Social Media is two-way communication – when you reach out to customers, don’t be surprised if they reach right back!

There is a great bakery near my house that I visit almost daily. Food is yummy and the clientele represents my neighborhood. It’s a real local place. For the most part, I’m a big brand advocate. Today; however, after I finished my very early morning workout I stopped by for my much-deserved cup of tea and a treat. The place had just opened for the day and while there was plenty of help behind the counter, the customer line was backing up (sound familiar?). When I was finally served, I was running late and anxious to order and go. What I got was a surly greeting complete with eye rolls and the general impression my order was an imposition of monumental proportions. I’m normally pretty easy going, but the whole thing really irked me. And as I was waiting, quietly steaming, by the register I noticed the sign urging me to follow and “like” the business on Facebook. What ran through my head wasn’t very nice. Anything I had to post at that moment would hardly have been complimentary.

People are opinionated, this isn’t news. It’s also not unusual for businesses to have a bad day. But bring these two things together at just the right time on social media and business owners can get one big headache. Businesses shouldn’t be amazed when their customers take to the internet and share their opinions about the products and services they use every day. It’s why business owners put up Facebook pages in the first place.  It capitalizes on the fact that constantly posting experiences has become part of our DNA. It’s one of the strengths of social media – visible customer feedback. The only time it’s problematic is when someone says something bad about you. And don’t think you can avoid this by staying off the web; review platforms like Yelp and Angie’s List are great forums for airing grievances and sharing horror stories that you can’t rebut if you don’t have a meaningful presence online. Don’t hide, learn the secrets and accept social media is a two-way street.

Before you ask people to talk about you online, be sure your house is in order

If you choose to use social media for your business; understand that “posting” content is only half of the process. Listening and monitoring are often more important than creating a “visible” presence online. The first step to better business results online is a bit of research. When was the last time you “googled” your business so you can see what people are already saying about you online? If you haven’t done so in the last few weeks, time to do it now.

If you search on your business using the major search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo will get you started) and nothing comes up, don’t sigh with relief. It’s not a good thing. Roughly 8% of people use yellow pages to search for stuff (and most of those people are over age 60).[1] That lack of internet visibility means you aren’t even in the game unless you cater to that aging 8%. If your business does show up; take note of what pops up first. Is it accurate? Up-to-date? Finally, are people commenting on your product or services? If so, what do they think? Compliments are great and unflattering reviews are always a bit depressing. But data is data. What does the available data tell you about the impression you, your employees and/or your product have made on the general buying public?

When analyzing your results, be objective

Whether you like the results or not, comments provide insight into how consumers view your offerings. Park your ego and review them with an eye to plan targeted business improvements. On a basic level, the frequency and consistency of comments helps you identify what people like or dislike. Take multiple comments about a particular product or employee seriously. Think of this like those old fashion paper comment cards we used to fill out in restaurants. If 6 customers over a two week period complain about cold chowder, that’s a pretty clear sign you need to heat your chowder. And if 6 different people over the course of a month gush about your dental hygienist (she’s the nicest person EVER!); take note of that as well.

Keep things in perspective – one ancient, dusty comment doesn’t make you a hero or a villain.  But multiple comments might identify a fixable equipment problem or lead you to the type of personality you need to hire. Wherever the indicators point you, pay attention and act. Most people will forgive you for having a bad day; but repeated bad service or consistent poor quality will kill you over time. Identifying customer dissatisfaction gives you a chance to fix things before inviting people to comment or “like” you online. Whereas starting an aggressive social media campaign when the majority of existing comments are uncomplimentary could create a real online disaster.

Thank people for their feedback and let them know you heard them

People love a thank-you acknowledgement as much as they appreciate a sincere apology (the operative word is SINCERE). The first step in starting a dialogue with customers online is thanking commenters on their feedback. Seems so old-school, but thank-you’s and apologies give you a chance to Connect with customer directly. By telling people you heard them; you also open an opportunity to publically declare your passion for your business as well as your commitment to customer service in the future. You don’t have to have a big social presence to respond to comments posted – positive AND negative.  Most review services provide a mechanism for businesses to reply privately (or publically) to reviews. Yelp[2] encourages business to reach out and provides practical tips for you.

Use common sense – answer in a timely fashion; make a considered decision when to contact a reviewer privately or publicly. Keep in mind this is a VERY public forum. Never, never argue online; user retribution against you will be swift and vociferous. You can’t win. And there is no better way to drawn negative attention than attacking a reviewer online. Better to be humble, gracious and diplomatic. If a reviewer gives you an impolite response; take the high road and remain gracious. It’s also best in these situations to switch to a private channel or discontinue contact all together rather than continue to engage with an angry person. Any reasonable person reading the exchange will give you points for keeping your cool but over time they will lose patience with both of you.

Don’t be afraid to ask good customers to add their comments as well

Testimonials are an age-old way for businesses to utilize positive reviews. Review services are no exception (with one caveat); online review services are very sensitive to businesses “stuffing” their profiles. Yelp has an algorithm that monitors comments and will punish businesses that suddenly receive a flurry of positive reviews after little to no activity. So be selective and realistic. There are no shortcuts to building a positive online presence. Take your time; personally ask a few of your trusted clients to contribute then build up your catalog of comments over time. We recommend you avoid contests or campaigns that drive people to comment all at once – it will draw suspicious assumptions from the review services and make it harder for your legitimate reviewers to add comments over time.

Once you have a handle on your online reputation, setting up a protocol for protecting it is essential. At minimum, “google” your business name and key search terms at least once a week. There is a simple, free option that will automate this process for you called “google alerts”.[3]  Google Alerts are created to your specifications.  Once set-up, they search the web continually; emailing you when something is posted.  You can also hire professional companies like[4]to do it for you. Whichever path you choose, be sure to do something to monitor conversations online so you can stay in the know when someone is commenting about you or your business online.

Create a two-way dialogue online so you can build your good name over time

For better or worse, people are using the internet for everything these days. As business people, we are missing out if we don’t use it as well. But not everything is about creating Facebook pages, gathering “likes” and posting content. Sometimes the best course of action is to start by making sure you are part of the conversation happening “virtually”.  It’s just like visiting the tables in your restaurant or routinely conducting customer surveys. You should continue these time-tested ways to stay in touch, but now you get to add additional service touch points when you reach out online.




[4] *NOTE: this is an unsponsored recommendation, we have no relationship with

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