person complaining is expressing their dissatisfaction just as they would within a complaints letter, except they’re doing it in front of all their friends and acquaintances.

So, you need to respond, ideally through the same medium. If you discover their email address and reply privately then not everyone else will see that you’ve got in touch. The complaint is all they will see.

A proactive reply shows that you’re unafraid of hearing and responding to criticism.

Of course, if the online mention is a rant, if it’s filled with fury, swearing and abuse then it’s okay not to reply. You don’t want to get embroiled in an online bitching session (unless you’re Ryanair, of course) and someone who’s spitting fury isn’t going to cheerfully resolve it with you.

In fact, if they know they have your attention, they could even rant more furiously. Steer clear of replying to these people, but don’t forget to consider whether or not a genuine issue prompted their anger.

How to respond

Once you’ve found a mention, what do you do? It’s important to respond in the public arena where the complaint was made.

However, it may not be appropriate to discuss the entire case in a public forum and you don’t want to enter into a debate about one specific case on the web.

So reply with a ‘sorry to hear you aren’t happy’ and an invitation to them to get in touch with you to discuss it further. If they do, then you can address the problem as you would an emailed complaint. If they don’t, then they’re unlikely to complain again having failed to take the opportunity to do so directly.

Quite often, responding calmly, quickly and courteously to a complaint can impress the customer and even turn them into an advocate.