The Washington Post

Small business advice: Should entrepreneurs respond to harsh criticism via social media?

On Small Business routinely reaches out to a panel of entrepreneurs for answers to some of the most pressing questions facing small business owners. The following responses are provided by members of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC).

Q: How should business owners respond to negative feedback or damaging remarks about their company on social networks?

(Scott Griessel - Creatista)

Nicole Smartt, vice president and co-owner of Star Staffing in Petaluma, California:

“There’s a difference between constructive criticism and abuse. Criticism helps us improve across the board, but vitriol for its own sake reflects poorly on the business in ways that are harder to fix.

Remember that social media makes it easier for your customer base to market for you, willingly. If a negative comment clearly addresses a shortcoming, meet it head on. If it’s clearly abusive, you can choose to delete that comment and address the complainant directly, or in clear cases of vitriol, ignore it completely.

As with many facets of business, it’s important to evaluate on a case-by-case basis. Consider the validity of the complaint, the terminology employed, and the possible impact of each negative comment. It isn’t necessary to hide every mistake – these things happen – but each negative comment is a potential moment to rise to the occasion.

It can be very beneficial to develop a plan of attack for negative comments, where general guidelines are agreed upon.

Don’t be afraid to stand your ground or to acknowledge mistakes. Both are opportunities to prove your outstanding capabilities, and can sometimes turn in your favor, if handled properly.”

Bryan Silverman, co-founder of Star Toilet Paper in New York, New York:

“We handle negative comments head on. We actually try to funnel our negative comments to social media for a number of reasons. First off, it helps show everyone, not just the one person, how they can respond to those issues. For us, it could be an issue with redeeming coupons, worries about using toilet paper with ink printed on it, or any number of other possibilities. By getting them on social media, we show how everyone can handle the issue and hopefully help mitigate the issue.

Second, we understand that if one person has the issue, chances are someone else does too. It helps our customers recognize they are part of a group that belongs to a community of consumers interested in our product and it helps them get their questions answered all at once rather than us having to answer them individually.”

Andrew Schrage, co-owner of Money Crashers Personal Finance in New York, New York:

“One thing you can do to limit negative comments is to post rules for commenting on each of your social media pages. For instance, set standards explaining that no obscene or profane language is tolerated, and that all comments should be respectful. Furthermore, announce that you maintain the right to delete any derogatory comment.

Any comment that includes foul language should be deleted - but that’s not to say that you should delete all negative comments. A social media account with nothing other than glowing, positive reviews of your business can come off as suspicious to your followers.

If you notice a respectful negative comment, find out the details of the issue and work quickly to resolve the matter. Post your solution on your account. This will not only take care of your dissatisfied customer, but also demonstrates to other readers that you generally care about your customers. If there’s a comment that contains inaccurate or otherwise untrue information, feel free to defend yourself and your business. Just be sure to do so professionally.”

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of promising young entrepreneurs.

Follow the YEC and On Small Business on Twitter.

J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he runs the On Small Business blog.



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