One of the fears companies, particularly larger companies, have with getting involved with online marketing and social media is the potential for negative feedback.
I wouldn't say this fear is unfounded. I was a guest on a friend's radio show last weekend and we were discussing online theatre reviews. A fellow guest on the show said his friend who owned a restaurant had fallen foul of one bad tempered customer and the bitter review they'd left on Google maps was still damaging their business two years later.
There's a similar fear with joining Twitter, companies worry they will be bombarded with negative feedback as soon as they sign up and their presence will provide a channel for people to moan about their company.
On the internet, everyone's a critic. Whether they're moaning about B&Q Tradepoint
or talking about how sticky the floor is in the Fox and Hound
most internet users seem to go by the motto 'everyone is entitled to my opinion.' Including me, of course, blogging away on DIYWeek.net.
I've seen many companies combat negative criticism by posting fake reviews from other 'customers' who were delighted with the experience in every single way! However cleverly you write your own positive press please believe that it will stick out a mile to anyone who has ever interacted with another human being. (As I love my examples, exhibit A is Appco AKA Cobra who have accidentally posted two identical positive comments on this article
and exhibit B is naturally Johann Hari
The best way to deal with negative criticism online is simply to deal with it in the same calm professional way you would in store. Many companies will simply search for mentions of their company on Twitter and offer apologies and, occasionally, vouchers if they find bad reports. While you're at it you can also retweet good reports and spread the word!
If something is written about you or your business online which you feel is unfair, don't be afraid to reply directly from your perspective because the internet is all about people. A brief message from you saying something along the lines of 'As manager of this branch, I'm very disappointed to read the negative feedback on this site. We strive to offer the highest possible levels of customer service at all times and if the commenter below would return their product to the store we would be happy to offer a full refund'
will work wonders to allay fears other web users might have of dealing with you after reading the page.
Clearly on the rare occasion when someone has published something untrue and damaging online, you have rights, just like you would if it was published in print. Contrary to popular belief, you are never truly anonymous when you post online and the existence of the internet does not negate libel law! In most cases your legal quarrel is with the person who published the information (so if a user publishes something about you on Facebook, you might be able to ask Facebook to remove it but your quarrel is with the person who wrote the content, not with Facebook for hosting it.) In these cases it is worth knowing about the content and getting it removed as soon as possible, particularly as journalists are using social media for information more and more often so a small lie on Twitter can be spread faster than you think.
If a negative comment online is getting your pulse racing remember, most people intelligent enough to check out online critique will know a rogue comment or a troll
when they see one. And if you're not a participant on the media channels where you're being discussed, all you're doing is opting yourself out of the conversation. Believe me it will go on, with or without you.
Lastly, there are ways to minimise bad PR online. A very simple example: don't write an article about a controversial product or company decision and leave the page open for people to post comments on. In my Twitter presentations I always use the example of the Conservatives' #CashGordon
campaign. Yes, it was a while ago but I've yet to find a better cautionary tale against embedding unmoderated hashtags on controversial topics.
If you're the kind of person who can recognise when what you're posting is essentially a flame for a swarm of trolling moths then you shouldn't have too much to worry about. In any case it's far better to be online and checking out the comments than sitting in the other room with your fingers in your ears pretending the internet does not exist.