Try as you may, it’s impossible to please everyone—there will always be people who issue a complaint about your cause or organization. Thanks to social media, it’s not only you and your nonprofit that gets an earful, but the rest of the online world as well. But this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Here’s the upside to having online critics.
They highlight opportunities to grow. Look past the criticism and honestly ask yourself, “Do they have a point?” Even if they seem unreasonable, there may be a little truth embedded in their complaints. No organization is perfect. Addressing a legitimate flaw makes you better.
They bring out your supporters. If you’ve spent the past few years building relationships with your supporters and constituents through social media, you’ve acquired some loyal followers. When someone complains about your organization, your supporters will rise to your defense. Observers may see the complaints, but they’ll see the rebuttals too.
They keep people buzzing about your brand. Maybe not all publicity is good publicity. But if you find a way to take control of the conversation, you’ll wind up with positive PR in the end. Just stay true to your brand and be authentic with your supporters.
The key to turning a negative into a potential positive is to handle critical feedback well. Here are six tips for doing that.
Respond promptly. Don’t let negative comments linger. The more time you let them go unanswered, the more time others have to see that someone has complained and you haven’t responded. Responding quickly, even with a message that simply acknowledges the comment, is a show of loyalty and care.
If someone complains publicly, react publicly—then then take it private if necessary. By addressing the issue in a public forum, in a calm and constructive manner, you build trust—it shows that you’re not afraid to be transparent. If someone is being particularly difficult, however, it’s best to move your communication to a private channel.
Listen. Listening to your critics isn’t fun, but it could be useful. Instead of shying away, engage in conversation. Find out what their complaint is truly about. You may discover the issue is due to a misunderstanding or miscommunication, an unfortunate experience with just one person at your organization, or it may point out a flaw that you can easily address and correct.
Plan for complaints. Being unprepared for criticism can lead to knee-jerk reactions and more damage to your organization’s reputation. Talk with others in your organization about how to handle complaints in a constructive way. It’s not possible to predict every situation, but having a plan helps when the unexpected comes up.
Don’t respond with canned answers. Whatever you do, do not address public complaints with a canned response or a generic, one-line answer. This can seem disheartening and even condescending. Addressing people by name, mentioning their specific issue and using humor (if appropriate) are all simple ways to let people know you care.
Follow up. Even the most caring, considerate and personable response to a negative comment will fall flat if you do nothing to follow up with people after you’ve addressed their concerns. See each complaint through to a resolution, if possible. This will encourage loyalty and trust, which can generate some great word-of-mouth and positive publicity for your organization.
Above all, keeping the lines of communication open is key to establishing good relationships with everyone in your sphere of influence. Be sure your audience can easily engage with you, whether it’s on social media or through your website. Do you have the online tools necessary to keep your prospects and constituents happy and in your good favor?