Handling negative press is a rite of passage in the business world. Whether a company is big or small, old or new, a customer incident or internal fumble can land some unwanted media attention. When under attack in the form of negative media coverage, most organizations tend to respond in one of two ways: 1) total radio silence or 2) defensiveness. Neither of these is a long-term strategy for success in overcoming criticism and building advocates. Below are three key strategies to deal with (and learn from) the negative and amplify the positive.
Take a step back: When customers and press don't rave about you how you'd like, the first thing to do is step back and ask yourself a couple of key questions:
First, is there factual misinformation that needs to be corrected? Reporters and editors from reputable media outlets welcome the opportunity to correct misinformation. Consumers and some of the more fly-by-night bloggers may be willing to revisit their claims but don't count on it. Going on the record by politely and professionally responding in the public forum where the comments were made, whether it's a blog, Yelp, or the brand's company Facebook page, will allow you to set the record straight. If they continue to debate the point, let your correction stand for itself rather than be pulled into a flaming war of words.
The second and more difficult question for many companies to ask themselves is: is there truth in this? Even when delivered with an incendiary tone, feedback that can help improve your business or service is invaluable and it would be a mistake to shoot both the message and the messenger.
Don't get dragged into the mud: Some people just aren't going to like you, no matter what you do. Whether it's discontinuing their favorite product, having an ad campaign they find annoying or being in a line of business they don't support, there won't be an answer that satisfies them. You can debate them all day long and you can even be RIGHT, but is that really the best use of your Facebook page? For all of your other followers it is like being at a dinner party where the hostess and one of the guests spent the whole evening fighting. They have better things to do and so do you. Focus on the other followers who really want to be there. If the offender continues, consider blocking them (and make sure your policies around this are clearly stated). Without someone engaging they'll most likely wind down and go somewhere else.
Nurture and reward your community of advocates: Too often consumers try to engage with brands via social media, complimenting a service or posting a photo with a product and what they get back is... nada. No matter how small your start up is, recognize and engage with your fans early and often. This doesn't mean you have to give freebies per se, often just offering simple acknowledgment is enough. Favorite their tweet or @mention them. Post a "thank you" in response to a compliment on Facebook, mentioning the person by name. Respond to a positive Yelp review letting them know you appreciate their support. Do this early and often, and when the negative talk comes up, they'll jump in with all the reasons you're great before you get a chance to.
Overall, it is most important to stay calm and lead your team through the firestorm. What other tactics have you used while facing negative press?
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