Daniel Burstein

Social Media Marketing: How enterprise-level social media managers handle negative sentiment

At last week’s MarketingSherpa B2B Marketing Summit in Boston, we had a very interesting panel of social media marketers sharing their experiences with everything from metrics to internally selling the business value of the practice.

One question that always interests me is…how should marketers deal with negative social media comments, postings, and the like? If you come across negative sentiment that is discovered during listening, or in general any type of negative blogs, blog comments, postings on Facebook, Twitter etc., how should you react?negative social media

Here at MECLABS, we follow the credo of Transparent Marketing. Hey, we’re not perfect and we don’t have all the answers. We’re always experimenting. And where we fall short, someone else might have a better idea.

At the expense of receiving a deluge of negative social media mentions, I like (clever Facebook pun intended) when we get some negativity coming our way. The overwhelming amount of social media attention we get is positive. When we get some negative feedback, it means professional marketers are passionately following our content.

And that’s the other thing – its feedback. As I said, we’re always experimenting and learning ourselves. We’re also lucky to have a very savvy audience of experienced marketers. So those negative comments help us decide how to shape our content to most benefit our audience. As I’ve said before, our job is to help you do your job better. When you tell us what you don’t need and what you do need, we get closer to hitting that mark.

(Of course, now that I’ve set myself up for all the negative comments, I also wanted to let you know that you can always give me feedback in private as well.)

Enough from me, on to the experts from the MarketingSherpa B2B Marketing Summit that were kind enough to share their wisdom…


Negative social media is a blessing and a curse

On one hand, it’s important to ensure your brand is not denigrated unjustly; investigate the source to determine if it came from a customer, partner, competitor, etc.

In many cases we do nothing – it’s sometimes the nature of the beast in social media. In other cases, we’ll get a key blogger to post follow-up content that is also Tweeted and shared with our followers.

The upside is that it’s a great opportunity to learn – about your customer’s thoughts and opinions, how products are doing, what can be improved, and who is actually out there listening.

Alex Plant, Senior Social Media Guy at NetApp


Assess, respond, integrate

Negative social media activity is a natural outcome of any effective social media program because it often suggests that the audience is listening and taking the time to offer their feedback and ideas. Even when there are negative outcomes, it is often a good opportunity for the organization to respond and address the issues being surfaced through social. In reality, the detractors are likely to be expressing their negative opinions even without the social channel so there is a need to look at the patterns of information to determine the best nature of the response.

The US Air Force has created and shared a social media triage program that may provide a good example of a programmatic way to think through possible actions and outcomes and manage negative social responsibly. It is important to remember that not all negative feedback is bad, and it may provide insight into opportunities to improve customer satisfaction over time. In many cases the most vocal opponents can be turned into evangelists when managed effectively.

There are three steps that I recommend:

  • Assess the situation – Is it an isolated event or indicative of a pattern or customer need? In both cases, it is best practice to respond to the detractor with either additional information, understanding or at the least acknowledging what they have to say. Unless the posting or social comment is slander, it is better to leave it out there and demonstrate a commitment to listening than it is to issue a take-down effort. In the event it is slanderous, do bring in legal counsel ASAP. In fact, it is better to involve them early in the formation of a social triage plan than wait for an adverse event. Be sure to assess how the negative feedback ties into your social strategy in order to identify if it is a cause worth fighting. Here is a social strategy map by Leader Networks that may help solidify the overarching strategic framework.
  • Respond authentically and formally – It is always best to have a dedicated/trained staff member handle responses – especially in the case of large enterprise where, due to the sheer number of customers, there is bound to be regular detractors. This keeps information flow regular and consistent which is a lifeblood of good customer care. By issuing well vetted responses and pointing detractors back to any documented information (such as user manuals in the case of technology companies, or community forums that talk about new features or products forthcoming) the issues are often resolved through education.
  • Integrate the social channel into your CRM solution – Too often marketing is placed in the position of playing the “voice of the customer” role but the back-end systems are not designed to capture and integrate the social channel so that the information can be used strategically. However, when social media channels (e.g. customer Twitter handles, etc.) are integrated into the CRM system, marketing and operations can utilize the information being offered – even the negative feedback – in context. Also, this allows the connection between customer information and social media to be used effectively. Think how powerful it is to know if a key client is engaged in social sharing of negative or positive positions about your company or product! This is much more effective than handling the social channel as an isolated event.

Orbitz is a company that does a great job of connecting customer data to the social channel. I once had a situation with Orbitz that I tweeted a negative comment about. I was frustrated with a travel situation. Within second they called me to try to resolve the situation! As an influential blogger and frequent traveler (good customer), they connected their CRM dots and realized that I needed to be helped. While my situation wasn’t resolved, I was delighted with their customer engagement model and have become even more loyal because of it!

Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of Leader Networks


Channel that passion

In general, the wisdom that an unhappy customer can be turned into a very happy customer still holds true. After all, a person participating in a “negative social media activity” is passionate enough to make the effort to voice their dissatisfaction. Obviously they care.

Negative sentiment is an opportunity to either improve a product or service, or to help correct the (hopefully incorrect) public perception by adjusting a company’s messaging. Negative sentiment can simply be based upon a lack of information in the market. It should be seen as an opportunity, definitely not swept under the carpet, and responded to publicly where possible (while 1:1 conversations in addition can make sense, too).

If listening finds that your company has a low share of voice in your market, one strategy could be to see what your competitors are doing that you are not doing, e.g. offer certain types of blogs or activity in communities where your target audience is active. Again, this is an opportunity to improve, in this case your marketing and branding strategy. Look at it as a free “focus group” and testing.  The important thing is to listen so you can make corrections and not miss what people are saying about you.
Natascha Thomson, Senior Director of Social Media Audience Marketing at SAP


Related resources

B2B Marketing Summit Wrap-up: Quick takeaways distilled from 478 marketers on lead nurturing, social media marketing, and more

Social Media and Content Marketing: Don’t expect the world to find you

Antisocial Media: Social media marketing success does not lie in you

Transparent Marketing and Social Media: Twitter and Facebook are the new Woodward and Bernstein

Community Managers in Social Media

Photo by: mrmanc
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