Badvocates: Dealing with Negative Sentiment in Social Media

Joey Fung  

February 22, 2011

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Companies aren’t always prepared for the consequences of opening the doors to social media. They hope to extend their brand through Facebook “likes” and consumer advocates, but need to have protocols in place to handle negative feedback from what Mashable calls “Badvocates.” Social media channels are public spaces, and cannot be handled the same way as a call from an angry customer or bad press from a publication. Social media requires quick reaction, transparency, and a human touch that requires dedicated planning.

What causes negative sentiment?
Just as consumer advocates are inspired by good experiences with a brand, Badvocates are a result of bad experiences with a brand. These can be caused by poor products, inconsistent channels or expectations, or negative relationships with people who represent the company. When addressing complaints on social media, one needs to understand the nature of the problem that caused the negative reaction.

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Why are we receiving negative feedback?
When choosing how to deal with the complaint, the company needs to understand why this person is complaining. With social media in the eye of the public, jumping to conclusions will only cause more negative reactions. This person may be a legitimately unhappy customer, or a “dedicated complainer,” an activist, or even just trying to be funny.

How to deal with complaints
Reach out immediately and publicly if it is a legitimate problem. Lack of transparency or delays in response come across as disdain or disinterest. Some people just want to be heard, and a simple response is all it takes. Nestle made a number of mistakes in this arena when Greenpeace organized to protest their use of Palm Oil.

Check the facts. Figure out if the complaint is simply a misunderstanding or a real concern.

Offer solutions to fix the problem. If it’s a misunderstanding, politely correct the facts. If it can be done through a social channel, don’t send them to an 800 number. If your company is taking action, keep them updated. If you’re like Wheat Thins or Domino’s Pizza, you can use turn the solution into a marketing strategy.

Respect privacy, and after addressing the complaint in public, take the conversation private if it involves confidential information.

Don’t make it personal. Even if it seems justified, don’t ever attack the complainer or lose your temper. Remember, anything written in the social space is recorded forever.

Decide if a response is needed. If they are a dedicated complainer or trying to be funny, it’s not likely to be a battle worth fighting, especially if you have consumer advocates that can come to the rescue. When a Facebook member posted “My Jeep is a piece of crap,” fans of the Jeep Facebook page voiced their views on how they love their Jeeps. Even when more members contributed problems with their Jeeps, the participation of the fans underscored their loyalty.

Jeremiah Owyang offers this handy triage from Social Strategy: Getting Your Company Ready:

Influence isn’t everthing. Don’t only address complainers with the most followers. An ignored customer can easily become a badvocate.

How do you prevent badvocacy?

Creating good, and consistent, experiences. Excellence experiences will leave little room for negative sentiment. Keep this consistent across all channels, regardless of the point in the purchase cycle to inspire advocacy. This must also meet any expectations defined by earlier touch-points.

Keep the discussion going. Continue to use social media to address customer needs and input for the future of the company. Transparency and involvement are big wins for consumer advocates.

Humanize the brand. A key benefit of social media is to give the company a personality. Attacking a brand is easy, but if it’s given a face it feels much more personal and lends a vulnerability that can reduce the amount of negative sentiment.

Have any other tips to deal with badvocates?