How to Handle Criticism Online

Who called Dave to the witness stand?

Image by Florida Conference via Flickr

Any individual or business who sticks their neck out there in the online world will eventually encounter someone who has had a bad experience with them, their product, or who simply doesn’t like them. The question is not how to avoid criticism, but how to handle criticism. Lucky you, we have a couple of examples here in our local community that show some wrong, and right ways to handle the fire. I won’t be using the names of people and businesses in this post to protect those involved.

How To, and Not To, Handle Criticism

There has recently been a case where a genuine, well-meaning Twitter user has been, at least in the opinion of a few, misusing the local hashtag, directing numerous tweets to it without real relevance to the local community. A few people in the community responded to this user, and instead of accepting their comments, proceeded to push back, which escalated into an argument of twepic proportions. Not good. For the business’ reputation, nor for those who were involved on an individual level. What could have prevented this?

  • Humble Acceptance of Criticism As an individual user yesterday, I let someone know that multiple use of the same hashtag in a tweet doesn’t provide any real value. It in fact takes away valuable characters. ┬áThis person thanked me kindly, noting that they didn’t even know that. This user, a non-profit in our area, humbly accepted criticism not as a criticism, but as something helpful to them, which it was meant to be. Had the well-meaning user from above simply accepted the well-intended criticism, there would’ve been no argument, and it would have been a win-win situation. Instead, pride intervened, and it escalated. But the ball was in another side of the court.
  • Someone Has to Give As a business, this should be you. Individuals have much less to lose by giving in during a heated exchange. You have your brand, your reputation, on the line. Bite your tongue, and log out for a while. But if this doesn’t happen, if you’re giving criticism, you should say your peace, and cease-fire. It’s hard, because it means swallowing your pride, and moving on, which isn’t always easy to do.

Cleaning Up the Mess

After criticism is given, if the exchange gets out of hand, which it shouldn’t, there often is a PR mess left. The local tweetup group has recently experienced this, even when (in my opinion) they were in the right in their criticisms. So how do you handle the leftovers? You save face, and issue an apology. You explain that you realize that both parties were well-intentioned, and emotions intervened. Done. You’ve now left your brand/reputation in the hands of the judging public. Good luck.

SB Wants to Know

What’s the balance between giving your opinion on the way someone uses a tool like Twitter, and being the “police” of those same tools?

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