By: Randi Cairns

If you’ve been online for more than two seconds, you’ve already seen the good, bad, and ugly of the interwebs. Everybody has something to say, and it’s not always pretty. As a business with a social media presence, you have no doubt already been thrown into this fray or will find yourself there soon. So how do you deal with the chatter?

Listen. You shouldn’t be the only one talking here. Your social media channels aren’t a commercial, or at least they shouldn’t be. What do folks have to say about you/your brand? If you don’t yet know the answer to this, you’ve just determined your first actionable item. Read your reviews. Set up Google Alerts for your brand. Follow your own social media channels. You can’t guide the talk about your brand if it’s happening off your radar.

Expect to make people unhappy and have a plan in place to address critiques and concerns. What your mama said is true: You’re not going to please 100% of people 100% of the time. Having a plan for what to do when this proves to be the case means you’re not responding in a reactive way.

Remember you have an audience. This isn’t between you and one unhappy customer. This is between you, them, and, well, anyone with an internet connection. And they’re paying attention to more than the negative comment. They’re watching YOU. How quickly and how do you respond? And they’re going to observe the outcome, too.

Your silence is still an answer. Do you know what your silence says? It says you’re not paying attention. Or, that you don’t care. Neither of those is true, right? Seriously, right??? So don’t be silent; make sure you respond!

Make this a two-way conversation. Of course, it’s easy to respond to positive feedback and comments. Yay! People like you and what you’re doing.

But how you respond to the negative comments is just as—if not more—important. What is that negative comment about? Did you make a mistake? If so, apologize sincerely and attempt to rectify it. Answer like a decent human being would if they were called to task for something they did wrong. This is NOT the time for a canned response, nor is it the time for snark and rudeness. Respond publicly. This tells the commenter (and all watching) that you are in fact listening and working to be better.

Grab a pitcher (and some sugar). You are uniquely positioned to make some darn tasty lemonade. Those bad reviews or nasty comments are an opportunity waiting to be seized. Everyone messes up, and your business is no exception. Respond well to a critique and you’ve not only maintained the customer/follower who is upset, but you’ve turned them into a fan who’s singing your praises and bringing along new business.

Don’t believe me? Ask @Waterstones about that time they accidentally locked a customer in a bookstore:

“We’re pleased to announce that @DWill is a free man once more. Thanks for your concern and tweets!”

(You haven’t held a customer hostage, have you? So chances are pretty good you’ll come out ahead if you play your cards right.)

But the trolls! You’ve no doubt met these characters, right? They’re not looking for resolution to a problem; they’re looking to wreak havoc. Trolls can’t be reasoned with and should not be engaged. Don’t feed the trolls. However, there’s an exception here.

Can you use this opportunity to assert your company’s position about something important to you? Make a general statement about what you will and will not tolerate? For instance, a nasty misogynistic comment might be met with, “At xxx (your company’s name), we’re all about strong women.” (You can do better, but you get the general idea.) If you can respond, even to a troll, with a powerful statement about who you and your company are, that exchange will reflect positively on your brand. If there is no value to be gained by engaging the troll, back away slowly.

Engagement is everything. Be funny. Be contrite. Be helpful. Be authentically you (unless “you” has a tendency to rage and use curse words—then maybe be “you-ish”). Be REAL. Deliver value and determine to meet your audience’s needs. The byproduct of doing these things is that you will be liked and trusted. And those “likes”? Those folks are now not only following you, but they’re ambassadors for you as well.