It’s extremely important to respond quickly when someone communicates with you online—regardless of whether their communication is favorable or not. Prompt responsiveness is the foundation of a good communication plan; without it, the rest of what you do will be ineffective. Different types of comments require different ways of responding. This article will address one unfortunate but common phenomenon on the internet known as “trolling.”
Trolling vs. Legitimate Concerns
A “troll” is a user who posts deliberately inflammatory content on a web site or social media site for the express purpose of getting people angry or upset. It is quite common for trolls to post comments that are contextually irrelevant (for example, visiting a cupcake recipe message board and posting vitriolic political opinions). Trolling can also take the form of slander. It’s not uncommon for restaurants to post fake negative reviews about their competitors online. Sometimes, people even upload phony pictures of burned or undercooked food that came from a different restaurant (or that they downloaded from the internet). Trolling happens for a variety of different reasons, but it’s important to make the distinction here between a troll and a customer or student who has genuinely had a bad experience.
Make it a Policy to Investigate All Negative Comments
When a negative comment appears on any medium, you won’t necessarily know right away whether the complaint is legitimate or not. However, it is not too hard to find out. There are a number of telltale characteristic behaviors that will reveal what type of user you are dealing with. A customer who is upset for a valid reason will generally calm down after someone listens and takes their concerns seriously. A troll, on the other hand, will continue posting negative content. Sometimes, they will ignore your response. Other times, they will respond to you with sarcasm or insults. If so, don’t take the bait.
Appoint someone in your organization to be in charge of investigating every negative comment that shows up online. Talk to dining staff, find out what happened and find out if the comment is legitimate or not. Post a short response publicly and communicate with the student privately. No matter what, you need to show on the record that you responded. Swiftness is the key here. You need for people to see that you investigate complaints within a very short time. If you wait until the next day to respond, the situation may have already escalated out of control.
How to Respond
If a negative comment is a true statement, post an apology and a promise to rectify the situation. Give the customer a way to communicate directly with the person who has the authority to fix it. We recommend that you call or email the complainer directly (if you are able to get their contact information) rather than just giving them a phone number of someone to call. You might, for instance, ask them to send you a private message on Facebook with their cell phone number state that you will have a Food Service director contact them before the end of the day.
If you can verify that a statement is false, assume that the person made an honest mistake. For example, you might post “Sorry, but our dining hall does not serve that particular food item. We are sorry that you had a bad experience, but it appears that your comment is referring to a different vendor.” (Obviously, you should be absolutely certain that a comment is false before responding in this manner!)
You may run into situations where a student continues to complain after your response. That’s ok—the key is to show a public response in a short period of time. Once you know that you are dealing with a troll, don’t respond to further comments. Any response at all will encourage more of the same behavior. Whatever you do, don’t argue, threaten or fight. Post your first response and then stop. If someone is just unhappy with their dining experience, they will accept your offer to communicate with them privately to get it resolved. Trolls are not interested in solutions—they just want attention.
The key to dealing effectively with online comments is implementing the technology tools and disciplines to respond promptly. We designed Buzz.Report to make it easy for college auxiliary service providers to track and monitor online comments across all major social and digital platforms from a single dashboard in real time. Give us a call today if you’d like to discuss how we can implement our solution for your organization.
Adam O’Donnell and John Roberts are Founders of Buzz.Report, a feedback management system that focuses on helping college auxiliary professionals make more informed decisions by aggregating actionable data.