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On Small Business
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Posted at 12:01 AM ET, 07/30/2012

Small business advice: How to respond to harsh criticism on your social media pages

Every other week, On Small Business reaches out to a panel of young entrepreneurs for answers to some of the most pressing social media questions facing small business owners. The following responses are provided by members of the Young Entrepreneurs Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of young entrepreneurs.

Q: How should entrepreneurs handle harsh criticism from customers on social media pages?


(David Paul Morris - BLOOMBERG)

Heidi Allstop, CEO and founder of Spill in San Francisco, Calif.:

Embrace it head on. Apologize, and always take responsibility for the issue, even if it is not your fault. Surrendering your pride and taking the blame right off the bat is the fastest way to gain trust with your customers, and it is crucial for building brand loyalty.

Don’t make excuses; give empathy instead. By accepting the blame and attempting to remedy the situation publicly, you show future customers that you’re going to take good care of them if anything ever goes wrong. It also encourages them to speak up when something about your company is bothering them, and receiving that critical feedback is the only way that your company is ever going to improve.

Lastly, such a response shows customers that there is a living, breathing human behind the company, and it’s much harder to stay mad at a person who was kind to you than a software program that had a bug.

Saul Garlick, CEO of ThinkImpact in Washington, D.C.:

Responding honestly is absolutely the most important thing here. If you make a mistake, just own it and move on. If you genuinely don’t think you are at fault, go ahead and apologize for the fact that the experience was negative, but mention that you do what you can and that you will note the disappointment to make future modifications. People love to be heard. That is where your power is as an entrepreneur. Listen.

However, there is always the question of whether the commenter is credible. Sometimes people who are posting comments fly off base and have no real credibility. Don’t overcompensate. Make sure your response is equal to the scope of the claim or issue.

Allie Siarto, partner and director of analytics of Loudpixel in East Lansing, Mich.:

We like to write out potential questions and issues before they happen so that we’re prepared to answer them as they arise. For example, if someone complains about a product issue, we’ll offer an apology and see if we can get an email address or write a direct message to continue the conversation in private and resolve the issue through more traditional customer service processes.

We also need to recognize situations where people will post negatively just to vent. Look at other posts from the individual to determine whether they are expressing a legitimate concern, or if they have a consistent history of posting negative, trolling comments about other companies. If the concern is legitimate, the customer will typically be delighted to see you’re listening and that you genuinely care about fixing the problem.

Follow The YEC and On Small Business on Twitter.

Related: How to turn fuming customers into loyal fans

By  |  12:01 AM ET, 07/30/2012

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