Explosive growth in social media also means explosive growth in professional social media whiners—the people who target major corporations with every niggling complaint known to human kind; from lousy tableside service at a restaurant to late check-in with airlines. In the wake of even one tweet with many followers, how do you cope?

Media outlets, too, have been the target of anon attacks and trolls. Those are the people who falsify identities (or try to do so) and make pointed and scurrilous claims against others. They also earn their fleeting fame by manipulating social media to their own ends.

Lobbyists use the same tactics by employing online posters in special interest campaigns to “flood” a site with phony posters laying low into their opponents and filing below the belt accusations.

What’s the muddle and why the worry? Online is the new forever. And one bad tweet can potentially ruin more than the day. But before it does, you can do some quick checks to decide if you need to jump into the mea culpa pool.

Find out first about your social media whiners:

  • Is the source a connected and credible one? Numbers aren’t always an indicator, but it is a factor that seems to petrify the most eloquent of complaint handlers. Doing a quick online search can save you plenty of grief in the long run. If you don’t understand the relationship map, you’re in for a world of hurt.
  • Is the complaint an isolated complaint with either a customer or employee having a one-off bad day, or has the needle been moving toward a downright consumer revolt? What you’re hearing could be the early warning sign – like the canary in the coal mine to check deadly gas levels.
  • Can you mollify the complainer? If a simple apology will do, that’s what many want to hear. Or as one very savvy CEO once told me, just tell the person with the complaint: “You may be right.” Oftentimes, that’s all someone wants—a simple acknowledgement of a messed up experience.

We found a good bit of advice from Pete Blackshaw with Nielson Online who founded PlanetFeedback.com in 1999. Blackshaw told Ad Age recently: “There’s no secret sauce to managing the outspoken consumer. And the risk of over-responding is setting the bar too high or maybe even over-dignifying an unreasonable voice.”

So the next time your social media team, marketing crew or public relations experts dive into a tizzy about the latest complaint online, do what everyone does—take a breath, count to 3 (or maybe 10), and consider the response that could be cached for a good long time to come.

And remember, some people just like to complain—online and everywhere.

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