Social media has become a new way to find new customers, provide support, market products, share news and even develop customer relationships. Because of the free-form nature of services like Twitter and Facebook, large companies can enjoy the benefits of frequent personal interaction. Dell can "like" a comment from a happy laptop owner on Facebook, Bristol-Myers can share corporate news directly with their 67,000 followers on Twitter.
As with any emerging technology (and yes, social media is still emerging) there's a possibility for abuse. Customers can also complain about a new laptop or a new pharmaceutical. In some cases, a simple complaint can escalate into a vicious attack. At the farthest end of this spectrum are comment trolls, those who only want to harm a company through repeated social commentary.
Fortunately, a few social media experts have advice on how to handle these trolls. They have dealt with the issue many times and know what works and what doesn't.
1. Don't use automated responses for legitimate complaints
One of the worst things any large company can do in dealing with social media complaints and comment trolls is to send an automated response. In some cases, the grievances and complaints are legitimate, but automated tweets and Facebook messages just compound the problem.
Amir Zonozi, chief of strategy at the social analytics company Zoomph, says that as a company grows, it's critical to put more and more effort into real customer interaction, but it's also tempting to compromise and automate this process. United Airlines learned this the hard way last November when a passenger complaint about being sexually harassed and received a terse, automated response. K-Mart also uses automated responses when customers complained about Black Friday policies.
2. Take your time in developing a response to real issues
There's a tendency to deal with negative comments on social media swiftly. After all, the longer a comment sits without a response, the more damage it can cause. Social media expert Matthew Dooley says that it's better to analyze the situation first. Those running social media for a large company like FedEx or Best Buy are still humans. They can react in anger or emotion. And, he says "fixing the problem" is human nature.
"It's unreasonably satisfying to outwit someone who's hurling insults at you," he says. A better response? Ask questions, react in kindness and address the person directly in a personal way. It's a good practice to acknowledge where the commenter is making a valid point or even apologize as necessary. Analyzing and responding slowly makes sense, although Dooley says this is not the same thing as taking too long to respond and angering the commenter even more.
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