Please Read the (Social Media) Comments

Turning a Social Media Fail into a Success with a Response Plan

Social media is about experimentation. It’s like being a scientist or an inventor. We fail and fail until we find that right combination. Sometimes we find the formula easily. Other times we miss the mark. In fact, we fail more than we succeed. And in the world of social media, when we fail, we fail big.

So failure shouldn’t surprise us. Instead, we must plan to fail—but fail a little less each time. Smaller failures mean smaller problems. Smaller is good. Smaller is manageable.

As brand advocates for both [B]RIGHT Brand Performance Group and our clients, we often get caught up in the negativity of the over-amplified social media sphere. It’s noisy. Sometimes the only thing we hear is goats yelling like humans. Other times the noise is brought to us courtesy of CAPS LOCK. Very noisy, indeed.

Having a plan in place will allow for a consistent, appropriate response instead of a click-before-you-think reactive approach.

If you’re the person who does the communicating, the PR, the news, and the social media, you cringe when you hear about these failures—most of the time. Sometimes we revel in it and amplify the noise. Not our best days.

Things happen. Brands are not humans, but humans run them. Humans make mistakes; ergo brands make mistakes. It’s how we learn and progress.

We’ve all heard the phrase “don’t read the comments.” Anonymity makes us brave. Anonymity disables (all) filters. Online comments are polarizing at best, offensive and illegal at worst. It’s mostly love or hate. And hate is more fun.

To help us be prepared—and fail “smaller”—let’s look at how an effective social media response plan can be a valuable tool.

Plan, Plan, Wonderful Plan

A social media response plan is a blueprint that assists the person (the chosen external communicator) in strategically creating an appropriate response based on the type of interaction and the type of commenter.

Wow! That didn’t quite sound human. Let’s try it again: It is meant to guide the person into figuring out what type of complaint/feedback is being received, from where and what channel, and how to best respond. It is often illustrated as a flowchart.

Here’s our pathway for preparedness, execution, and feedback:

  • Listen
  • Identify
  • Action
  • Opportunity
  • Report


The first phase relies upon one single factor: that you’re actively listening to what is being said about your brand, product, or service. There are several great tools to use for just this purpose. Native search tools, such as advanced Twitter search and other native notifications, allow you to find out what is being said about your brand, instantly.

There’s also a plethora of great social media management (or social media listening) platforms, ranging from “freemium” options such as Hootsuite to enterprise models that will cost you more than $5,000 a month. Find and use what best fits your brand, team, and budget.


The second phase focuses on the person and the type of feedback. Is it negative, positive, or something else? Who made the comment? Is it an internal or external stakeholder, an internet troll, someone who is venting, someone who is misinformed, someone who is complimenting us, or something else?

Due diligence is imperative in being able to take the appropriate action. The more we know of the end goal and the nature of the person we’re interacting with, the more “arrows we have in our quiver.” In this instance, you want to be Robin Hood—or, better yet, Legolas. You want to be someone with a really large arrow holder.


How can we best respond to the comment? Do we thank the person? Do we tell commenters that we’ll check on something and get back to them? Do we correct them? Do we apologize? Do we ignore and monitor? Do we report an abuse?

This phase is your opportunity to turn a negative into a positive, a positive into a lead, a lead into a conversion, a conversion into a brand advocate, and a brand advocate into a lifelong customer. And that is the ultimate goal of the response plan to effectively (and in a timely manner) respond to comments with the goal of creating a positive experience or outcome.

According to an article on, respondents (to this survey) who suffered a bad interaction were 50 percent more likely to share it on social media than those who had a good experience, and 52 percent were more likely to share it on an online review site such as Yelp. Union Street Guest House recently found out the hard way what can happen if a company is reactive instead of proactive.

Negativity has greater reach (hate is more fun) and a greater chance of virality (a piece of content going viral). We see this time and time again. It’s why companies such as are gaining popularity.

Having a plan in place will allow for a consistent, appropriate response instead of a click-before-you-think reactive approach.


The main aspect to take away from the action phase is this: If we receive negative feedback, do we respond to it? Do we consider the negative feedback (if valid) a lesson learned and try to change for the better? Herein lies the success or failure of using social media as a communication channel. Are we, the humans behind the company, really treating what’s being said as constructive criticism? And if we are, are we acting upon it?

If your company does, kudos. You’re going in the right direction. You’re on your way to becoming a champion of customer service. Changing an internal process, product, or service due to feedback from social channels can be called research and development, and/or crowdsourcing. It’s also called iterating and adapting, as well as agile marketing. It’s called progress.


The final phase is to make sure that we institute a process for tracking and follow-up. A customer relationship management (CRM) tool is needed for this. Many social media communication platforms have adequate built-in CRMs. They may not be as robust, however, as some of the top CRMs. Services such as Hootsuite, Buffer, and SproutSocial could be good choices, albeit they’re more focused on external management and outreach.

Furthermore, do we notify HR? Do we let other internal stakeholders know about the interaction? Do we alert someone in management or sales to follow up with this person? The better we report and share this information with internal stakeholders, the better equipped we are to interact with this person in the future.

Things happen. Brands are not humans, but humans run them. Humans make mistakes; ergo brands make mistakes. It’s how we learn and progress.

It’s Not the Size of Your Plan; It’s How You Use It

Having a social media response plan should be part of your content strategy. It enables you to consistently and promptly respond to interaction from social channels. It allows for good customer service, and it can facilitate constructive feedback that you can learn from.

The plan can help you be ready when negative feedback comes your way. But this is just a summary of what is needed—a small chunk. I give you these guidelines with the understanding (and hope) that you also have a social media style guide in place, one that clearly defines your brand voice and shapes your content by making use of consistent formats that target the appropriate channels. I also hope that you have the right people working for you in the right capacity, that you know how to optimize the native utility of your social channels, that you consistently measure and adapt your digital strategy, and that you know your brand better than your customers do.

In today’s TikTok-famous-15-seconds-of-fame-insta-celeb-digital-non-PC world, you’re better off being prepared. Trust us on this one.