Less Than Half of Marketers Have a Plan for Dealing With Negative Social Buzz

Having a plan for negative social buzz helps marketers determine which complaints to respond to, and which are better left alone.


eMarketer estimates that more than 88 percent of businesses are using social media this year. Yet most marketing professionals have difficulty effectively measuring their success and nearly half of them do not have a plan in place for dealing with negative posts.

Social media training firm Social Media Marketing University (SMMU) found one-quarter of marketers don’t have a plan but are working on one, and nearly one-quarter more have no plan — and no plan for a plan.

negativeEven without a plan, however, most marketers do respond to negative feedback, most within one hour. Fifty-two percent said they responded within 24 hours. Only one in five respondents reported never or hardly ever responding to negative social buzz.          
Walmart once took a passive approach to its critics on social media, using various platforms simply as a convenient media relations tool to push out messages. Last year, the company’s social media team began responding to negative posts swiftly, positively and by providing information.

After the retail giant sent out an innocuous tweet reading, ”We are honored to employ #veterans & support them and their families in every way we can. ‘RT’ to join us in saluting America’s heroes,” one veteran responded: ”Bullshit I put my app in and didn’t even get a call back, walmart sucks a hairy asshole.”

negativeThis time Walmart took an active approach to social and responded, “Please review our Welcome Home Commitment to learn more about opportunities & support efforts…”
Walmart’s senior director of digital communications Chad Mitchell told Digiday, “Social does a great job of giving people a voice. The bad part is it can be amplified. Sometimes it’s exaggerated. Walmart seems to be the subject of many great urban legends and jokes, so we need to separate what’s a legitimate complaint versus someone mouthing off.”

It isn’t possible for Walmart to respond to more than 60,000 mentions it receives each day. So the company began conducting audience audits, looking at influencer stats, who was engaging with the brand, when and why. The data helped Walmart determine which criticisms to respond to and which to leave alone. From Digiday:

One of the things Walmart learned by sifting through social data was that it had to have more than one Twitter handle. It now uses seven that are focused on corporate-reputation management. Another lesson learned was that social operations needed to be divided into two teams: marketing and corporate-reputation management. The 20-person marketing team handles the main Walmart Twitter and Facebook accounts and uses them as a promotional vehicle. The other team, a gang of four, operates the seven other feeds and is in charge of non-store-related and issue-based mentions.

Think of them as Walmart’s online reputation police. There are, of course, legitimate criticisms over wages, working conditions, allegations of wrongful termination and concerns over squelching local businesses. But there are also criticisms and concerns that can be dealt with. The challenge for Mitchell and his team is to figure out which mentions should get a response.

Responding to (and anticipating) social media criticism is a necessary part of community building and customer relations, but doing so without a plan can backfire. The most important thing to keep in mind when responding to negative buzz is to stay positive.

First, determine which type of negative feedback you are dealing with before deciding how and if you respond. As outlined by Josh Catone for the American Express OPEN Forum, types of feedback may include:

Straight Problems – Someone has an issue with your product or service and has laid out exactly what went wrong. This type of feedback is negative in the sense that it paints your business in a poor light, but it can be helpful in exposing real problems that need to be dealt with.
Constructive Criticism – Even more helpful is when the comment comes with a suggestion attached. Many customers — including some of your most loyal — will use social media to suggest ways in which you can improve your product or service. While this type of feedback may point out your flaws, and is thus negative, it can be extremely helpful to receive.
Merited Attack – While the attack itself may not be merited, the issue that catalyzed it does have merit in this type of negative feedback. Essentially, you or your company did something wrong, and someone is angry.
Trolling/Spam – The difference between trolling and a merited attack are that trolls have no valid reason for being angry at you. Also in this category are spammers, who will use a negative comment about your product or service (whether true or not) to promote a competing service.

The first three merit a positive response, even if the criticism is the result of a perceived problem rather than an actual problem. “Even this type of complaint should be given a response, if only to say, “Thanks for bringing it to our attention, but here’s why we do it that way,” writes Catone. Always ignore and swiftly remove trolling or spammy posts.

Do you have a plan for dealing with negative social buzz? If not, do you plan to write one? Let us know in the comments.