SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Putting your community in the social media limelight brings the risk of receiving occasional negative comments. You might be thinking, “Won’t negative comments turn other potential customers away?”

Not necessarily, says David Burton, county engagement specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

“Negative feedback also provides an excellent opportunity to showcase your customer service or response,” Burton said. “Resolving negative issues can result in three times more positive exposure for a business or a community.”

Burton suggests equipping yourself with tactics for handling the negativity when it inevitably appears.

If it involves a community, like a city government or school district, then a team needs to be in place to address it.

“The days of complaining about social media and hoping it is just a fad are over. Social media is here to stay, so we should instead find ways to use it positively,” he said.

Burton offers seven basic tips that can provide direction.

1. Respond publicly as quickly as possible

When you receive a negative comment that warrants engagement, respond promptly and publicly. This doesn’t just make a difference to the person who made the comment. “It ensures others in your community will see that you are proactive in handling customer complaints,” Burton said.

2. Take the conversation somewhere private

“Taking the conversation to a private message or phone call shows the person in question that you value what they have to say and that you are committed to providing a solution,” Burton said. However, it also means hiding more potential negativity from readers.

3. Be understanding, not snippy

A lot of the time, unhappy customers just want to know they are being heard. Have empathy and listen. “It is one of the quickest ways to put out a fire before it is started,” Burton said.

The standing of a local government is maintained through polite and respectful responses to online comments. A response to a specific comment is likely to be read by other members of the public. This can be an opportunity to demonstrate the professionalism and ethics of the local government.

4. Offer a solution

“No matter what you say to a distraught customer, it will not make a bit of difference if you do not showcase any follow-through,” Burton said.

5. Know when not to engage

Unfortunately, “trolling” can happen on your brand page or posts. These comments may be aggressive or derogatory. Instead of engaging with the people making these comments, Burton says, focus more on making sure your community knows what is being done to address the situation.

“If you are sure their claims are without merit, the best long-term strategy may be to ignore them,” he said. “However, since social media is a highly visible public forum, commenting once to the effect that what they are saying is inaccurate and unfair will at least give others the true picture.”

6. Talk the talk and walk the walk

It’s good to acknowledge a problem, but if you don’t follow up with concrete actions, you’ll end up back where you started and potentially upset your customer even more. “Once you’ve got a conversation going with the customer out of the spotlight, make sure you understand the problem and outline what the next steps will be to fix it,” Burton said.

7. Avoid censorship

Deleting excessive numbers of negative posts will reflect poorly on the local government and can cause the community to disengage or become angry. “Local governments should have a policy on the type of posts or comments that should be removed, and apply it consistently,” Burton said.

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