How to Diffuse Online Criticism of Your Business

Have you ever looked up a business online and some other site is outranking their homepage for their brand name in the search results? I see it pretty frequently while researching companies that come across my path, and frequently those other results are bad reviews, negative blog posts or other mentions of the company that are getting more attention than the company’s actual website.

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This type of thing happens when companies are unable—or unwilling—to respond to online criticism in a thoughtful and genuine way. Today, I’ll go over a few things you should keep in mind when responding to negative feedback online and in social media.

Ways People Talk about Your Brand

Conversations can either happen directly with you in your controlled online spaces or about you on third-party sites. Criticism can arise on your Facebook page, tweeting you directly or commenting on your company blog, or they’ll be talking about your company on external forums, review sites, blogs, etc. You may or may not be able to respond directly in external venues, but you can still likely contact them by email or message in an effort to reach out.

Principles of Responding to Negative Online Comments

Craft each communication carefully. You’ll often only have one chance to diffuse the tension inherent in these interactions. You have to keep your cool, no matter what, and that’s a lot easier to respond without sounding defensive or annoyed if you take the time to craft a smart, effective response that you know will probably be seen by someone besides just the recipient.

Get to the heart of the real problem. At the heart of every online criticism of a business is the assumption that the company is a large, anonymous, impersonal entity that won’t respond to fair criticism. Surprise them by letting them know that’s not the case with you.

You have to be aware of the full problem, not just respond cluelessly to tweets or Facebook posts or comments without knowing the background on the situation. Looking oblivious or uncaring about the real issue that’s bothering the person makes you look insensitive and out of touch.

Don’t deflect criticism—own it. Don’t misstate the facts, and don’t try to spin the situation to seem more favorable to you. Be honest if nothing else. Apologize—even if it’s not your fault—and set about making it right. It’s the only way to get past the criticism to a resolution of the situation. If you fall on your sword and show everyone that you’re not dodging responsibility, you’ve at least got a shot at winning some hearts and minds back and maybe even impressing some people with your human response to the situation.

Put your money where your mouth is. A refund, coupon code or just free stuff doesn’t cost you that much in the grand scheme of things, and it seeds online conversations about your brand with positive reactions from customers who are happy that you made something good out of a bad experience.

Thank people for the feedback. They’re helping you identify chinks in your armor, flaws in your processes or even abusive and incompetent employees. They deserve a medal. And when you acknowledge the effort they took to help you improve your business, they’re going to respond positively.

Above All, Be Genuine

The best way to be impersonal, anonymous and disconnected is to try and fake your way through your interactions with people online who’ve criticized you. Dig deep, be empathetic and put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If you can’t do that, and respond from a place of understanding and sympathy for the hassle the person is complaining about, don’t bother responding.

Mike Mann is an entrepreneur, author and philanthropist who funds his many charitable aims through profits from his many successful companies. Learn more about his principles of success in business and charity by downloading his book or reading his blog.