One of the absolute worst things about social media is that when bad things happen, the echo chamber works against you and if you don't move fast, it can ruin you. Building a sustainable business is hard enough as it is, the last thing you need is someone abusing their platform to spread lies about your brand. Even if what they are saying is true, you want to get it under control fast.

The thing is, when something like this happens-- and it will happen to you sooner or later--  your instinct is to ignore it and just continue building your product and shipping it.

That is about the worst thing you can do.

If and when you encounter someone smearing your name on social media, here are the first steps you should take in order to turn that person from a hater to an ambassador:

Listen.

The problem with these social platforms-- and truth be told, it exists offline as well-- is that we often listen, but all we are really doing is thinking about our response. Someone asks a question or makes a claim and you sit there listening to them but really, as you nod your head, all you are really doing is thinking about your defense, your response. 

First thing's first, when someone tweets about your brand, hear them out. Maybe take the conversation offline if you can, so it is less in the public eye and spend the first ten minutes of that phone conversation just listening. If a vocal conversation isn't possible, then take it to a private conversation online.

At that point, you are already thirty percent to turning this person from a hater to someone who will appreciate your open mindedness and willingness to accept criticism. 

Admit your mistake or acknowledge their perspective.

Once you hear the person out, now there are two options. Either your are indeed guilty, in which case, own up to it, don't make excuses, just simply say you are sorry, and then take the conversation to how you can fix it.

The second option is that you are not guilty and this person's negatively is misplaced. Well, here is where the old saying "The customer is always right" comes into play.

If, for example, the person is complaining about your app not working because they are using a device that is so old, the app doesn't support it, while to you, it makes sense to optimize your product for newer devices, there is a way to handle this without saying to the person "Go upgrade your phone if you want to use our app and stop wasting our time."

For example, you can hear that person out, understand their frustration, explain to them that you are indeed a very lean startup with limited resources, and unfortunately, you were unable to build your app in a way that it would support their device. 

You can explain that this is not ideal and that you are sorry they are experiencing the bug or lack of support, but speak to them in a way that will portray your struggles as an entrepreneur, as opposed to taking a more condescending tone.

Chances are, unless this person is a real troll looking to fight for the sake of fighting, they will appreciate your transparency and attentiveness.

Come up with a real solution, not a band-aid.

Nothing is more frustrating than dealing with bad customer service and getting a response that completely ignores the problem and tries to offer an insufficient solution. Imagine the scenario of your flight being canceled and the airline offers you a $20 voucher for lunch at the airport. That is quite literally worse than the airline ignoring you completely. 

Of course, some problems don't have immediate solutions, but more often than not, all that is needed is a little creativity, which ends up going a long way.

Someone complains on Twitter that their device, which they bought from you, isn't working, and that when they try to contact your customer service, they are put on hold for hours, only to eventually be hung up on. 

How many times do we see people taking to social media to complain about a company after the traditional avenues fail them?

Well, this is a perfect example of a problem that has an easy solution. Your instinct might tell you to ignore that person, but fight that urge, and have someone pick up the phone and call them. Then follow steps one and two above.

People like to be heard and all you really need to do is give your customers that opportunity and you can easily transform complaints into testimonials that will look very good on your corporate website.

Take to Epictetus' logic-- you have two ears and one mouth. Use them in that ratio.        

Published on: Sep 16, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.