No ComplainingI left the independent school world nearly one year ago to join an advertising agency. When I made the move, I thought I was leaving behind much of the concern and caution the organization exhibited with regard to getting involved in social media.

 

However, after dealing with clients in the financial services, retail, non-profit, government/military, healthcare and professional services industries, I have noticed a common theme among the first question I am asked when I propose a social media plan to a client (even if they don’t always verbalize it the same way): “What do I do when someone says something negative about me?”

 

Often, the client’s first reaction is to respond quickly trying to “correct” the negative impression and disputing statements made by the offending poster. Other clients want to immediately delete the post, concerned that it will effect sales or give people the wrong impression about the brand. Still others encourage staff members to comment on the negative post using their personal accounts (or worse, fake names/accounts) to make it look like a non-partisan person is in support of whatever decision the complainer is posting about.

 

One of the scariest things I can say to a client is also usually one of the most effective: “Don’t do anything.”

Don’t post and blast the person with the complaint, telling them all the ways they’re wrong.

 

Don’t delete the comment, because it not only infuriates the poster (usually encouraging them to post even more outrageous things in other places you may not have access to change), but it also looks bad to those who saw it before it was deleted. In the end, you often end up looking more guilty – like you’re hiding something.

 

And definitely don’t try to counteract the negativity by having employees pretend to be members of the community who think your organization is perfect.

 

Very often, if you just sit back and wait, your fans will come to your aid. They will correct the misinterpretation of the new uniform policy. They will explain the benefits of the new after-school practice schedule. They will help others see the good side of putting all the student/parent directories online instead of in print. All without you having to look defensive or contrary in nature.

 

Of course, if this doesn’t happen, BY ALL MEANS, respond. But very often the tone of your response is even more important than what you say. Starting out with “Thank you so much for calling to our attention that there may be some misunderstanding with the new athletics transportation policy.” is a much better tactic than “Please check the letter from the athletic director, posted on the school’s athletic Web site, for the facts about the new policy.”

 

There is also nothing wrong with admitting you’ve messed up. “It was brought to our attention that many of you were concerned about the new lunch schedule and whether or not your student was eating too late in the school day. We have reviewed the schedule and posted below a revised lunch period more in line with some of the suggestions we received.”

 

In all my time working in social media, I have removed comments from a client’s page only twice. Once when the language was so foul that it was beyond appropriate for the page. And once when a poster repeatedly posted details of her new business, trying to get fans of the page to click a link. I don’t allow the criticism of an individual teacher’s or administrator’s decision or personal attacks on students, faculty or parents. I don’t allow profanity. Otherwise, I pretty much let people have free reign. In doing this, I have received a lot of great feedback on potential improvements and learned where communication plans I thought were watertight actually had some leaks.

 

I understand this method isn’t for everyone, but the next time you’re tempted to jump on a comment or delete it, just take a deep breath. More often than not, you’ll be surprised what you can learn from the dialogue that unfolds!

Jennifer Milikien

Jennifer Milikien

Principal/Owner at Local Color Communications

Jennifer is a graduate of Texas A&M University and has an MBA from The University of Texas at San Antonio. She has worked in the marketing and public relations field for more than 12 years and has extensive experience in non-profit, financial services, education, healthcare and newspapers. She has won awards from the Texas Public Relations Association for public relations tactics and planning and for magazine writing and editing. She serves on the board of the Public Relations Society of America's San Antonio Chapter.

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