Everyone likes a good laugh. But companies don’t generally laugh when negative online candor is directed their way regarding the people, processes, services or products they offer.

The interesting thing is many companies have no idea what’s being said about them online. They simply don’t have the tools and processes in place to monitor the web, identify comment threads, generate reports and address the comments. With social media so prevalent in our society (giving a voice to anyone anytime) doing nothing at all or burying one’s head in the sand can cost companies a lot in terms of damage to their brand image and bottom line.

Celebrities can laugh off social comments, but can your business afford to? Not likely.
Remember the old adage, if one person is angry with your company they will tell approximately 10 people? Well, with social media now ingrained in our culture, can you imagine what that number has amped up to? Hundreds, thousands, maybe millions.

As a test, we did some research on one of our clients. We looked at two locations in Texas and two locations in California where they had branch offices. Although they are a large and successful insurance company, the comments we found were scathing.

  • “I have just went through the worst few days of my life with your company. Especially the experience spent with your agent (name) at (location).
  • In the end, I got screwed over on my refund for cancelling my policy.
  • I will be blasting your company on social media to hopefully deter as many people away from you as possible.”

The impact of negative online reviews is important in that 80% of customers are influenced by advice found online about products and services according to market studies.

In one pool we found over 240 comments like the one above and some much worse and much more detailed. Many of these particular comments would not be able to be smoothed over with a friendly email or call. The common threads across these comments identified a need for communication changes, process changes and responsiveness.

However, depending on your business and the severity of the issue, someone reaching out from the company to address an individual’s issue, listen to them, provide a reason and a solution may very well be all that it takes. When people are angry, they want to shout it from the virtual rooftops of social media. A savvy company can identify negative comments quickly, respond to customers, offer an apology and perhaps an incentive or gift. People want the satisfaction of knowing they’ve been heard and if they don’t get that satisfaction from your company then they will attempt to get it from anyone who will listen. Be the first response they receive, address the issue and eliminate the threat to your brand.

To get started, you need to work with a social marketing company that can develop Online Reputation Management Reports based upon factors you establish collectively. Perhaps you only want to know about online comments centered around newly established sales offices. You many then want the comments grouped by type (1) Product issues; (2) Service Issues; (3) Personnel Issues; (4) Process Issues; etc.

Next, to make this data actionable, you then need to look for common threads within each of the grouped comments. You may find that by altering a process or adding a product/service enhancement you could address a high percentage of the comments. For personnel issues, if enough negative comments center around one particular individual there may be a need for some one-on-one coaching or disciplinary action.

Acting on these “voice of the customer” issues can help improve your brand, products/services, processes and people. But what should you do about each specific individual who has offered up a complaint?

A good social marketing company will have a staff of “comment responders” who can reach out to individuals on your behalf. These first responders are generally armed with standardized responses, incentives and other offers to make the offended party feel satisfied. The responders will attempt to diffuse the situation, confirm they understand the issue, state that they will report the issue internally and then ask the individual what else they could do for them. Standard helpdesk software will allow the responders to log the individual’s name, date, email address, comments and proposed resolution. The software will also be able to generate reports to provide further insight to business decision makers.

You have one brand image to protect. Don’t let a social media wildfire become out of control or a surprise to you.

Tony Streeter is the Chief Marketing Officer, SVP at Y&L Consulting, Inc. in San Antonio, Texas. Mr. Streeter has led new product development, Ecommerce marketing, and integrated platform marketing initiatives for major companies such as Harland Clarke, Deluxe Corporation and RR Donnelley. Currently, Mr. Streeter leads marketing and branding initiatives for Y&L Consulting, a comprehensive IT Services & Solutions company specializing in IT Development, Information Management/BI, and Service Desk Services.