All about social: Is your business reputation at risk online?’

Online reviews and social media are wonderful tools for businesses. However, understanding the nuances of each channel is an important part of your social media strategy – to protect both your business and your customers. How ready are you for that unexpected post or tweet?

Research shows that 70 per cent of global consumers trust reviews posted online by complete strangers when making a purchasing decision. Negative reviews aren’t a bad thing – they offer your business a chance to respond in a positive way and improve your offering.

Respond with care to poor reviews

Anyone who was following the Amy’s Baking Company social media meltdown knows it pays to respond with care to poor reviews. Your best strategy is to respond quickly and openly to the complainant, offering to resolve their problem as fast as possible.

If someone has taken the trouble to complain publicly, take the time to respond in the same forum. That way, other users will be able to see that you are responsive and make genuine attempts to help customers. Handled well, your response to customer problems can be an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive.

Twitter, however, is the major exception to the rule. Always take the complainant offline by direct messaging them, asking them to email or contact you in another forum – never try to resolve a complaint using Twitter.

Tread lightly on social media

If you have a social media presence, you are exposing yourself to feedback, both positive and negative. Make sure you have a calm and considered response strategy worked out in advance and put it into action quickly. In general, respond quickly on social media (within an hour), correct wrong information and stay civil.

Deleting complaints on your own webpage or Facebook page is not considered best practice. It can open you up to an avalanche of dissatisfied and outright angry complainants. Only delete comments that are defamatory, rude, racist, sexist or obscene.

You have the right to ignore negative comments if they don’t seem legitimate, don’t relate to a specific complaint or appear to be trying to provoke a response (trolling). Check out the complainant by clicking through to their social media profile. If the comment and the complainant seem legitimate, respond with an offer to help resolve the situation.

If you’ve tried to resolve the issue in the original forum, but the complainant becomes uncontrollable or contentious, take them offline by telling them you’ve sent a private message. Never supply anyone’s personal contact details on social media.

Defamatory material

More damaging than a bad review is untrue, malicious or defamatory material about your company. In this case, your first port of call is often to go to the source and ask for the material to be corrected or removed.

If there are no contact details on the website, an internet search will reveal the IP address of the offending content. You can contact the internet service provider and file a search order to get contact details for the site owner, provided that you can show that the material posted is unreasonable.

If that yields no results, or you need to have the material removed from Google search results, there is a mechanism for reporting content to Google and requesting removal. If you’re having no luck and you’ve exhausted your options, the next port of call is to get advice from a solicitor.