Dealing with negative social media posts can be uncomfortable, especially if you don't have a written public policy for handling them. Rather than waiting until disgruntled customers show up in your social space, create a plan for handling these situations before they arise.

Make it part of your 2015 plan to create a comment policy, and make it visible on your blog and social media profiles. Define the kind of language and comments that are unacceptable and may cause users to be blocked from your community. I consulted with the following experts to get you off to a great start.

Deliver happiness.

It's no secret that Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has literally written the book on delivering world-class customer service, in and out of social media. Jessica Oberst, the Zappos social community manager, offers this guidance:

"We truly care about our customers, and when there has been a loss of service, we bend over backwards to understand exactly what has happened, take strides to make improvements in an effort to prevent future losses of service, and can honestly identify with the experience our customers have reached out to let us know about. We are customers too, and we always try to put ourselves in their shoes. Being open and honest, truly listening with an open heart, and always having the intent of delivering happiness is the best way to help others."

Respond in the right frame of mind.

Business growth adviser and Forbes top 10 social media influencer Warren Whitlock told me that most complaints come from people who like your company and are looking for help to stay a customer. Whitlock says:

"At the moment they choose to complain, they are frustrated and looking to vent that frustration and be heard. When you appear as a person who cares enough to listen, they get most of what they are looking for. A connection to lead them out of their predicament. They may yell, curse, or scream, but mostly they want to tell their story to anyone who will listen.

"Outside of a few malicious actors who could be written off, most people are looking for connection and rapport. When you listen, really listen, you'll learn that the majority of complainers make great long-term customers. Treat them like valued friends, and respond as you would to someone you love. This works in all human relationships--families, friends, and business connections."

Know whom you're responding to.

According to best-selling author and CEO of The Carter Group Brian Carter, you'll need to separate the naysayers from your real customers. Here's Carter's viewpoint:

"There are so many reasons you can get a negative response, so first figure out whether or not it's valid. If you need to change the way you do business, look at that! Of course, you can't please all the people all the time; just make sure you're not doing something that invites the negativity. If they're just not in your tribe on Facebook, I recommend banning and deleting. If they seem like good prospects but have just thrown out something slightly inappropriate, I delete their comment and only ban if they are repeat offenders.

"If your company has made a mistake, always be courteous and make it up to them. You are onstage, and the customers that complain are often good customers who want you to make it right so they can remain a customer. If you're worried about people abusing your customer service, then tell them publicly you'll make it up to them, contact them privately (if they're a real customer you should have their email), and keep the details of what you gave them private."

Avoid the non-apology apology.

Hootsuite copywriter Andrew Pressault offers this example of what not to do.

"You've seen these a hundred times before. 'Our company has been supplying our product to our customers for 100 years. We're sorry that your experience did not match your expectations.' See what they did there? Reinforce their leading market position while telling the customer they were wrong for expecting more in a roundabout way. There was no real apology, and the lack of sincerity was as transparent as a freshly cleaned window.

"Every business is different. Every customer is different. And every reason for a bad review is different. Apply common sense, courtesy, and a genuine desire to help your customers to turn a conflict into a positive experience for everyone involved, and look good while doing it."

Remember that it's social.

At Constant Contact, Ryan Pinkham reminds us that social media is called social for a reason. So, you want to make sure you're connecting with your customers--whether it is positive or negative. Pinkham says there will always be negative feedback out there. Here's what he suggests:

"You want to make sure to answer your customers, connect with them, and show your entire audience on social media that you really care about what they have to say. Make sure your response is precise and that you're showing customers that you really want to solve their problem."

How do you handle negative posts? Share your ideas here!

Published on: Dec 2, 2014