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Social Media

May 9, 2019

Managing public complaints on social media

By: Jennifer Amundson, Deluxe Director of Social Media and Communications

I hope you never use this blog. I hope all your reviews are five-star.

Okay, let’s be real. Probably, at some point, you are going to hear from an unhappy customer. Maybe they’ll keep it quiet by emailing or calling you. But you may find yourself dealing with an angry allegation on your social media pages for all to see. Yikes.

I am a former journalist and longtime public relations practitioner. I have dealt with thousands of unhappy people. Break into the weekend golf broadcast with a severe weather report and the newsroom phones melt into a puddle of plastic. Comments pile up. Everyone is furious. No one is writing to say thanks. And yet, you still want them to be your fans in the end.

Here’s a few ideas to get you going when you find a complaint about your business on social media.

  1. First, play detective, quickly.

You may not appreciate the complaint, but the person could have a point. Investigate the situation. Get as close as you can to the source. Talk to the employee who handled the customer. Consider whether your security cameras would show you anything, if the complaint rises to that level. Check online interactions if that’s where the problem occurred. Find out, quickly, whatever you can.

  1. Then, contact the complainer.

Reach out to them the way they reached out to you. If they posted publicly on your Facebook page, ask them to send you a private message with their contact information. That lets your fans know you are on the case and you have taken the back-and-forth out of the public eye.

Keep an open mind. Interview them gently about what happened. Determine whether they have a valid complaint and if there is anything you can do to preserve the relationship. Thank them for bringing the issue to your attention – or at least appreciate you had a chance to explain your business’ position.

Your insurance company and your lawyer might advise you differently, but I have always advocated for an apology and an admission that we could have done better when that is true. They might be mad, but they are still my customer. What’s more, an apology can defuse an escalating public relations problem from someone who feels unheard.

  1. Hide the post? Maybe not.

Absolutely feel free to hide a complaint if it contains threatening or inappropriate language, personal information about others, or anything else that feels dangerous. If the comment is on someone else’s site, a restaurant review page for example, you can explain to the site why you think they should remove it. Take a screenshot, in case you need it at some later point, heaven forbid. Of course, contact local authorities if you have a concern that needs their attention.

But, if someone is simply complaining, consider keeping it visible. You can grow others’ loyalty by showing how you handle difficult situations, responding calmly and kindly. You might even find your followers coming to your defense. In my experience, taking down a complainer’s post can result in more, worse comments until you break up all together with a block. Let’s avoid that whenever possible.


Criticism is hard to take. Managing it gracefully takes practice. If you made it through the experience without showing irritation, well done. Now, back to your regular programming.

Looking for resources for responding to reviews? Find more free advice at the Deluxe Small Business Resource Center.

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