Avoidance is NOT a social media strategy

The world of social media is a planet of many inhabitants. Much like planet Earth, people have disagreements and misunderstandings. But sometimes, when brands respond to criticism, it sounds like they’re from Mars.

Community Managers are the gatekeepers for effective communication between brands and consumers, which includes Facebook, Twitter and more. They normalize brands on these platforms; they interact like other users would. Similar to Elliott helping E.T. cope in a new environment, CMs help brands understand the seemingly alien language of the audience, and how to respond to negativity.

When a customer complains about a faulty product or customer service, or expresses general displeasure of the brand, the average brand approach on social media tends to be lackluster or – even worse – nonexistent.

Avoiding the difficult conversation says: We don’t care about you, or your business.

Brands will often make the mistake of avoiding the topic altogether, which could mean the loss of a follower or brand advocate. This could be due to a lack of a response strategy, or inexperienced staff managing social media pages. Avoidance could be an intentional decision, or multiple processes working out of sync.

Big or small, the volume of negative conversations can ruin brand reputation.

So why respond to negativity at all? Why not hide comments or pretend like they aren’t there? Because it’s about shifting brand perception.

People are constantly talking about companies online and offline. Socializing the conversation puts the power in the hands of the brand. When negativity gets out of control, it means the brand is sitting by passively. If a representative, like a Community Manager, steps in to reply to negativity, it is far more likely that perceptions will change.

Responding to negativity has the potential to shift perception from negative sentiment to positive.

Adverse events that brands are more likely to see often involve the company values and policies. The Target Facebook Page is an example of this activity. In a recent comment, a consumer challenged Target’s support of the military:


Target responded to the unsavory comment with helpful information and professionalism:


The reply was posted in 23 minutes – this is lightning fast when you consider only 17.6% of brands claim they respond to complaints on social media within an hour.

For some brands, it takes a little bit longer to respond. In 2013, clothing retailer DKNY and photographer Brandon Stanton (Humans of New York) had a very public copyright infringement issue. DKNY used Brandon’s photos without permission, and he used his Facebook page to ask his 500k+ followers to share his story, and ask the company to donate money to the YMCA.

They did.

“DKNY has always supported the arts and we deeply regret this mistake. Accordingly, we are making a charitable donation of $25,000 to the YMCA in Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn in Mr. Stanton’s name.”

DKNY waited until conversation reached critical mass, and it forced their hand to make a contribution. Treat adverse events like Target does, not DKNY.

An ‘adverse’ or ‘negative’ event is a turning point to drive positive engagement with the brand.

Engaging with customers, even if it’s a reply to a user comment about how the product isn’t performing the way they want it to, provides value to loyal fans. The case could be that the user loves the brand, but is disappointed in one product.

Community Managers work to build and grow online communities, and part of the process is engaging with fans to make personal connections. Community Managers help facilitate the efforts of brand presences through providing a memorable experience and a human voice.

Addressing negative feedback on social media is the perfect opportunity to provide outstanding customer service.

In the world of social media, Community Managers don’t always have free reign to respond to every piece of customer feedback on brand pages. Often, brands are timid about negativity, but it is possible to sway online conversation to the positive side of the spectrum.

It’s time to start addressing negativity. Community Managers will be your Elliott, and get you home.


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