Online comments are a reality of doing business. Whether you invite those comments or not, you’re going to need to respond to them if you want to preserve or build your online reputation. Too many businesses have lost loyal customers or missed key opportunities simply because they didn’t have the tact to respond to public inquiries, or because they went about it in the wrong way.
Positive or negative, short or sprawling, user comments come in many forms. If you want to keep growing your audience, you’ll need to pay close attention to these comments, learn from them when you can, but most importantly, respond to them in a way that promotes your brand’s reputation.
Comments can come in many forms, and as the mediums of the Internet continue to develop, there will likely be more forms to come. All of them share a fundamental similarity, however: in each case, a customer or audience member is reaching out to your business in an effort to be heard. Sometimes it’s complimentary, sometimes it’s critical, and sometimes it’s barely relevant, but your customers will only speak up if they want you to hear them, and it’s your job to show them that they’re heard.
Monitor and respond to at least these common types of comments:
Blog comments don’t always require the immediate response other types of comments do. Since they’re usually focused on the topic of your post, and not your brand or your company as a whole, you can afford to let them develop on their own. This is especially true if you have an active community of readers discussing your topics. However, if you’re invested in personal branding, it’s usually a good idea to make an appearance in the comments section to show your readers that you value their opinions.
Social comments are a much better opportunity to gauge the true sentiments of your followers. You can see comments posed directly to you, or search for mentions of your brand to find public claims, lauds, or accusations. Responding to these comments is critical, since they’re usually dealing directly with your reputation, and are publicly visible, so they’ll likely affect how others see you.
It’s a good idea to claim a profile on every available social media platform you can find if only so you can keep your ear to the ground when it comes to social comments. Responding promptly and personally can defuse a tough situation or reinforce a positive encounter in some powerful ways.
Online reviews are some of the best glimpses you have into the quality of your business, since most people who post genuine online reviews are thoroughly—if sometimes brutally—honest. You can host the comments on your own site in the form of product reviews, especially if you have an e-commerce site, but it’s more likely that you’ll find reviews on a local directory service like Yelp. Peruse these locations frequently to learn what your customers like and don’t like about your business. And of course, you’ll have the opportunity to respond.
When it comes to most comments, responding is almost always better than not responding. Even if a post is extremely negative, untrue, or inflammatory, responding to it shows that you listen to your customers no matter what, and will try to make things right with even the most irate customers. Responding can either reinforce or restore the loyalty of a given customer if done correctly, and since most of your responses are going to be public, you’ll also get the opportunity to showcase the care and attention your brand carries.
If you don’t respond, you run the risk of earning a reputation of apathy. Or worse, people could read negative comments and think that everything the commenter said was true and unaddressed.
It’s not enough to simply respond to a comment. There are certain qualities of a great response that can solidify your reputation-boosting efforts or leave you worse off if you neglect them. Responding online gives you the perfect chance to craft your response perfectly, so make sure you include the following qualities:
Attention spans are decreasing and the amount of information available to the masses is staggering. People want answers immediately. This is especially true on social media, where users comment and respond to one another within minutes. If a customer posts a complaint on Twitter and it sits idle for more than a day, you can abandon any hope of recovering that customer. Respond within the hour, and you’ll rekindle new hopes about your capabilities and your commitment to resolving customer issues.
I’ve said it before in this article, but people want to be heard. Sometimes, just acknowledging a person is enough to make them feel better about a situation, and even when it isn’t, it still goes a long way. Acknowledge your customer’s comment by showing them you understand their feelings and that you know where they’re coming from. This can be done simply, such as by rephrasing their comment and posing it back to them to verify what they’re saying or requesting. Doing so instantly boosts your credibility, and lets your customer know that you truly heard what he/she said.
Your response also needs to have a personal component to it. That means you can’t just rely on a handful of “response templates,” which you update with a new name, and you can’t always send people to a customer service hotline. Respond in your unique brand voice to give people a familiar, comfortable experience, and mix in your personal voice to make sure your customers know that they’re speaking with a real human being. A little bit of personal interaction can immediately make people feel better, and can quickly humanize what might otherwise be a faceless corporation.
Publicity is another important element of a perfect online response, and if you’re responding on a social media platform, the work is already done for you. Don’t try and funnel a customer into a private message or into a customer service line. Instead, respond directly and concisely and make sure the entire thread is publicly visible. Doing anything else, such as deleting the comment or trying to cover up what happened, is bound to attract more negative attention and possibly incur more negative comments as a result. Instead, take control of the situation and give your response for everyone to see.
Finally, offer some kind of reward or compensation to the commenter—even if it’s just a thank you. Let your customers and followers know that they are appreciated, and if they’re posting a complaint, take the extra effort to make things right. That might mean giving a refund, offering a discount, or simply apologizing and making a commitment to improve. Whatever you do, let your customers know that they are valuable to you.
Comments about your company will come naturally, no matter how good or bad your company is performing. The way you respond to those comments can make or break your retention strategy, and set the entire tone for your brand’s online reputation. Like with many digital marketing strategies, it should be taken seriously and refined over time.