Negative online mentions about your brand are a huge bummer. They’re also inevitable when you’re managing customer support or running a PR, marketing, or a social campaign.

A global survey by Deloitte ranks reputation as executives’ top strategic risk. What really surprised me about the study was most executives don’t believe their reputation management strategies are strong enough to support their business.

Every day customers are talking about your brand online. From daily mentions to a larger (knock on wood) crisis, knowing how to respond is a must. Take it from Tswift, sometimes the ‘haters are gonna hate.’ Fortunately, the way you respond – after doing your obligatory ‘shake it off‘ dance – can revolutionize your reputation strategy and improve your business.

Here are five tips to help you get started.

Respond as soon as possible

Bad news travels fast.

The more proactive you can be about responding, the better. “Research shows that customer emotions become permanent with time. It’s best for an effective intervention to take place as close to the experience as possible,” says Baba Shiv, Stanford Professor of Marketing at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.

Customers expect quick responses on social media, especially on Twitter. Many companies hire employees to do just that – and only that. You care about your customers, and they want to feel important and heard. Show them your humility and compassion sooner rather than later.

Zappos.com does a great job of responding quickly. This tweet from an unhappy customer was replied to within the hour – at 3AM! It’s definitely no longer a world of 9-5 office hours, especially online.

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Take responsibility for your actions

Owning up to mistakes (even if it’s not entirely your fault) will regain the trust of your customers.

First, thank them for bringing the issue to your attention. Then outline the steps you’ll take to ensure it won’t happen again. You might think your customers don’t want to know the nitty gritty details. And they may not. But they’ll appreciate your willingness to share them.

A few years ago, Applebee’s unintentionally turned one negative Facebook mention into an social media disaster by allegedly deleting customer complaints on their Facebook page.

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Instead of taking ownership of the gaf, they got involved in a viral online argument that went into the wee hours of the night. It even caught the attention of the big publications.

Get creative with your messaging

The challenge with online communication is that it can be impersonal. Your audience can’t read your facial expressions or tone of voice. It can be difficult to convey humility or empathy, especially in 140 characters or less.

If text responses aren’t enough, a well-executed video is a great way to put a face to your response. It will humanize your brand and show you’re willing to make big gestures to care for customers.

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Last week, Southwest Airlines launched a sale that triggered some technical difficulties on their website. In response, they posted a video on their blog. What can you do to replicate their success?

  • Apologize
  • Give a brief summary of what happened and why
  • Explain what you’re doing to fix the problem
  • Thank customers for their patience and support

Basically, here’s what you need to know: stay sincere, be honest, and know that your customers don’t need to forgive you – so thank them profusely.

Offer a solution

A great way to gain more respect is to offer your customers helpful solutions. Explain why the problem won’t occur again or connect them with someone who can.

There’s a lot of debate over whether a public or private response is the way to go.

Public responses are best for:

  • Responding quickly to apologize and explain what you’ve done to address a concern.
  • Giving correct information if a comment or review is inaccurate.
  • Ask for contact information (DM or private message) to hash out the details offline.

Use private responses to:

  • Speak to a reviewer who was inappropriate.
  • Handle a complicated or one-time negative experience.
  • Convey any private or sensitive information.
  • Further explain or add more detail to your brief public response.

As for pot stirrers, spam, and trolls? Well, you know what they say about trolls.

On the other hand, a negative mention could also be a great opportunity to show off your brand. That’s right, I said it!

When the Four Seasons received feedback about a customer’s stay, they offered a solution which could also be an incentive for more people to return.

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Be human

Last but not least – be yourself. I personally love when a brand uses a lighthearted voice to defuse tough moments. O2, a telecoms firm in the UK, does this on a daily basis. Their voice on social media is both friendly, helpful, and a little cheeky.

Even when things get heated, they keep their cool. When they had an outage, their Twitter feed was full of frustrated customers threatening to cancel their contracts. Instead of tweeting standard responses, they used humor to keep the mood light.

Their response to the heat went viral. People started heading over to O2’s Twitter page just to follow along.

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Even during a rough moment, being human about it helped them build positive relationships.

Embrace the negative

Critiques can only make your brand stronger. Start thinking of negative mentions as opportunities to improve your product and services. This is just another reason why tracking or monitoring conversation about your brand online is valuable. Use the conversation to adapt to your customer’s needs and drive revenue.

How have you handled negative mentions about your brand? Share your tips with us!

Lindsey is Mention's Content Marketing Manager, where she thinks big, talks fast, and writes a lot. She's an avid reader and Spotify provides the soundtrack to her life. Get in touch with her @ProwseLa.

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