How to Manage Online Comments About Your Small Business

online commenters

Figuring out the best way to interact with online commenters is a critical step in running your business. But we rarely hear good examples of Internet commenting, with most of the discussion focused on abusive trolls or epic brand meltdowns (remember the Amy’s Baking Company fiasco?).

When done well, that direct communication can generate more leads or direct purchases as a result of increased engagement, says David J. Bradley, managing director at Primal Digital Marketing. There are also huge customer service opportunities that shouldn’t be overlooked, which can build brand loyalty and strengthen your customer base (more on that later).

To play the comment game well — and manage the conversation — here are some best practices.

Join the Discussion

Join the Discussion

Figuring out the best way to interact with online commenters is a critical step in running your business. But we rarely hear good examples of Internet commenting, with most of the discussion focused on abusive trolls or epic brand meltdowns (remember the Amy’s Baking Company fiasco?).

When done well, that direct communication can generate more leads or direct purchases as a result of increased engagement, says David J. Bradley, managing director at Primal Digital Marketing. There are also huge customer service opportunities that shouldn’t be overlooked, which can build brand loyalty and strengthen your customer base (more on that later).

To play the comment game well — and manage the conversation — here are some best practices.

Do: Build Brand Loyalty by Responding

Do: Build Brand Loyalty by Responding

If there are comments made about your business — on a review site, Twitter, or your business’s site — you should reply to the majority. Engaging with your clientele is a critical way to “keep your company human, as opposed to just some website with products,” says Nicole Bandklayder, founder of NB Talent Services.

Respond to comments that are engaging and start a conversation. Make sure you’re not responding only to negative comments. If you ignore positive comments, you’ll lose an opportunity to strengthen brand loyalty.

Jessica Lunk, digital marketing manager at Hatchbuck, says that beyond facilitating conversation and providing engaging responses, you can also use comments to reward loyal customers. “Be on the lookout for advocates of your brand who are saying positive things about your business online and reward them with an unexpected thank-you,” she says. “Upgrade their service, send a special discount, or send a handwritten thank-you. These small gestures make a big impact on the customer experience, and help send word-of-mouth referrals your way.”

Don’t: Allow Spam or Off-Topic Comments

Don’t: Allow Spam or Off-Topic Comments

You wouldn’t allow customers to litter all over your storefront or set up camp in your lobby to spout their conspiracy theories, so apply those same limits to your commenting section. The last thing you want potential customers to see is some robot squawking “Good news! My mother-in-law makes $100 a day working from home selling herbal supplements. Contact me at makemoney@herbs4sale.sales.co!”

Spend time moderating your comments to weed out the spam. Depending on the size of your site, setting aside 30 minutes a day should be enough — and it will be well worth the effort. To make it even simpler, screen comments before they appear on your site. Most commenting services have this option; see this Facebook plugin or Disqus’ moderation settings as examples.

Do: Use Negative Comments As a Way to Change Minds

Do: Use Negative Comments As a Way to Change Minds

When I’m Yelping a restaurant or local business, the first thing I look for is a negative review. If a customer brings up a legitimate concern, the business in question absolutely has an opportunity to change my mind by responding to the criticism well. If a company is thoughtful, human, contrite, and offers a solution, they will almost certainly get my business.

Shama Hyder, CEO of The Marketing Zen Group, says the reason this works is that it builds trust by “allowing other potential customers a transparent view of how you conduct business.” I don’t know about you, but I’m much more inclined to patronize a business that handles mistakes effectively than one that sweeps them under the rug — or worse, responds with anger or vitriol.

You can use an on-brand version of the following script to address complaints:

“I’m sorry to hear about your experience. Please give us a chance to make things right.” Then ask for an email address so the conversation can continue offline, which is a critical step. Consumers want you to reach out to fix the problem but not broadcast the entire process online.

Don’t: Promote Your Brand in Other People’s Comments

Don’t: Promote Your Brand in Other People’s Comments

Have you ever scrolled through the comments section looking for an engaging conversation, only to have your eyes glaze over dozens of comments adding nothing to the conversation and instead promoting their own site or product?

“Consumers are savvy, and they see right through self-serving comments like, ‘Check out my website!’” says Lunk. Instead, “look for online conversations you can add value to. You can drive more relevant traffic back to your site by sharing a helpful resource or related blog post that solves the problem being addressed.”

There seems to be a misconception among business owners that leaving your links everywhere leads to better SEO (causing your site to appear more highly ranked on search engines). The disconnect comes from the idea that your SEO increases when the number of highly ranked sites link back to your own site. But leaving your URL willy-nilly in commenting forums without adding any actual value to the conversation isn’t an effective SEO practice. Plus, it just turns off potential consumers.

Do: Monitor Comments for Trends

Do: Monitor Comments for Trends

Customer feedback is the easiest way to assess the strengths and weaknesses of your company, and Internet comments can be treated as free focus-group testing. “Monitor and track Internet comments and analyze trends within the customer feedback,” says Christine Rochelle, director of digital marketing and operations at Lotus823. “Is there a certain issue that has been recurring? Have customers given praise to recent news or announcements?”

If you do notice patterns, respond and say that your customers have been heard and that you’re working to address the problem if there is one.

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