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Social media judo: How to turn a fight into a brand-building moment

5 min read

Brands & Campaigns

In Monday’s post, Jay Baer and Amber Naslund explained how to use social networks to respond to a full-blown communications crisis. They offered some great advice for handling a PR nightmare on a social channel. But how can you keep it from getting to that point? How do you diffuse conflicts before they turn into all-hands situations?

Having a social media presence means you will have social media fights. If you seek attention, some of your buzz will inevitably be negative. No brand is immune.  But you can take steps to minimize conflict — and even turn a negative comment into a golden moment that wins your brand positive attention. Here’s how:

  • Hurry, don’t rush. It’s been drilled into our heads that speed matters in social communications. You don’t have two days to respond to a crisis. You probably don’t have two hours — depending on when the situation develops. But that doesn’t mean you can get away with an off-the-cuff response. Critical comments require immediate attention. That doesn’t mean typing a response right away. It means doing your homework.
  • Know the lay of the land. Before you engage a negative commenter, you need to develop an understanding of the conflict. There are three pieces of information you need before you can formulate an appropriate response:
  1. Who is this person? Putting an unhappy commenter in context is critical. Is this person a long-time fan or are they new to the brand? Do they have a history of engaging the brand? Do they complain a lot about other brands? Do they have  one issue that they bring up over and over? Are they affiliated with any other groups? Your response needs to be calibrated for that specific commenter — particularly if they have a history with your brand or if they’re bringing up a long-standing issue.
  2. Are they asking for a response or just venting? Believe it or not, there are cases where silence is an appropriate social media response. The more irrational, profane or immature a comment seems, the more likely it is that your commenter is after attention, not a resolution. Don’t feed the trolls. Instead, look for ways you can address any legitimate grievances they may have had without  publicly engaging them further.
  3. Where does the response need to come from? Are they reacting to something you said on that channel or are the reacting to something the brand did in another context? Who do you need to coordinate with to come up with a satisfying response?
  • Be honest in your response. Don’t promise a response you can’t deliver. Don’t offer lip-service apologies. Don’t delete a controversial post and pretend it never happened. You may occasionally need to delete content in extreme circumstances, but that content should always be replaced by content that fully acknowledges and apologizes for the original error. You need to be sure it doesn’t look like you’re trying to cover up a problem.
  • Be classy. Don’t adopt the tone of your attacker. Be the bigger person in every way you can muster. Creating a clear disparity between the anger of your commenter and cool, calm way you’ve handled the situation builds sympathy with other followers. You’re not going to win anyone over by being proud, sarcastic or dismissive. It might feel good in the heat of the moment, but you’ll regret it later.
  • Have conversations, not arguments. An angry fan is an invested fan. They wouldn’t have lashed out at you if they didn’t care.  If someone has a concern that stems from having an investment in your brand — say, not liking your new logo — try asking questions about their issues, rather than just telling them they’re wrong. Remember that no one ever really wins an argument. So instead of trying to badger an irate fan into resenting you silently, show a little empathy. If you can demonstrate that you take their concerns seriously and find ways to prove it, then you’ve validated their decisions to care about your brand. Do it right and they’ll love you more than ever.
  • Use your surroundings. What if the complainer isn’t reasonable? If you can’t get them to have a civilized public conversation, then you need to try to take that conversation private while simultaneously getting your supporters involved in  the conversation. Taking the conversation private makes most people more reasonable, since they’re no longer playing to the crowd. At the same time, turning the initial complaint into a community-wide discussion makes the disagreement more abstract and invites other fans to come to your defense. Developing a reputation for handling disagreements well is one of the best things that can happen to brand because it shows definitively that you’re as invested in your fans as they are in you.

Have you ever had to cope with an angry fan? How did you handle it? What did you learn?

Image credit, imbarney22, via iStock Photo