How To Respond To Facebook Attacks

Whether it's a full-blown page takeover by an environmental organization or multiple posts by a disgruntled customer, no brand is immune from people freely speaking their mind and bringing that dialogue to brands' Facebook pages.

There is a natural fear of negative comments on your Facebook pages or any other forums for that matter. What a lot of folks perceive as the end of the world for a brand, I look at as the golden opportunity. After all, it is much easier to convert an unhappy customer into a social ambassador by providing excellent service and fast response than to convert a person who is neutral or doesn't care.

According to The Retail Consumer Report, commissioned by RightNow and conducted online by Harris Interactive in January 2011, of those who received a reply in response to their negative review 33% turned around and posted a positive review; 34% deleted their original negative review. 85% of consumers said they would be willing to pay anywhere between 5-25% over the standard price to ensure a superior customer experience.

So how can you convert nay-sayers into advocates? And how should you respond to Facebook page takeover attempts by angry crowds?

First off, be prepared.

Having moderation guidelines in place for your Facebook page is critical! You cannot create your own terms and conditions for your page (Facebook requires everyone to comply with their T&Cs), but you can specify what kinds of behaviors will not be tolerated within your community. For example, on our Intel's Facebook Page we outline the list of posts that will be taken down like abusive remarks, offensive language, fraudulent posts, spam, commercial solicitations, link-baiting, etc. Intel's Social Media Guidelines also include "the good, the bad, but not the ugly" rule, which states that no matter what forum the discussion takes place in, we will leave the positive comments and the negative comments, but not abusive, foul, and inappropriate comments.

There are a lot of tools out there that can help you filter the comments and flag or automatically delete the ones that include inappropriate language. Facebook also has recently build-in that capability into the brand pages by allowing you to choose a filter; however, they don't disclose the list of words that filter includes, so you might want to create your own customized list through third-party vendor solutions.

Hire experienced community manager. Some brands make the mistake of hiring an intern or outsourcing community management function to an agency. This is a critical role, role that requires a person to know your brand in and out, know its voice, what it stands for, know and love your customers, have intimate knowledge of internal stakeholders in case he/she needs to find critical information or escalate to a specific team. An intern doesn't possess this knowledge/experience. And if you absolutely must outsource this function to the agency, make darn sure that the agency is well trained, truly cares and has your best interests in mind.

Below are some additional considerations.

Responding to disgruntled customers

  • Respond quickly. Even if it's just a note to tell them you are aware of their comment and you are looking into it.
  • Be honest. If you made a mistake, admit it right away and apologize. Believe it or not, your customers don't expect you to be perfect; they just expect you to do your best. They know that you are human, so don't be afraid to act like one.
  • Provide information every step of the way. Even if you don't know the answer, tell your customer right away that you are trying to find it for him. Don't leave them hanging and expect them to automatically know what you are doing. Communicate all the way, clearly and regularly.
  • Don't take it personally. They are not attacking you; they are just looking for answers. Keep your cool, be patient and respectful.
  • Address it offline when necessary. If the customer persists and none of your attempts to address his/her complaint through the comments on your page are good enough, it is sometimes best to reach to the customer personally, pick up the phone and talk to him/her. In my experience you will find that the customer will delete his earlier negative comments and post the raving review or an apology once you talk to him.

Responding to Facebook Page takeover attempts

Similar principles apply here; however, below are some additional considerations:

  • Listen. Having listening tools in place that might alert you to a specific topic of organized protest or complaint might come in handy. If you anticipate what's coming, you might be better prepared to handle the response.
  • Put a crisis management team in place. Ensure you have a team consisting of appropriate key stakeholders (legal, PR, privacy, security, HR, customer service) in place so that your response is swift and accurate.
  • Turning the ability of fans to post to your page on/off. Unless you have the ability for fans to post on your page turned off consistently, I do not recommend using this tactic during takeovers. It will only add fuel to the fire, draw attention of the media, and can potentially turn into a Streisand Effect.
  • Setting Wall to only show posts by brand. You can set the default view of the Wall to show brand-only posts so that when someone lands on your page, they only see your posts
  • Let your fans speak for you. Sometimes it's best to let your fans defend you. Don't rally your fans on purpose. If you have a strong community, your fans will jump in and help you drive the offenders away.
  • Taking conversation somewhere else.There may have been a brand or two that used this tactic successfully. However, most of the time it doesn't work. Suggesting to an upset crowd that Facebook is not the right forum to address the issue on and offering they take the conversation to a Discussions tab or elsewhere is usually ineffective. If they are Facebook-savvy they know that the Discussions tab posts don't appear in front of the whole community unless the community takes an effort to look for those discussions (which happens rarely).
  • Know when to walk away. There is a fine line between responding to customers' satisfaction and fueling the fire. You want to provide your customers with sufficient information and an honest response and move on.
  • Continue with business as usual. Don't let the takeover affect your everyday activities. Continue to post relevant content and engage with your other customers in your usual manner.

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  • John Kembel

    Hi Ekaterina,
    Great post and thanks for noting RightNow’s Customer Experience Impact research—much appreciated.  There is no arguing that business benefits are indeed at stake for those companies who make great customer experiences a priority. 
    We could not agree more that companies must view initial negative customer interactions on social channels as golden opportunities—and the first step towards creating brand advocates from nay-sayers.  By way of example, our client, iRobot, recently shared at Gartner 360 that they found users who shared product feedback on YouTube.  iRobot quickly approached these engaged users to become part of the company’s beta program to test products—and turned them into brand advocates.
    As for brandjacking-like scenarios, you have very solid advice – have a devoted team to listen to conversations on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. and offer quick, open and on-going responses to best confront and diffuse critical, brand-tarnishing situations.  
    Another aspect we wanted to also bring up is the necessity of sharing information internally – particularly to the service associates who are on the front lines responding to customers calls, Tweets and questions.  This means ensuring social activities – those Facebook posts or Tweets in question – are in fact integrated seamlessly with all other customer touch points.  This makes sure that contact centers are social, and agents are never caught off guard by a Tweet that a customer may have either sent themselves or seen online prior to getting in touch with a particular brand.  This might suggest an additional principle for your list: be informed and consistent across channels (traditional and social alike).
    It won’t come as a surprise either that companies should look to be where there customers are – and not just listen via social channels but also engage over them too.  If a customer wants to interact via Facebook, then a brand should be prepared to use that as a primary channel of service.
    Thanks again for the mention of our research and keep up the great posts.
    John Kembel | @jkembel
    VP Social Solutions, RightNow Technologies

  • Scott Zimmerman

    Ekaterina, you have provided some valuable insights into how to respond appropriately to Facebook attacks. I wanted to add however, that in order for companies to provide effective customer service via social media, they must have a well-planned strategy of evaluating comments, assessing the problem and providing quick and relevant responses.

    Because of the “real time” nature of social media and the unlimited access it provides to customers, some companies continue to struggle with giving up control of their marketing messages. When dealing with disgruntled customers, companies must be prepared to offer responses that are accurate, honest and in line with the company’s values. They also should have customer service processes in place to take the conversation offline to engage with those customers directly to resolve the issue and to show the customer that you care about their needs and value their business.

    I think all companies have the potential to turn a negative experience into a positive one if they actively engage with their customers in a personal way, each and every time they do business. Companies that communicate on a regular basis, and understand their customers’ motivations and needs, can proactively offer additional products, services and information that improve retention.

    Thank you for the post.

    Scott Zimmerman, President of

  • Bryan Person

    An excellent list of best practices, Ekaterina! On the moderation filters, I would suggest that businesses and brands use them as *a* tool in Facebook management, but not to expect it to replace the need for human eyes to review those comments in context, and then take the necessary action (respond, delete, escalate, etc.) In our testing, for example, we found that Facebook's own filters often mischaracterized legitimate comments as spam while letting spam comments through. Plus, savvy users will catch on to those auto-filters and find ways around them (adding spaces or symbols into curse words).

    Those trained moderators can work in tandem with the community managers to ensure a positive experience for the fans. YES, this all takes time. And for high-volume Facebook Pages, it's a LOT of time. But for those companies who understand that Facebook is a valuable channel to deepen the connection and loyalty with their fans and customers, isn't it worth the investment?

    Bryan Person | @BryanPerson