How to engage trolls & critics in social media

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When customers complained about or criticized you 20 years ago, they mostly did so in private, or at least only in front of limited audiences. Today, they have a voice to the world on their own. And worse, they can voice these concerns and criticisms right on your own social channels.

While this is frustrating, unless you want to shut those channels down, it’s the new reality of corporate communications. Here are several strategies for engaging your critics online:

1. Take the high road
Don’t get into a back-and-forth, you’ll at best look petty and will likely make the issue a far bigger deal (and be noticed by far more people). Instead, take the high road and work to address and resolve the customer or critic’s issue directly. If they’re truly acting irrational or inappropriate, your other customers and followers will likely see this for what it’s worth as well.

2. Get your customers, fans and evangelists to respond
The very best response to critics doesn’t come from you directly – it comes from the critic’s direct peers who, in a similar situation, think very differently. Be ready for those inevitable critiques by knowing which customers, fans and evangelists are most likely to come to your aid when needed. That way, you can call on them when needed for a swift and successful response.

3. Correct errors, not opinions
If the criticism is inaccurate, feel free to correct it. But be sure to differentiate between fact and opinion. If it’s an opinion you disagree with, use one of the two response options above.

4. Don’t let legal edit your responses
It’s critical that you sound like a human being. Don’t use legalese or corporate speak if and when you respond. Work with your legal department beforehand (before these specific issues come up) to set some general guidelines about how to response, what issues to definitely not get into, etc. This is especially important for publicly-traded companies

5. Don’t take it personally
You have to develop thick skin, especially as you grow and become more successful. Competitors will be envious, and customers will expect more from you. Executives listed on the company Web site could also come directly under fire, even if they aren’t or weren’t directly involved in the dispute or issue in question. Sometimes, those executives will take critiques too personally and want to react rashly. Keep it professional, and try not to take it so personally. Easier said than done.

6. Take it seriously (when needed)
Make sure you understand any issues underlying the compliant, and take them seriously when necessary. Addressing (or ignoring) a superficial issue may leave unattended a bigger, recurring problem that will only make that superficial issue come up again, from another angle.

7. Ignore it
Sometimes, the right thing to do – and the hardest thing to do – is ignore the complaint or critique. It feels awful right now, but it will go away. And you’ll be happy you didn’t respond and/or make it a bigger issue in a couple days when it’s basically behind you.

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