Australia: Responding to social media reviews

Social Media has played a large role in effectively making (almost) everything digitally accessible for the majority of the world's population. Decisions surrounding everyday purchases such as where to go for that date-night dinner, or where to pick up a new pair of shoes are now often made following an online review of the ever-growing list of local businesses found on social media.

These reviews, which can be found on the official social media pages and/or via public comments which have tagged the official social media handles of businesses can go a long way in shaping both public opinion and influencing consumer choices.

Instant reviews - pros and cons

Whilst the ability to post reviews on social media has given consumers the power to provide instant feedback, which can then be responded to by businesses in real time, it has also given rise to 'trolling'. Trolling refers to unsolicited and, usually, unnecessary negative comments made about something online - more often than not, aimed at having the recipient (whether it be a business, celebrity or citizen) lash out in response to the 'troll'.

Organisations often receive public complaints relating to customer service, product faults, or even seemingly small and relatively insignificant matters. As a result of this type of online attack, an organisation's entire image can take a beating (even unrelated aspects of their services, or areas of the organisation), something that we have seen time and time again.

Dealing with user reviews on social media

A recent example from the Northern Territory involved a customer posting a negative review to the Howard Springs Bakery Facebook page after being disappointed with the quality of their products. The author made his displeasure known through social media, with his review being visible to not only those potential customers with Facebook accounts, but anyone with an internet connection.

From any perspective, this review appears quite reasonable and fair. Unfortunately, the response was half-baked.

While we could potentially forgive the errors in spelling and grammar, the vulgar and threatening language used in the response was extremely aggressive and inappropriate. Many people criticised the stand taken by the eatery for posting such a rude response to a customer's feedback. This may translate to a loss of business for the eatery from potential customers in opposition of both the tirade and the language used who will 'vote with their feet', as seen below:

However, it seems some people actually wanted a piece of the pie and applauded the stance taken by the Bakery, as seen in the following post:

Over a week later, this incident is still being discussed on the Bakery's Facebook page. Both the review and the response have been liked, shared and reposted by many users. Again, this incident has highlighted the fact that a simple post on social media has no bounds and that once posted, it is usually difficult to stop ongoing circulation of the post.

It is possible to remove comments and posts from a Facebook page, although you cannot prevent users from circulating screen shots and commenting on images of the deleted posts. Similarly, whilst a business is able to remove the overall review function from their Facebook page, it is not possible to delete a single review. This means that if a business does want to remove a single negative review, they are required to remove all of their positive reviews at the same time, which may force them to re-think the move.

How (not) to respond to reviews on social media

While online accessibility is a key feature of social media, incidents like these do highlight the importance of businesses having a strict social media policy in place. While you could sympathise with a business for having to deal with online reviews (rather than private discussions), online reviews are now a reality of the social media age, and your business needs to be prepared to deal with them in an appropriate manner.

Angry and aggressive responses to user reviews on social media are unlikely to resolve issues, rather they can often aggravate them.

Having a strict social media policy helps businesses take those essential steps towards damage control if negative reviews or comments are posted online. In turn, a continued professional approach to dealing with customer feedback will help cultivate a positive image for the business in question. This may include making decisions relating to who in the organisation will respond to the feedback, the tone (or 'voice') of the response, and of course how the issue mentioned in the review can most effectively be resolved.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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