Get It Right: Responding to Social Media Complaints | From the Bell Tower

Social media platforms serve as a virtual complaint window for angry consumers. Higher ed is no different when community members share concerns and voice anger in online public spaces. Academic librarians need to know how to handle these situations.

Social media platforms serve as a virtual complaint window for angry consumers. Higher ed is no different when community members share concerns and voice anger in online public spaces. Academic librarians need to know how to handle these situations.

Here's a quiz: You just Googled your own library and the reviews are mostly good, except for one that makes some particularly nasty claims about the library and its staff. What do you do?

  1. Write to Google Customer Support and ask them to tell you who left the review
  2. Follow Google’s online documentation to file a request to remove a review
  3. Write a sincere, apologetic note acknowledging poor service but request specifics
  4. Respond by telling that know-nothing joker where to go

I took this quiz in real life and I did badly. No, I didn’t try Google Support, by my reaction was far from the best choice. Here’s what I did and why academic librarians should learn more about community communications on social media. My initial reaction was to petition Google to remove the review, for which there is an existing process. The content of the review was disturbing and its validity highly questionable. Emotions got the better of me. That review angered me, and I wanted it gone. To boot, it was over three months old, so it would hardly be missed.

Bad move. So, what do you do? A wiser colleague had the right idea. This is one example of the ways in which the rules governing social media put librarians into new territory. We need to learn how to maneuver in this new space because our choices ultimately impact our relationship with students, faculty, and other community members. Add this to that list of things you never learned in library school.

Responses Matter

When we think of social media in the context of our academic libraries, it is most typically the case that we are broadcasting news and information, textual and visual, about our services and events, along with sharing other relevant content. We also want to know what others are saying about us on social media. My experience is that media messages about our libraries are mostly positive and complimentary, but complaints happen. At worst, the complaints are about the building temperature, a dirty bathroom, or the furniture being too uncomfortable for cozy naps. While it’s worth monitoring, most of it is best left alone, or may be deserving of a minimalist correction of misinformation. For example, when a student tweets that your library stinks because it only has PCs, that’s a good opportunity to respond about the Mac lab on the third floor. What happens when your library is accused of being unwelcoming or treating community members poorly, or as in our case, receives a nasty review? As anyone who has ever registered a consumer complaint via social media knows, responses matter.

Problem Recovery Opportunity

In nearly every customer service and user experience study conducted, the results indicate that efficient problem resolution is even more critical than standard service delivery. In a survey of 1,000 shoppers, customers whose problems were effectively resolved spent six percent more at that online business than other customers. On Twitter, airline and wireless provider companies that responded quickly to customer complaints were perceived more positively, were more likely to be recommended, and received more repeat business from those customers. More important, because even the best service providers are unable to resolve every problem, just acknowledging a complaint with a response or expressing empathy with a disgruntled customer yields positive benefits. Simply ignoring complaints or failing to provide fast problem resolution is a surefire way to create negative buzz. Though responding to social media complaints and poor reviews makes for better community relationships, it’s also important to occasionally respond to supporters as well—to let them know their support is appreciated. Knowing how important a social media response is, what’s the best way to do that?

How to Respond

There’s no dearth of advice on how to respond to social media negativity. Let’s review my mistakes in handling a response to a negative Google review to learn what not to do:

  • I broke the cardinal rule of social media response: Always Respond. Even if it’s just to acknowledge the comment or inquiry, it lets community members know the library is paying attention, listening, and wants to improve through engagement in conversation.
  • I jumped the gun and went rogue. Bad idea. What I should have done is leave this to the social media experts. There’s a reason our institutions have point people for social media communications—so the job gets done right the first time. If your academic library lacks a social media point person, appoint someone to engage with your college or university social media team.
  • I had no idea what the appropriate response should state. Be ready with an organization policy that specifies who will respond and identifies consistent responses. For example, “We’re sorry you had a bad experience. Tell us more so we can improve,” or “Thank you for sharing this problem, which we will report immediately.” Whatever the statement, keep it friendly and personable.
  • I treated this bad review as a one-off situation. Granted, this sort of anonymous negative review is unusual for academic libraries—all of our other Google reviews are fine—but it’s important to track media interactions so there’s an ongoing record of what happened and how it was handled.
  • I lost my cool. That’s guaranteed to lead to trouble. It’s hard to read a negative comment about your library and resist taking it personally, especially a remark you feel is blatantly wrong. Just as with email communication, avoid the urge to instantly respond. If you must, get that anger out of your system with a note but put it aside for 24 hours. By then you’ll have come to your senses.

While I mostly bungled our library response, one thing I did get right is responding promptly upon discovering the review. The problem is that the review was already three months old when it was discovered. It’s good practice to routinely monitor sites like Google and Yelp, along with other social media, in order to catch comments and reviews, negative and positive, for response in timely fashion.

A Few Simple Rules

Whatever you do on social media, your personal accounts are your business. Keep them separate from your workplace activity. Recent incidents have taught us that controversial faculty comments can spiral out of control, leaving the institution to manage damage control. When it comes to your academic library’s social media accounts, following some basic guidelines will contribute to positive, timely interactions with community members. The key is preparation. Know who will respond, how they’ll do it, and what will be said. Appoint someone to actively monitor common review sites. If your library lacks a staff member with the appropriate skills, know who to call for advice at your institution. I learned a few social media lessons the hard way, and now I know how to avoid repeating them. Here’s hoping other academic librarians will learn from my errors so that they get it right when handling social media complaints and negative reviews.

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