Dealing with Negative Consumer Generated Media

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The Internet has given the public access to sharing information within a matter of seconds, and this can turn into a nightmare for businesses. Many customers are using review websites such as Yelp, OpenTable, TripAdvisor and Epinions to talk about their experiences with specific businesses. Some customers turn to forums to share information, and others turn to social media sites.

While positive customer reviews and comments can help a business, the negative ones are those that businesses need to be cautious of. People are no longer keeping quiet about bad experiences or only sharing them with family. Instead, they’re getting creative and taking their complaints to Facebook, Twitter and even YouTube.

photo credit: Mehfuz Hossain via Flickr

A customer who was upset that United Airlines broke his guitar tried reaching out to the airline to get some form of compensation or explanation for the damage. United never returned his calls, so he turned to YouTube and made a song and a video about his experience. United Breaks Guitars went viral within a matter of minutes, and United was left with a giant social media disaster on their hands.

In 2005, Jeff Jarvis, a popular blogger with a dedicated following, blogged about his disappointment with Dell. Dell didn’t respond, allowing Jeff’s followers to join in on bashing the popular computer company.

If you are being attacked with consumer generated media, there are ways that you can handle the situation in a positive way.

1. Respond quickly.
The minute you realize that something is wrong, you need to respond. You can use a canned response at first letting the customer know who you are, that you hear what they’re saying and that you are working on correcting the situation. This lets the customer know that they have your attention, and it also provides others with a visual that you are taking action.

If you ignore the situation, you will only allow the complaint to go viral, allow the customer to become even more agitated, and allow others to comment and share in on the situation. Plus, nobody will hear your side of the story. When others see that you have made a response, they won’t want to spread the situation with their friends or make a comment of their own.

In your response, you need to make sure that you talk and act like a real person and not like a computer. Don’t use static content from your user agreement or terms of use. Tell the customer your real name, be sympathetic and use words that are easy to understand.

2. Apologize sincerely.
When you create an apology that is strong and direct, you will have a higher impact over those that are static. This apology from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos regarding the Kindle situation is a great example.

3. Fix the situation.
Just saying that you’re looking into the situation or offering an apology isn’t enough. You need to actually fix the problem. If a customer complains that the service at your restaurant was awful, treat them to a private VIP party with a few friends using your best servers. If a customer complains about being overcharged for a product, give them a refund. You actually need to alleviate the problem, or the customer will continue to be upset and will turn back to social media to let the world know that you did nothing.

4. Keep it public.
Most companies take the complaint offline in order to solve it, thinking that this is a better way to handle the situation, but it’s not. If you take the conversation offline, everyone else won’t be able to see the conclusion. They won’t see that you apologized. They won’t hear your side of the story, and they won’t see how you made it right. All they will see is the complaint. So instead of taking action offline, keep it online for all to see.

5. Don’t fight.
It may be hard to bite your tongue when a customer complains about your brand, but you must remain calm and keep your emotions in line while explaining your side of the situation or apologizing. The worst thing you can do is get into a fight. It only makes the situation worse, and it makes your brand the loser in the situation.
By following these tips, you will turn a negative situation into a positive one. You’ll alleviate an issue, you’ll make a customer satisfied, and you’ll show the world that you take things seriously.


Jennifer Hawkins

Jennifer Hawkins is a restaurant owner and chef who loves to write in her free time. She often covers topics such as marketing strategy or review monitoring tactics.

Reader Interactions


  1. Melanie says

    We’re doing our first client newsletter in the coming weeks and more than a thousand people we’ll be putting our material in front of more than 1,000 people, inviting them to comment and interact with us. It’s a positive move but there’s definitely a concern that we’ll have to deal with some negative comments in the process.

    This list will definitely come in handy. We already have a plan for who is going to respond to what, but the speed of the response is something that needs addressed.

    Thanks for the tips!

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