Rules of Online Engagement for Businesses (and people)

Spend enough time interacting with clients online (or people in general) and you’re bound to encounter some objections along the way. During this recent election cycle, I saw my fair share of emotional, assumption-filled, and irrational responses; and I felt all the feelings –  amused to grumpy to angry – as a result.

Saying it louder is a move, but it’s probably not your best move. From politics to negative Google reviews, here are some tips to help you engage with others and address objections online:

1. Be Kind

(see also: Don’t be an a!*#hole on the internet – or anywhere)

This one should go without saying – especially for businesses engaging with clients:

If you wouldn’t say it to a person’s face, don’t say it online.

We’re not advocating silence, even though the only way to truly avoid anyone being unhappy with you ever is precisely that. Say or do anything, and it’s inevitable that someone isn’t going to like it. But there is a way to communicate your message with kindness. And while you can’t choose what other people say about (or to) you, you can very much choose your response to them.

So be kind. Be compassionate. Envision the person sitting in front you, and think about the impact of your words before you type them. This is true always; it’s especially important if you’re representing a brand or business.

2. Be Intentional

As a genuine lover of words, I get that it can be hard to remember that sometimes less is more. Think about what it is that you actually want to communicate, the pare down your response to just that. (Then pare it down again, if possible.) Take a minute to breathe and think before your fingers start hammering out an enraged response. At the same time, you have things to accomplish in the world, so don’t agonize over it. (Overthinking has made just as many messes as under-thinking.) Give yourself an appropriate amount of time to respond (this is very subjective, but somewhere around 5-7 minutes), then get on with it.

Don’t get into the particulars. Keep it short. Always pursue an in-person or over-the-phone conversation.

side note: It’s likely you’ll be judged by your response to the thing more than you’re judged for the actual thing. I’ve personally – numerous times – read reviews and responses before making a purchasing decision – then I gave more weight to the response of the business to the review than I gave to the actual review.

Be intentional about listening. Be intentional in your response. (And consider keeping some space between your personal thoughts/feelings/posts/shares and your professional identity.)

3. Be Objective

All feelings are valid. Always. But, generally speaking, feelings are terrible decision makers. Before you start formulating your response, acknowledge your anger (or fear or sadness or rage) without judgement. Just notice.  Thank your feelings for their concern and passion and zeal. Then create space for them to pass by.

Remember that your perspective is precisely that – yours – and that your “opponent” is approaching this issue from an entirely different perspective. And their perspective carries with it all of their anger and fear and sadness. If you can listen from that space (without passing judgement or making assumptions), you’ll be able to formulate a much more objective response.

4. Move On

Someone just left you a two-star review on Google because they showed up at your place of business 5 minutes after your *clearly stated* closing time. This is ridiculous. And maddening and silly and unfair. It’s also a thing that happens. And while any rationally-minded person that actually reads that review on Google will come to the same conclusion, it still impacts your overall rating – and potentially your page rank (gasp) .

How much power are you going to give it? How much time and energy are you going to spend ruminating? How long is your mind-fit going to last? Because every minute you spend thinking about the injustice of it, is a minute you’ve spent not doing something productive (unless you clean when you’re mad, like I do).

Type out your emotionally-unattached response and move the heck on.

5. Clean it Up

Social media is very much like a junk drawer. Taken in its entirety, it’s a thing most of us tolerate until it gets out of hand. But eventually it reaches a breaking point and requires some attention. Thankfully there are a plethora of tools at your disposal to help with this virtual, but inevitable, annoyance.

On Instagram and Twitter the “unfollow” button is a great way to reclaim your brain space and emotional energy. The account you unfollow won’t receive a notification, and you’ll likely feel empowered by your decision. (On a personal note, it doesn’t matter how or why this person is draining you emotionally. If it’s a thing that’s happening – unfollow.)

On Facebook, you can unfriend or “hide” a user. You can also “hide posts like these.” All great options, and it really doesn’t matter which one you choose. Facebook won’t send them a notice either, but your ex-friend could see you pop up in their “add friends” feed and wonder why you’re showing up there when you’re already friends (or so they thought).

(I’ve personally done all of the above – sometimes hastily and sometimes with a great deal of thought. I’ve never regretted it.)

From a business standpoint, it’s a good idea to go through your “following” list on Instagram and Twitter as well. Unfollow inactive users, users who don’t post content you find valuable (especially if they’re not following you back), or any accounts you find spammy or irritating. People look at who you’re following to get a better sense of what your brand represents – and what your values are. Be intentional with it. This list receives far more weight than the “followers” counterpart.

Speaking of “cleaning it up,” it’s never too late to apologize for an inappropriate response. If you’ve not handled yourself as well as would’ve liked, own it.

People are complicated – be kind anyway.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve had the following exchange, I could buy myself coffee for a week (or two):

Client: How can I improve my ratings online?
Me: Meet or exceed expectations. Do what you say you’re going to do. Don’t make people wait. Provide a quality service. Listen. Treat people with dignity.

That’s the way to do it 99/100 times. (The 1/100 time is the irrational, troubled soul who showed up after you’ve closed, is pissed about it, and wants the whole world to know.) People are far more likely to leave a review via an online platform when they’re either extremely unhappy or extremely happy. So do your best to give them a positive experience. In the event that you do receive a negative review, reach out to a few of your happy customers and ask them to leave their feedback on the same platform – they’ll likely say yes.

While people can be irrational and emotional and frustrating, you get to choose who you’re going to be.

It’s a worthwhile investment for you and your business to show up with kindness, intentionality, objectivity, and compassion.