Social media can be entertaining, but it’s also the perfect venue for ranting about poor experiences. How your business responds to complaints on social media should not be taken lightly! One wrong move can cost you.
Take It from Applebee’s.
Recently, the company fired a waitress in St. Louis for publicly posting a customer’s receipt (you could clearly read the signature). Although this violated their corporate policy around customer privacy, people caught wind of the situation and did not approve of Applebee’s actions. The story went viral.
Applebee’s posted a Facebook status update addressing the controversy, and it only fueled more negative commentary — thousands of posts by the hour — and threats to stop eating at their restaurants. Flustered by the overwhelming amount of activity, the company disabled user posts and hid posts that contained negative comments.
What’s happening now on Applebee’s Facebook page?
This week, they are still reeling from “the incident” (as one of their Facebook fans calls it). Although it’s back to regularly-scheduled programming, each photo of professionally-shot food on their menu is met with a mix of “looks yummy” comments and continued backlash.
What lessons can we learn from Applebee’s social media mistakes?
As Cicero said, “Any man can make mistakes but only an idiot persists in his error.” Here are some recommendations on how to manage customer responses in social media:
- Create a social media policy and community guidelines upfront. Social Media Examiner posted a great article with tips to creating a social media policy for your employees, including who does what, how they can/can’t do it and why you’re doing it. Since social media is continually evolving, review it often. You’ll also want to post a set of community guidelines on your Facebook page. Here’s a good example from Intel.
- Really listen to what customers are saying. They may have insight you are missing. Take it all in and consider if it warrants a change in the way you’re doing things.
- Anticipate questions or feedback customers may have. Whether it’s a product launch or company announcement, work with your PR, marketing and product teams to develop a set of questions and answers so you’re prepared to respond.
- Respond in a positive tone. No matter how harsh the criticism may be, leave any negative feelings you have behind. Stay professional and focused, and take a breath and a bit of time to craft a response before you address your customers.
- Be humble and say you’re sorry. People will see that there are humans working behind the corporate face.
- Consider not responding. Sometimes the best response is no response. Let it play out, especially if the conversation has become so angry or negative that anything you say will just fuel the fire.
- “Like” positive comments. Within the negative comments, you’ll probably still have fans responding positively! This week, Applebee’s has responded to positive comments with their own comments, but haven’t necessarily addressed the negative ones. A simple “Like” will do.
- Don’t delete comments. Unless the comments are defamatory or spam, leave people’s rants out there. If customers notice you’re deleting comments, this may enrage them more.
- Answer questions as best you can. You may not have all the answers right away, but do let your customers know that you are working on it. Also, don’t cut and paste the same response over and over again. Followers will think it’s a robot, not a real, live human being who cares about customers.
- Build a community of “lovers.” You probably have a group of customers who absolutely love and have benefited from your business. Create and foster a community of evangelists to help you respond directly to the naysayers.
Applebee’s is learning from their mistakes, and they’re slowly trying to repair what’s broken. Here’s a statement from their president on actions they’re taking, one of which is making people aware of their content and moderation guidelines. They’re also hiring “a respected and recognized social media expert” to guide them back to a more positive state.
What else would you suggest Applebee’s do?