Facebook is a place where I enjoy connecting with people – some friends, some family, some coworkers, some community acquaintances, some clients, some who share my hobbies and interests.  I like knowing that people who mean something to me are there, even if only through the internet.  I’ve found people from days long gone, people who were really special to me in the days before we lived online and had social media.  Those people are still in my life and accessible with a like, comment or message.

One of the challenges of being connected with people through social media is that we learn things about them that may be surprising or see sides of them that we didn’t know and may not like necessarily.  As our presidential election draws nearer and we face tragedies as a society, people get more vocal and expressive through their posts.  We then start labeling, categorizing and separating people with whom we genuinely enjoy being around IRL (meaning, in real life) because of the broad ideologies, social groups, political parties and religions with which they associate.

One of my closest friends has a fantastic saying:  “The great myth of life is that you should be like me or agree with me. Others have no obligation to agree with you.” And how right he is! We don’t have to agree on how we feel, believe or interpret things.  We can choose to acknowledge that our friends and people we genuinely enjoy being around may have extreme differences of opinion.  Live and let live.  It’s best to stand back, allow and accept that our friends and even family members may have views that differ greatly from our own.  It’s not always easy though, is it?  Some things push our buttons faster than other things.  Some things we are more personally invested in or have deeper beliefs about, and when we see our friends bash, condemn or simply disagree with something we’ve internalized or personalized it can be difficult to accept.

We do have options, of course, for what we see and from whom we see it with features like unfollow and news feed visibility.  We also have the ability to adjust our privacy settings that restrict what can be seen by placing people on lists.  And, thank goodness for algorithms that predict what we want to see and decide whether or not to include it in our feed, right… or?  We can take more extreme actions by unfriending or blocking people, but that removes them from our lives in a sense, or at least in what has become our digital relational reality.

Although social media can bring us together, it can also tear us apart.  IRL we engage and connect with people through eye contact, smiles and verbal conversations.  In the virtual realm, we have perhaps a stronger tendency to project our own interpretations onto others through the images, songs, and information that they share; thus, we create expectations through which we are likely to be disappointed when they reveal more of who they really are.  People most often present the best notion of themselves or the person they want others to see on social media.  In ways, we become attracted, or otherwise, to what we interpret as who people are rather than who we’ve experienced them to be.  Yes, we do this IRL too, but the delusions often dissipate much faster.  People can also be more mean and cruel to others because they are separated by a monitor that empowers them or protects them from dealing with the actuality of interacting with someone face to face.

It is interesting to consider that this amazing internet gives us instant access to people and information from all over the world, thus, connecting us all.  It is also dividing us at a rapid pace by distinguishing our differences.  People are then labeled and categorized according to macrocosmic ideologies rather than individual characteristics.  Rather than becoming a unified people of the human race we are trapping ourselves and others in group identities. Divide and conquer… Did I say that the aliens are coming?  We’re ultimately destroying ourselves from the inside out.  Wow, sounds like the way we eat nowadays too…

Okay, we can keep getting philosophical and continue reflecting upon the role that social media and the internet are playing on defining our place in human history or we can simply address the most effective way to deal with perceived negativity in social platforms.

We’ve already recognized some of the issues and conflicts that are arising through our personal news feeds, but what about dealing with it professionally?  As a business owner or brand representative, we may want to just call it as we see it – especially when followers leave negative comments, low review ratings, or even attack what we’re officially representing.  We can’t, and we know we can’t – darn it!  So how do we deal with such annoyances?

Some social media administrators may ignore negative responses to their brand because they don’t know what else to do.  Question is, would you ignore a customer who complains at your establishment?  No, you would attempt to resolve the problem so that the customer leaves as satisfied as possible and shares with others about how you made great efforts to make them happy.

What if you delete comments?  Oops!  You’re basically dismissing your followers and that can make them even angrier.  They will spread the word about how rude your company, organization or brand is which will deter potential clients or customers.

Well, what happens when you respond in kind and attack the person who left a perceivably unjustified comment or review?  Yeah, you’re going to fuel their fire and the negativity will spread.

What about replying apathetically with an insincere apology?  They’re going to realize that you’re just blowing smoke and get more irritated because you’ve minimized what they value and consider important enough to take their time to express publicly.

So, how can you most effectively deal with negative social media responses?  Well, you offer an apology and a solution.  Acknowledge that you HEAR them which essentially initiates respectful communication. Recognize that there may be a legitimate problem that needs to be addressed or fixed.  Assure them that you are working on the problem and that you’ll let them know when it has been fixed.  If complaints and negative responses are coming from a lot of followers, post an apology and assure them that you’re working towards an effective solution.  You can even pin this to the top of your Facebook page so that when they visit your actual page, they will see it immediately.  On a side note as a perfect example, did any of you get frustrated with HBO Now for not posting an explanation for delaying GOT last Sunday night? Exactly!

When a customer makes a complaint in person, would you respond any way other than apologizing and offering a solution?  No, ideally you would do just that.  So why would it be any different when dealing with followers online?  “The customer is always right.” (no matter how wrong)!  Often times, those complaining have invested in your brand on some level, so take the opportunity to turn a negative experience into a positive one by quickly, genuinely and effectively acknowledging their comments and finding a way to change the situation to better your brand, business or organization.

My dad often reminded me to consider the source.  Yes, something that may initially appear negative may actually turn out to be a good thing if it’s coming from someone who may not be as credible as the majority of your followers.  Perception does play a significant role in all aspects of our experience, including how we choose to respond to rudeness or criticism online.  There are those admirable folks who have the great capacity to know that what others say and do is a reflection of them rather than being about you or your brand.  They maintain a strong stance as an observer and are able to rationally move through challenges to a resolution.  Cheers!  Perhaps their example will help many of us rise above getting wrapped up in emotionally charged issues on social media.

Feel free to send an email my way if you’d like for HRD to help develop a social strategy or work on reputation management for your business, organization or brand at kate@highroaddigital.com.