Retail Report: Dealing with Bad Buzz

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New York—While social media is a fun and relatively inexpensive way for retailers to connect with consumers, it also opens the door to bad buzz—negative comments that must be dealt with.

“Bad buzz is a hazard that continues to test a retailer’s abilities to market in the fragmented, real-time environments of social networks,” says Jeffrey Grau, eMarketer senior analyst and author of the new report “How Retailers Handle Negative Buzz on Social Media.”

The first step in responding to bad buzz is to figure out whether it’sa legitimate gripe, Grau says. “It could be someone with an axe to grind, but a posting could also be a comment that can help you improve or fix something in your business.”

Develop Customer Advocates

Once a retailer is criticized on Facebook or a similar social venue, it has three basic options for dealing with the situation: respond to the criticism, stay silent—perhaps to allow loyal customers to come to its defense—or remove the negative comments when possible, says Grau.

If a retailer chooses the stay-silent approach, then Grau advises they cultivate customer advocates, that is, loyal consumers ready to defend their brand when it’s attacked. Retailers develop such relationships by granting loyal customers special privileges such an advanced exclusive preview of a new product or offer them the opportunity to try a product before it’s for sale, Grau says. Retailers can also stage exclusive events where loyal customers can provide feedback, hear about the retailer’s plans and hobnob with store executives.

Grau advises using bad buzz as constructive criticism and as an opportunity to reconnect with valuable consumers and reaffirm business values.

“They listen to what customers are saying to identify and solve problems before they balloon into much bigger issues,” Grau says. “This behavior reflects a different mind-set: customers are not adversaries but partners to be treated with respect.”

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