How Not to Respond to a Negative Tweet: Lessons Learned from Governor Brownback

In the past few days, a Kansas teen has sure stirred things up in this country. After attending a Youth in Government program in Topeka, high school senior Emma Sullivan tweeted, “Just made mean comments at gov Brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.”

This tweet, initially a joke between her and her ~65 followers, was spotted by Governor Brownback’s office who then contacted the Youth in Government program. Sullivan was admonished for her disparaging tweet by her principal and told to write an apology to the governor. She refused.

News agencies around the country quickly picked on up this story launching the 18-year-old student into the national spotlight, championing the right to freedom of speech, and garnering the teen more than 4,000 followers on Twitter!

Regardless of varying opinions on the matter, there is an important lesson to be learned here about managing your reputation online: don’t overreact to online criticism. You can make a small matter that no one would have noticed a large matter that damages your reputation far beyond anything the original comment could have done on its own.

Below are just a couple things to keep in mind when deciding how (or if) to respond to a tweet (or any negative review for that matter):

Don’t Give Negative Reviewers Power

As a business, it can be tempting to defend yourself every time someone leaves a negative comment about you. But being defensive gives your negative reviewers power. It gives them power to continue their negative barrage…and perhaps gain more attention as your engagement actually spurs the conversation further out of your control.

Of course, there are legitimate reasons to respond to negative reviews, and good responses can provide the opportunity to show how great your business really is. The main thing to remember is that no business is perfect. Employees are going to make mistakes, things aren’t going to go as expected and consumers are going to get upset. That’s okay. When it happens, extend empathy and grace to those with legitimate concerns and weigh the pros and cons of engaging with the disparaging.

Consider the Reach of the Reviewer

Just as important as considering the nature of the review is considering the reach of the reviewer. In the example above, Emma Sullivan had a very limited reach when she first tweeted her opinion of Governor Brownback—less than 100 people (the majority of whom were probably other teens). By making a mountain out of a molehill, the Governor’s office effectively brought negative attention to the Governor—on a national scale—causing the Governor to have to respond to another, bigger, problem.

Face it: negative reviews about your business are bound to show up periodically. And it’s okay. It shows consumers that your business is real. And it also provides you the opportunity to show just how good your customer service is by how you respond. Learn to look at negative reviews as opportunities to demonstrate your business’ strength… and don’t fall prey to defensive or inappropriate responses that expose your weakness.