Online feedback is instant. Every customer has the internet in their pocket, and they are quick to broadcast corporate missteps, especially when it comes to customer service. If your employees go rogue or even if they just stick to antiquated corporate policies, expect to hear about it online.

The good news? This quick feedback ultimately holds enormous potential for businesses. That success, however, is contingent upon each organization’s ability to quickly and appropriately address the constant stream of feedback. One employee’s emotional response to a similarly emotional customer can change the game for consumer trust and opinion of that brand in a nanosecond.

The Importance of Having a Social Response Protocol

During the 2014 summer vacation season, a Southwest passenger was asked to deplane a flight after Tweeting about a rude gate agent. The employee, claiming to feel threatened by the tweet, took matters into her own hands, having the passenger removed from the plane before eventually allowing him to reboard and take his flight after he deleted the Tweet. The quick escalation of the situation garnered much media attention and Southwest’s less than stellar follow up response stating that they “are thoroughly researching the event and, if necessary, will counsel those employees involved,” seemed to be too little, too late. The entire situation could have been avoided had they preemptively created a rapid response protocol.

If structure had been provided before the situation occurred, not only would the employee have known what was expected of her by the brand, but her coworkers would also know what the general response was supposed to be, and could have provided support and advice, or removed her from the situation if needed. Remember, no employee can be perfect 100 percent of the time -- they’re still human -- but that’s why you have a team. Having an official protocol will give them the tools to help each other no matter what the situation.

Create a Structurally Sound and Flexible Protocol

A thorough plan for responding to negative online commentary covers every aspect that leads up to a response being issued, and offers guidelines -- which can be adapted to the infinite number of comments possible -- for what that response should be. Generally this structure takes the form of an “if this, then that” flow chart, which can easily be explained to any brand representative and referenced when needed.

This is a great example from ConceptDraw of how an e-commerce business might lay out its plan:


Source: http://conceptdraw.com/samples/marketing-sale-diagrams-social-media

This plan addresses when to respond to each type of comment, who should do it and offers general advice on what the response should contain. Notice that the response is never detailed out, as this will vary by situation.

When creating a plan for your own organization, reflect on who is best equipped to respond to each type of feedback. Do you have someone who is great at explaining technical mishaps with your product? Can they commit a set amount of time to responding to product failures and user errors? Alternatively, is there an individual who can stay level headed in any situation? Can they take on the responsibility of responding to customer service complaints?

Once your social media response plan is formed, it’s crucial that every staff member be trained in proper execution -- you never know who will see what or who will end up talking to a customer.

Form a Communication Safety Net

The last part of a rock-solid social media response protocol is having a communication safety net. As I said earlier, every employee is going to make mistakes and have moments of uncertainty. Ensuring that there’s an open flow of communication, and an obvious hierarchy of who to consult in any situation, is key to avoiding missteps. This is where your internal communications plan will get put through its paces. Often times, especially with negative online feedback, there’s an urge to “fire back” as soon as possible (this effect is heightened in complaints about specific employees, such as the Southwest example above).

If your brand receives a lot of comments, an internal communications tool other than email that carries with it a sense of urgency -- might be a prudent investment. By providing an easy way for employees to reach out to their colleagues, they can share best practices and ask questions in the moment they need them answered. With these foundations in place, your company will be able to provide a more contiguous customer experience and on-brand, real-time resolutions to real-time service concerns.​