Social media gives people power.
We've seen it help overthrow governments and organize nationwide protesting movements.
We've also seen it turned on companies who have abused their power for too long.
These are great things. People using these new tools to flex their collective muscle is good when there's an obvious benefit. But there's also a downside.
People sometimes get greedy and unruly.
They expect companies to cater to their every demand. So they complain on your Facebook page, or share their rants on Twitter. But it's a two-way street. Social media is a huge opportunity for businesses.
The problem is that like cyber-bullying, people behave differently online. It insulates people from how they would act in real life.
And when disgruntled people get together, they'll make your life extremely difficult.
Here are 5 tips on how to avoid a social media shakedown, and keep the crowds at bay.
Image courtesy of IainBuchanan
1. Apologize: It's Always Your Fault
Always start by apologizing.
The most important thing you can do is to show empathy. Don't just tell them you're sorry, but actually connect with them on a human level.
Once people feel like you understand, then they ease up. They recognize that another human feels their pain, and will surely help in some way.
And remember, even if it isn't your fault... it's still your fault.
2. Never Debate the Issue
Everyone makes mistakes.
Even the customer will be in the wrong sometimes. But you shouldn't start a debate. It's not constructive, and the person will just get defensive.
When people feel defense, their bodies and mind immediately switch into fight or flight. People feel like they're being attacked, and they will try to fight back.
Even if you know you're right, you still need to demonstrate that you see the other person's point of view and that you want to help fix the issue.
Then you move on to the next step.
3. Take it Private as Quickly as Possible
Once you've publicly acknowledged who's at fault and connected with empathy, take the conversation private ASAP.
The easiest and most effective solution is to have them email you. Set up a simple contact form for social media complaints, and have it sent to whoever is best in your organization.
You should use Email for a few reasons. People can give you the entire story, as opposed to limitations on Faceboook or Twitter. And the second reason is that if a person is seriously upset, you don't want them screaming at you on the phone.
So let them vent their frustration in an email, settle down after some time, and then you can control how and when to contact them.
4. Prevent Negative Reviews Altogether
The best defense is always a good offense.
So try to prevent these negative reviews before they even begin. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to reward customer loyalty.
Pay attention to who writes nice reviews on Yelp, and try to connect with them on Twitter or Facebook. You can incentivize good behavior through services like Foursquare, and reward customer loyalty with special services or discounted products.
There are also new services like Skweal, that help you encourage customers to contact you directly, before turning to social networks to complain.
5. Create a Feedback Loop
If someone did had a real, valid issue, then there must be a problem somewhere.
Look beyond the symptoms and try to figure out exactly why the problem started in the first place. Then make sure the appropriate department or person responsible understands what happened, and why.
Make sure it doesn't happen again.
Mistakes are actually great things. Taking risks and making little bets help us learn valuable lessons. So don't focus on avoiding mistakes.
But you need to avoid repeat mistakes. These chronic issues are what will kill your brand in the long run.
The big difference between being remarkable and becoming another commodity business is by making promises and keeping them.
The good news is that you're on the front lines. You'll know when something is wrong.
And when people have a bad experience with your brand or product, you'll hear about it.