Someone wrote something bad on our Facebook page! Delete it quick! Does this sound familiar? While many love how easy social media has made it for brands to talk to their communities of customers and fans, they often have mixed feelings when these individuals start commenting. This is especially true when dealing with negative comments and content.

When introducing social media to clients, classes, or workshops, I often lead with one of the key differences between this form of media and pretty much every other marketing channel that preceded it. Whether you’re comparing print, direct mail, or broadcast such as TV and radio, the biggest difference is the fact that with social media the audience can and will talk back. And it’s not always good.

Don’t “Whitewash” Your Social Media Conversations

While dealing with an upset customer on Facebook or Twitter is a subject all its own, few talk about what to do in the aftermath of a negative interaction on social media.

Following the successful resolution of an issue, many are quick to jump to the conclusion above — “Delete it! Fast! Before someone sees it” While some view this as the online equivalent of tidying up after a mess, it ignores the fact that social media is a very human form of engagement.

People are not only smart, they’re increasingly savvy about brand behavior on social media sites. In 2009 Socialbakers reported that the average Facebook user liked 4.5 brand pages. Just four years later, the average user today likes 70 pages! It’s safe to say that social consumers can tell the difference between a page with real human conversations and a “whitewashed” brand page featuring press-release style updates and cheerleading comments from cherry-picked fans.

In his book Likeable Social Media, author Dave Kerpen encourages brands to follow a Do-Not-Delete Rule, stating that “unless a comment is obscene, profane, bigoted, or contains someone’s personal or private information, never delete it from a social network.”

Leaving a trail of your successful issue resolution online is just as important as addressing the initial customer problem. Doing so not only shows that you’re listening and responding, it also shows that you’re a transparent organization with real people behind it. Humans make mistakes and, more often than not, consumers understand and forgive.

Moreover, many times when you resolve an issue for an upset customer online, they comment back with excitement as you’ve not only met their needs, you’ve listened to them as well. Why would you delete that? These are the brand moments you should share with the world.

Negative Content Isn’t Always Bad

Beyond negative social conversations, brands also shouldn’t fear negative content. Blog posts detailing a negative customer experience are expanded opportunities for your to reach out and strengthen your relationship. If anything, an in-depth post gives you even more information to resolve the issue.

Your own content needn’t be sugar-coated either. If there are aspects of your brand experience that aren’t always sunny, don’t hide from them. In fact, there may be more to gain from addressing these challenges head on through your content.

Palmer College of Chiropractic encourages student bloggers to talk about the good and the bad days in their posts. This gives prospective students insight on what life is going to be like when they go through this intensive program. This, too, helps demonstrate your brand’s transparency.

“We believe the more we can share with our audience, the more they trust that we care about them and their education,” adds Katie Merritt, Communications Coordinator at Palmer.

A Big Shift

Learning to accept and integrate negative conversations and content, is just one of the many shifts that social media has brought about. In the end, benefits like earning trust outweigh those uneasy feelings we get in our stomach when the negative comment notifications first appear.

All conversations — event the negative ones — are opportunities to demonstrate your brand’s transparency and build trust.

Photo via Flickr user Tina D