When it comes to dealing with negative comments or the fear of negative comments, it seems that it’s not nearly as daunting as people imagine. And as TransLink Online Communications Advisor Jhenifer Pabillano points out, “Those conversations already exist whether you’re participating in them or not. Being a part of social media helps you be a part of that conversation and maybe steer the direction that might be positive for your organization.
“But at this point now, all you have is the negative things that people are saying that you don’t get to participate in, so for some people it might be a missed opportunity.”
“I think the challenge with negative comments is more the internal fear of them,” says Jaime Vogt, Sound Transit communications specialist. “I think after all this much worry about negative comments it’s been a real pleasant surprise at how few there are.”
Pabillano shares a similar sentiment. “There was no overwhelming barrage of really angry people who have showed up and made life misery. It really hasn’t happened that way.”
“The most important thing to remember is first of all, don’t panic. It’s not as scary as it seems,” says Vogt. “And I think they’ll find they’ll get much more positive outlook then they will a negative outlook. “
“I think agencies need to develop a bit of a thicker skin on these things,” says Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Website Manager Tim Moore. “Just because they’re not being said in a public place, doesn’t mean they’re not being said and it doesn’t mean they’re not things that the agency shouldn’t address.
“I think you gain a great deal of equity when you talk with your customers and address these negative things, because otherwise you’re just Pollyana-ish, just positive things in a positive context and everybody knows that that’s not the way things really are.”
This past year, TriMet created a Blog Response Team to monitor local blogs and to respond with useful, thoughtful, accurate information after discovering misrepresented information and to get involved in the conversation. “This team is made up of communications professionals within the agency who, as content experts, can respond in a timely manner when bloggers present important information about our agency incorrectly or inadequately,” TriMet Director of Marketing Drew Blevins says.
Of course at times the negative comments will come or you will have negative news you will have to communicate.
“We try to stay on message and address real issues,” Blevins says. He also says they have a response “triage” chart that is used by the U.S. Air Force and Ohio State Medical Centers to help them manage.
Samantha Cross, business development director for Indianapolis Public Transportation Corp. (IndyGo) says their process is to ask for those that have a specific comment or complaint that they go through either the website or the call center to lodge that complaint. “We don’t want this to necessarily be, ‘This bus driver was mean to me today.’ There’s a way for us to handle that.”
For someone that has a specific problem, Cross says they urge the person to go to the customer call center or website and lodge a formal complaint so there can be appropriate follow up. “If it keeps up, there’s just general negativity, we’ll try to answer it on Facebook. If it keeps going, we go offline and we contact that person.”
She explains there was someone on Twitter that used excessive inappropriate language. “He was frustrated and he had every right to be frustrated, just the way he was handling it wasn’t great.”
He was invited in to come and talk about his complaints. “That assured him that he is being heard and that he needs to continue to go through the proper channels to launch his complaints or comments or we’ll never fix his concerns.”