I’m an active user of Yelp and a few months ago, I saw a string of reviews of a local cleaning service that was a social media train wreck I couldn’t help watch unfold. The owner obviously hadn’t learned the lesson from The Gambler, who wisely advised “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away and know when to run.”
While the majority of the reviews were positive, the most recent reviews that caught my attention were related to a Living Social deal gone bad. These negative reviews weren’t the problem. The responses from the owner were, devolving into a conspiracy of slander.
As I was reading these exchanges, all I could think was that the owner needed to step away from the computer, take a deep breath, and realize that he didn’t have to respond to each and every negative review. By taking each one of these personally and responding emotionally, he only reinforced any negative impression an outside observer like myself has from reading the exchanges.
Out of 23 reviews of this business, 16 reviews were 4 or 5 stars, while only 7 were negative 1 or 2 stars ratings, netting a 3.5 rating on average. By responding to each and every review and getting into heated exchanges, the owner made himself look bad and put a spotlight on the bad reviews.
While another branch of the Department of Defense was responsible for the infamous “Afghanistan Stability” PowerPoint chart, the United States Air Force has come up with a straight forward chart with the official sounding title of “Web Posting Response Assessment” (see below). It outlines when and how they’ll respond to bloggers and can serve as a good model for several communications situations, whether traditional or social media.
Should You Reply?
The first question they ask is “Is it positive or balanced?” If so, then they either let it stand with no response or proactively share it. If not, then ask yourself a series of questions to assess the poster’s motivation. Are they a:
- Troll: A person dedicated to bashing or degrading others
- Rager: The posting is a rant, rage, or satirical in nature
- Misguided: Is the posting factually incorrect?
- Unhappy Customer: Did the poster have a negative experience
If a troll or rager, hold back from posting a response, but monitor for future comments or replies. If misguided, reply with factual information. If an unhappy customer, offer a reasonable solution if possible.
There are only three circumstances where you should reply:
- Sharing content that reinforces your message
- Correcting misinformation with facts
- Offering to make something right
Things to Keep In Mind if You Do Reply
When a response is warranted, here are some things to keep in the back of your mind:
- Be transparent.
- Back yourself up by citing sources, linking to web pages, images and/or video that back up your points.
- Be timely, but don’t rush. Don’t respond in the heat of the moment, but take some time to think about what you’re going to say.
- Take the high ground with your tone. Don’t get into name-calling or mudslinging.
- Take into account the source’s influence and give more consideration to those with bigger audiences. Otherwise you may be creating audiences for sources that generally wouldn’t have one.