Go on, Google yourself. Pleasantly surprised? There, you can relax. If, on the other hand, you found something wince-worthy, here are some of Affinity PR’s processes and strategies for dealing with any negative comments and reviews:
- Has the negative comment happened because you made a genuine error (of judgement, expression, by inadvertent miscommunication of what you intended to convey, a context-changing typo or similar)? If so, put it right immediately. Admit you made a mistake and are happy to have the opportunity to clarify what you really intended to say or do. Invite them to get in touch with you offline, so you can talk through any outstanding queries. Eating a little humble pie now can save an awful lot of PR problems later. Then step away and let everyone cool down.
- Did they make a genuine error? Can you see from the context of their complaint that they are just misinformed? Tactfully, give them the full picture (i.e. avoid any use of the word “actually” as that can come across as confrontational). This shows why putting in place official PR Response Solutions is a good idea, such as company Statements on various subjects, FAQ’s, Media Releases etc. These are essential components of any good Risk Assessment/ Business Continuity Planning process and, crucially, can buy you time while you are dealing with any additional issues arising from the complaint. Ironically, this complaint may have helpfully alerted you to a much bigger problem that needs your immediate attention. Be measured in tone so it’s always professional but light (e.g. “We’re happy to clarify that our policy has always been X and you can read the full details here….”).
- Meant every word and you’re ready to stand up and fight? If you’ve received a personal attack online for expressing your strongly-held view or belief, decide how important this subject is to you and to the overall success of your business. If it’s an integral business value that underpins your entire commercial ethos, do defend your comments strongly with a professionally written PR response that explains why your company believes this. If it’s not integral, consider whether this is the right battle to fight in the public domain, and with people who might be potential customers or sector influencers. Entrepreneurs need to be adaptable and resilient, so accept and state that it is ok for someone to disagree with your opinions, provided that they express themselves in a courteous and respectful way.
- There are always exceptions and sometimes decisive action is required. Vindictive, hate-filled personal attacks such as misogyny or racist, sexist, homophobic comments cannot be tolerated, but it’s important that you are seen to explain why you are now going to remove the post and why you find it offensive (as sometimes prejudice really is caused by sheer ignorance). Keep your responses brief, professional and calm, then hit “delete”. You never “invite” someone to remove their own offensive posting as that is passive behaviour. You always take decisive action.
- Should you always delete someone’s negative post? No. You’re a grown up. Social media can be as fickle as it is fast-moving. Today’s massively heated debate may fizzle out in 48 hours. Just watch what’s happening and bite your tongue. If the situation is rapidly deteriorating into an online cull of your overall reputation, then one focussed and timely management response is better than lots of rapid-fire responses of the “Yes, but…” or “And another thing….” type. The latter risks you looking at best defensive, at worst disorganised (i.e. like you’re making up PR and communications strategy on the hoof). Sometimes, allowing an open debate to run its natural course without your input can be the strongest strategy.
- Do you ignore the bad reviews and acknowledge the good ones? Deal only with the bad ones? What’s your strategy? Decide on the PR Response Strategy that fits with your overall brand values. For example, part of the brand allure of haute couture fashion houses is created by cultivating an air of exclusivity and mystique. So it’s fine for their online content to be somewhat aloof in tone and one-way, as if there’s no need for any management responses because they are in some way “above it all” (often luxury brands won’t allow any online engagement beyond a “Like” function). This strategy wouldn’t work for a family-friendly restaurant, though. Their customers want regular online chat and management responses, written in a friendly and engaging tone. Decide what approach your customers are likely to want and be consistent.
Can PR’s keep bad stuff out of the media? An experienced reputation manager can certainly advise you on all your best strategies to get the PR outcomes you want, both online and offline. This may include referring you to a lawyer (or vice versa) for specialist advice before any PR strategy can be implemented.