In the early stages of any social media effort it will seem like you have no friends, that no one reads your posts, and you’re basically shouting into the void. You start to view social media as a one-way conversation with…well, yourself.
But then one day someone leaves a comment! Oh-my-gosh! Now what do I do?! Before this happens it is a good idea to consider a few points:
- Try to read their comments in as neutral a light as possible. You may not know the emotional context behind their words, and it’s very easy to insert your own interpretation based on how you say certain things. Do not assume that they are being critical or negative, sarcastic, upset, or even gushingly happy unless there are more than just slight contextual clues to help you.
- Answer in a way that puts you in the best light. Yes, it’s tempting to assume someone is being sarcastic and answer with sarcasm. But if they were being sincere you might inadvertently offend them. It is better to look like you totally missed their sarcasm than to assume sarcasm where there is none. Take their comments as positively as possible, and respond accordingly.
- If you really can’t tell, ask! If you are not certain what someone is saying or asking, ask them for clarification. People tend to assume they are perfectly clear in their communications, and they may be a little annoyed that you don’t understand, but that’s better than guessing wrong and really irritating them. Most people, once you ask for clarification, will realize that what they said could be unclear or taken several ways, and will gladly clarify.
- Decide on your company’s “voice” beforehand. Unless you are the only or obvious face of your company, people may not know expect it is you answering their comments. Try to maintain a consistent voice, especially if more than one in your company answers comments. Alternately, if there are several of you, and each of you may be known to customers in other ways, it may be okay to use your individual voice, so long as commenters have a way of knowing who it is responding.
- Do not EVER respond angry. Get someone else to do it or give yourself time to calm down before you even touch that keyboard. Don’t write an angry response you don’t intend to send to get it out of your system. One little slip and your tirade is out for everyone to see. Take the time to really look closely and impartially at what they said. Is there any truth to it? Ignore how they say things and focus on what they are really saying. Respond to the real problem as best you can and ignore any emotion behind it all. If you must stick up for yourself, be cordial and calm and try not to be accusatory in return. Take the high road.
- Don’t leave them hanging. While you don’t necessarily have to answer every comment, especially if it’s obvious they’re not expecting one, it’s still a good idea to participate and respond regularly. They’re commenting because they enjoyed something you said or because they wish to interact with your brand. Saying nothing back could discourage them from ever saying anything again. On the other hand, don’t always jump right in and respond, either. Give some time for other followers to respond first. Let your followers get to know one another through you and their impression of your brand rises. But do not ever ignore a negative comment! In most cases, some response is essential! Even if you cannot satisfy that commenter, others will be watching to see how you handle it.
- Be quick to apologize. If you do misread or misunderstand a comment and give a response that frustrates or offends be quick to apologize. Even if the problem was on their side, apologize for your part in the exchange. Some wars are not worth winning–being right doesn’t help if you drive away your customers. Making things right as soon as possible will make everyone who visits your site more comfortable.
- In social media no conversation goes unobserved. Unless you really are communicating by direct, private messaging, everything you say is seen by everyone. They may not participate in the dialogue, but they are watching and making judgments about you and about the person with whom you are interacting. This can be your biggest enemy when it’s you in the wrong, but it can be your biggest ally when the other person is being a jerk. When others see you trying to be kind, polite, helpful, and patient they will respect you more. They may even come to your aid if they see the other party as being unreasonable. But never forget for a moment that everyone is watching!
Interacting with fans of your company is what makes social media fun. How you choose to respond can help make your company fun for your fans. Take some time to consider each response. One bad response may not ruin your brand, but then again, it might! Better to be safe than sorry.