Social Media: Why Businesses Should Overcome Their Fear

“We know we need a social media presence, but we’re worried that people will post bad things about us.” That simple sentence distills nearly all of the comments I’ve heard from companies and organizations that are hesitant to make the move into what’s arguably the fastest-growing corner of marketing.

Companies that dismissed Facebook as a fad just two years ago are jumping in with both feet. YouTube channels are proliferating at astounding rates, and corporate executives are tweeting like starving birds.

But many organizations remain terrified of social channels, and it appears that their greatest fear is the potential for negative comments. At some level, that’s a valid concern. After all, even if 99 percent of your customers think you’re great, that leaves one percent who don’t quite see you as wonderful. You already deal with their complaints; you just don’t want those complaints posted where everyone else can see them.

None of us likes to have negative information about us presented in a public setting. Most of us don’t even enjoy receiving it privately. But what tends to concern people about those public settings is a belief that the negative information will somehow be contagious. People who currently like you may change their minds when they read something that somebody else has said.

You can put that out of your mind for two reasons. First, most social media channels provide some kind of means to block comments that are especially negative or potentially damaging. For example, as the administrator of a Facebook page, you can strike comments that present your organization in a less-than-positive light. Granted, that may irritate the complainers, who may add more comments (that you’ll then be forced to delete).  Getting cheap instagram likes is a great way to promote your business on Instagram.

But there’s a bigger reason not to worry about those comments, and it’s one that may ultimately benefit you. How you respond to those public complaints and other slams speaks volumes to the others who see your social media efforts. If you respond promptly and rationally, your comments may do more than simply cancel out the negative posts. They’ll probably enhance your standing.

Perhaps the poster had a negative experience with your company. A friendly public apology coupled with a request to contact you directly tells others who see the exchange that you have a genuine interest in resolving problems. It’s like the restaurant manager who calms an angry diner, setting a good example for all the other people who are actually enjoying their meals that evening. The complainer may never feel happy, but the other patrons see a heartfelt effort to resolve the grievance.

Suppose the poster has included negative or combative information about your company and its operations, and that information is simply untrue. Again, responding quickly and rationally reminds viewers that you’re doing the right things as it corrects the misinformation. The fact that you allow the complainer’s comment to stay on your site projects confidence and integrity and your response give others an alternative viewpoint to consider.

Often, the most powerful responses to negative comments will come from a source you might not expect: your other customers or followers. After a series of heavy storms scoured its service area, an electric power cooperative scrambled to respond to dozens of outages. Their efforts weren’t fast enough to satisfy one frustrated customer, who posted a blistering message on their Facebook page.

Before the horrified co-op’s staff could respond to the post, several other customers jumped online to defend its restoration efforts. One pointed out that there was extensive damage, and the complainer just needed to be patient. Another mentioned the responsiveness and friendliness of the power crews. Those messages carried far more credibility than a corporate “we’re sorry, but we’re doing the best we can under the circumstances” could ever accomplish.

The biggest difference between social media and the many marketing communications channels that preceded it is that social media is a type of dialogue. In the past, marketing was all about pushing your message into the atmosphere and hoping your desired audience would pay attention. Successful social media is about engaging that audience in a two-way conversation. That audience senses when you’re being open and honest, and it will respond accordingly.

So instead of being afraid to open yourself up to potentially negative comments, develop the confidence to start conversations and stimulate responses. Will you get burned now and then? Sure, but the same thing already happens in business, and you don’t let it stop you. Retailers don’t lock the doors because a certain percentage of shoppers are thieves. Restaurateurs don’t respond to unfriendly reviews by shutting down. And we’ve all survived at least one horrible job interview but didn’t stop looking for work.

Don’t let the newness of social media deter you. Just keep doing what you do best, and use these new channels to talk with stakeholders just like you would in person. Once you get past the fear, I suspect that you’ll find those conversations beneficial … and maybe even enjoyable.