Moderating hypothetical complaints on social media (or, how I spend my Tuesday nights)

Short answer: Don't do this.
Short answer: Don’t do this.

This week in my grad school adventures, I’ve been asked to explain how I would moderate these two posts on a company Facebook page. Here we go.

To a fast food chain:

“I am disgusted about the state of your store on 1467 Justin Kings Way. The counter was smeared in what looked like grease and the tables were full of trash and remains of meals. It makes me wonder what the state of your kitchen is?!!! Gross.”

My reply:

That does sound gross. I’m sorry you had to experience anything other than a clean restaurant, and thank you for reporting these conditions. I’ve already contacted the manager of the 1467 Justin Kings Way location, and he is immediately addressing the problems you’ve pointed out. The restaurant never should have been in this condition, but we’re lucky to have customers like you who let us know when something’s not right. The next time you’re craving a burger, you’ll find a much improved store on Justin Kings Way. Thanks again!

I would absolutely not delete the customer’s comment. Customers should empowered to leave feedback — positive or negative — on our Facebook page.

I think the most important thing to do with this response is to own up to the problem. There’s nothing worse than a response from a brand saying something like, “I’m sorry if you were disappointed.” That’s telling the customer their bad experience is their fault.

It’s also important to thank the customer and then actually do something about the problem. In this example, I would immediately contact the manager of that location to get some changes rolling so I could report back to the customer, as I did above, that the manager is working on the problem. That inspires much more confidence in the brand than “We’ll pass your feedback along.”

To a mainstream news network (let us assume the reporting was balanced, with equal time to both sides):

“Your reporting on the Middle East is biased in the extreme. You gave almost all your air time to spokespeople for the Israelis last night and there was no right to reply for the Palestinians. The conflict upsets me so much and your reporting of it, saddens me even more and makes me f**king furious.”

My reply:

The conflict in the Middle East elicits strong emotions for many people. Our news organization realizes this and reports on the topic as fairly and sensitively as possible. Last night’s report allowed equal time for both sides (here’s a link in case you missed part of the report: [LINK]), and I assure you we will continue to allow equal time for each party. Thanks for keeping us on our toes!

Although I do think it’s important for news organizations to apologize when they get something wrong, I think it’s just as important to not apologize for the things we do right. People have always cried bias when they don’t agree with something in the news.

Take for instance AL.com’s Auburn and Alabama football coverage. We have the same number of people staffing each school, same average number of posts on each school. Yet, depending on who you’re talking to, AL.com is either biased against Auburn or Alabama. I’ve always said that as long as we’re getting this complaint from both sides, we’re doing our job.

Note: If the above post actually contained the full F-word, our general practice on AL.com’s Facebook page would be to remove it. I would, however, reach out to the person via private message to explain why the post was removed and still address their complaint.

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6 thoughts on “Moderating hypothetical complaints on social media (or, how I spend my Tuesday nights)”

  1. Brilliant work. Your restaurant reply is excellent, I think, IF you know the complaint was right. Easier said than done to check this of course.

    1. Thanks! You’re right — I would definitely need to make sure the complaint was true. (Based on my fast food experiences, it probably is – haha.) In contacting the manager to tell him to get his ish together, if it came to light that the customer’s comments were untrue, my response would certainly change. Perhaps something like:

      “Thanks for taking the time to comment. I checked with the manager of the Justin Kings Way store, and he informed me that their food scores from the health department have consistently been 98-100. Perhaps you caught us on an off day, but I assure you that your experience would be much better upon your return.”

      Here I lose some of the apologetic tone, but I still don’t directly accuse the customer of lying. But by providing facts (the health department scores rather than just “but the manager said it’s clean!”) says to others watching the conversation that this customer just has an ax to grind and nothing real to complain about.

  2. Excellent response. It sounds like your response to the restaurant writer was really personal. You definitely sounded like a human and not a brand, and I think they’d appreciate that. I know I would. The only question here is how quickly you can follow up with their comment while contacting the manager in between. I think it’s so smart that you invite him back to try it again. Why didn’t I think of that?!

    I love your response about the radio too. You immediately acknowledge the difficulty in reporting on the issue and that it gives a lot of people the feels. 🙂 I also like that you put the link into your response so that anyone who read the discussion and didn’t hear the show can hear for themselves. Great call! Again, why didn’t I think of that?

    1. Thanks, Blythe! You’re right that time could be an issue in the restaurant response. I don’t work in the restaurant world, but when my brand does get something particularly bad tweeted or sent to us, I work extra hard to track down the people who could help me answer the feedback. I get annoying until I get answers; I like to think I’d do the same in this situation.

  3. I really like your response to the restaurant comment, Julie. You not only apologized but complimented the customer all in one comment! That’s great. Restaurants are lucky to have their customers, even ones that complain. That’s the only way to improve and for that to be amplified on social media, the businesses is acknowledging how appreciative it is for the feedback. I also like your point about “owning up” to your mistakes. As a brand, you need to seem human. Humans make mistakes and so do brands. By acknowledging those mistakes and ultimately fixing the issues, brands will gain more respect from loyal customers in the future.

    Even though I chose to remove the second comment, I like how you responded. Providing a link to the actual coverage is smart, because others will see it and be able to make a judgement call on their own. That being said, I doubt this type of user will actually change their mind about the news organization’s coverage. Sensitive topics tend to illicit very strong opinions!

    1. Thanks, Laura! I like the idea of thanking people for their criticism when it is (somewhat) fair and helpful. I think having a brand respond to criticism in a non-defensive way is refreshing when that is the first reaction of so many.

      I agree that my response (or any response really) is probably not going to change that listener’s mind. However, I decided to provide a link to the coverage to at least show others who are watching the conversation that we are indeed being fair.

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