How to avoid and handle negative feedback on social media

This morning I had the opportunity to speak at the Kedron Brook Business Group's breakfast about social media and tackling negative feedback online. 

When Robert Cooper and I were talking about this opportunity to speak, he mentioned that a lot of business owners are worried about bad reviews and negative feedback online. I thought that was a good thing - as it is something I am uniquely qualified to talk about. You see, I spent 8 years working in State Politics, and for nearly 3 of those years I was the Premier of Queensland… online at least. 


Being Campbell Newman on social media taught me a lot more than just some colourful new insults. Between the greenies, farmers, mining towns, LGBT and Christian groups, cyclists, motoring enthusiasts, hoons, bikies, ambos, doctors, nurses, firefighters, lawyers, judges, public servants, unions, labor and LNP supporters - I’ve weathered a few social media storms. So here are my top tips for avoiding and handling criticism online: 

Be Better.
If you want to avoid criticism online, be better at customer service, be better at making coffee, be better at meeting deadline, be better at managing your client’s expectations. Create better policies and be better at explaining them to voters! Basically, if you want to avoid negative feedback, be better at your job and don’t give people a reason to complain. 

Know that the online world and the real world are the same thing. 
There was a time when people treated the online world as separate from the real world. They thought if they simply ignored what was happening online, it wouldn't impact on what they do in real life. That doesn't work anymore. 

I used to get a lot of complaints about emergency departments. These complaints would invariably be posted late at night by people waiting to see a doctor. They were worried, tired and usually bored - and they had a device in their pocket so they could directly complain to the Premier of the State.  

Now that everyone has a smartphone in their pocket, it is so easy for them to merge the real world and the online world. Ignoring online feedback won't make it go away - it just means the conversation is happening without your input. 

The interesting thing about the Emergency Department complaints, is that when I responded, most people would be embarrassed about their posts. They would admit they were actually quite happy with their treatment and that there was no need to follow it up. This is the thing about negative feedback on social media - it's not what people are saying about you, but how you handle the complaint. 

So how should you handle a complaint online? 

  • Don’t press delete! In my experience, cutting off the head of one bad review will result in two more coming back, angrier and louder.
  • Have a system in place to handle your feedback.  Ideally, this should tie in with how you deal with complaints via email, on the phone or if someone walks into your shopfront to complain. 
  • Take it offline. If the complaint is about a delicate matter, acknowledge it on social media and then let them know you will contact them via phone or email. If you don't have their contact details, ask them to send you a private message or an email so you can work it out without an audience. 

Unfortunately it's not possible to avoid all negativity online.  As the wise philosopher Taylor Swift once said: The haters gonna hate…  There is a very good reason I managed Campbell’s social media - it meant he didn’t see the insults, attacks and threats on his wife and daughters. I did. However, unlike their loving husband and protective father, I was less likely to fire back and tell the attackers to get knotted.

Now most small businesses can’t afford to hire someone full time to manage their social media - but you do need to find ways not to take the feedback personally. If you feel yourself firing up and getting ready to tell the world how you really feel… Run away from the keyboard. Get some space, take some time and when you do respond, run your post by someone else to check it’s not too inflammatory.  

It’s also important to set sound some boundaries. I’m a big believer in House Rules - not the TV show - but a set of guidelines that tell people what is acceptable is a forum. If you set out the guidelines, it is easier to remove trolls and handle the ugly side of the internet. 

You should also acquaint yourself with Facebook’s profanity filter and moderation blocklist - these are two tools that give you greater control over the content that appears on your page. The profanity filter blocks swear words - but it’s not perfect.
It often blocks the word dam or balls - which is not great if you are a water company or soccer club. It also doesn’t keep up with Australian’s incredible creativity when it comes to swearing. Fortunately you can plug the gap with the moderation blocklist, by entering every beep-head or misspelling you can think of. 

Finally, you should remember that the law does apply online… contempt of court and defamation are real things and a former student has had to pay a NSW teacher $100,000 for defaming her on Twitter and Facebook.  However, considering the large number of lawyers in this room - I’ll leave the legal advice to them. 

The bad news is online criticism is going to happen. You will get the odd bad review. The good news is, unless you’re planning to become the Queensland Premier or shoot a much loved lion in Zimbabwe, you’re not going to see the crazy social media storms I’ve experienced. And if you are planning to do either of these things… please talk to me first!