Someone’s talking to my organisation using social media – what do I say back?

Oct 6, 2010

Here’s a guide to responding to customers or stakeholders in social media for corporate use.


Essentially, these are just principles that make good PR practice but lots of us aren’t used to this new level of engagement so I hope they help.


So: once you know your content is good, it’s relevant to your audience, useful and entertaining etc. what do you say back?  How do you foster an ongoing conversation and deal with criticism?


Here are four main types of response – service, query, attack and compliment – and how to handle them. Plus a few other thoughts.


Service: e.g. “The cake you sold me was stale/the receptionist was rude”


Say sorry, even if it’s just to say sorry that they aren’t a happy customer/citizen.


Say you want to help.


Ask them to DM/inbox details: take it offline if possible – their contact details shouldn’t be bandied about the net and it helps if the details can be expanded upon in an email or phone call.


“Sorry you didn’t enjoy the cake/ you weren’t happy with the service. We want all our cakes to be delish/everyone to be happy & will do our best to resolve probs. Pls DM your details & we’ll deal with it straight away”


Attack: e.g. “Your organisation is corrupt/wrong”


Understand. It can be frustrating if you think you’re dealing with an organisation that isn’t fair. Acknowledge that there will always be an opposite point of view.


Link to webpage/blog for full explanation


“We understand your point but we have tight budgets & unfortunately have had to make tough decisions.  An explanation from our CEO can be found here:


Follow up with fresh post stating you position for everyone to see.  If one person thought it, many others might too.  This is your chance to tell people why your organisation behaves as it does.  The ‘attacker’ has done you a favour by drawing your attention to their point of view.

Above all – aim to answer everything. In most cases, you can say a minimum of “Thanks for your comments which have been passed on to the relevant department.”



Compliment: e.g. “Wow, I love your new offices.  Great to see you’re employing locals in my area.”


Always say thanks – when we’re angry we’re more likely to make ourselves heard so when someone makes the effort to compliment it warrants a ‘thanks’.  This person should mean a lot to you as a valued citizen/ customer.


Ask if you can use their statement in promo material.


“Thank you, glad you like the offices!  Would you mind if we quote you in our promotional material? Not a prob if you’d rather keep it between us :-)”


Query: e.g. “What decision was made at your Cabinet meeting today re: dog poo enforcement?”


If you don’t know the answer then say so!  The medium is immediate and expectations are higher. Give timeframe for when it’ll be answered. Stick to it. Otherwise they might feel ignored.


“I’m not sure, will check with our officers and be back to you by the end of the day.”


If you can answer in one post, do it – “Hi, all members voted in favour of recommendations to increase fines for dog fouling offenders.”


Ideally you would link to more info on the web to answer further: “All in favour – minutes can be found here or the local paper coverage is here:


Repost the info to everyone – thank original questioner for bringing it to your attention.


Extra thoughts


Admit mistakes and don’t delete!


This example I’ll use is a mistake I made.  Bear with me…


I was live tweeting from the opening ceremony of historic building in the authority I work from.  As the Princess Royal arrived at the building I took a picture and tweeted it:








In the excitement of tweeting it quickly I must have deleted a character in the shortened link to the picture.  The picture I tweeted was someone wearing and holding a couple of Michael Jackson masks (here’s the link to the odd picture by the way I’ve no idea where this came from).  Not what I was after. 











Nobody sacked me (yet!), it was a genuine error and I didn’t want to delete the tweet in case anyone saw it as a sign that something more sinister had happened. (Incidentally, other people just commneted on the live coverage and ignored or didn’t notice the Jacko pic.)


Being open makes you more trustworthy. 



Small talk isn’t a waste of time


If you were talking face to face you’d talk about a few niceties – weather, local events, enquiring after health. A bit of this shows a human face to the organisation and helps people to warm to you. It can help you establish relationships.


Believe in your community


If you’ve built a strong community they will stand up for you if someone oversteps the mark.  Informed followers/friends/fans may get involved in a conversation if they spot another member of the community posing another point of view.





If you spot anything outside of your community – get involved but be extra polite. So, “Hope you don’t mind me joining in but noticed you liked our… etc.’  Getting in on online chats is easier than in the real world but manners always help.



Anyway, these principles work for me but would love to be challenged or have a chat.


  1. brjhn

    Interesting post. I would hope that your organisation has a detailed strategy for dealing with abusive/malicious social media posts. After all local government is often a target for the (not always justifiably) disgruntled. Don’t you think that you should try to engage unhappy customers offline rather than risk a protracted slanging match in public?

  2. Helen Reynolds

    Thanks for your comment, really interesting points. We’ve not had any abusive or malicious yet so far thank goodness but we have a protocol on how we would deal with that.I agree that a slanging match is not ideal and I’d argue that only skilled communicators should enter into that territory – communicators who can calm, rather than inflame. I talk from a public sector perspective but I think the principle applies to business – open and tranparent organisations publicly answer an opposing viewpoint to give information to other people who use that medium who feel the same way but they don’t engage. That is, it’s an opportunity to reach those who don’t publicly complain.Local government is often subject to unjust criticism, agreed, but by treating people’s views with public acknowledgement and respect, I’d argue we have a more receptive audience to our side of the story.I suppose what I’m looking not turning someone around to ‘our’ point of view necessarily, but making sure ‘they’ know both sides of the argument so they can have an informed opinion. And ‘we’ have better knowledge the views of our stakeholders.That’s what I think anyway 😉

  3. Phil Spray

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Hel Reynolds

Hel Reynolds

Author of this post

Hel is social media trainer and boss of Comms Creatives. She has been working in comms since 2005, and has been brushing up her expertise in social media for brands since the good old days of MySpace. She also draws the Comms Cartoons, and is usually attached to a mug of coffee.

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