Ignore Online Criticism…at your own risk

Only a few weeks after H&M came under fire for stealing an independent artist’s design and failing to give her credit, Claire’s Accessories is now getting the heat over allegations they ripped off necklace designs from a British jewelry designer. While the plagiarism is bad enough, criticism of the two companies didn’t really spike until news of their botched response spread across the interweb. In both incidents, the companies deleted negative comments on their Facebook walls, ignored tweets and generally turned a blind eye to any criticism.

Bad idea.

In the case of H&M, the uproar is related to a graphic on several of their home products that look virtually identical to a street sign Tori LaConsay painted in her old Atlanta neighborhood. The situation probably could have been defused following an apology and appropriate compensation. Instead, the Swedish retail giant’s customer service department responded to the designer’s initial inquiry with this statement:  “We employ an independent team of over 100 designers. We can assure you that this design has not been influenced by your work and that no copyright has been infringed.”

Needless to say, once news of the flip response spread, social media blew up – with hundreds of angry messages cluttering H&M’s Facebook page. Although many of the critical posts were initially removed and ignored, mounting criticism caused H&M to eventually reverse course, reaching out to the designer and posting carefully worded messages on their social media outlets.

When it comes to Claire’s, irate tweets about the company began trending on Twitter after British design team Tatty Devine pointed out the store’s copycat designs.  So far, the tween mall mainstay has kept quiet over the social backlash, deleting critical Facebook posts and blocking users who complain. But it’s clear this “head in the sand” approach to crisis management is not doing them any favors. In fact, their response actually generated more criticism, with popular bloggers and news outlets blasting the ham-handed PR response.

The fact is, social media allows news – both good and bad – to spread faster and reach more people than ever before. Unhappy customers are quick to voice their displeasure on Twitter and Facebook, so companies cannot afford to ignore the conversations that are happening — especially when said discussion is negatively focused in their direction.

So if you find your business being disparaged in a social forum, the best approach is to respond quickly, publicly and in an accommodating manner. Don’t lash out against the criticism; use the opportunity to minimize problems and resolve issues. If people walk away from a discussion pleased with your response, they are more likely to have a better impression of your brand.

2 Responses to “Ignore Online Criticism…at your own risk”

  1. If you ever want to see user criticism at its absolute worst, pop on over to facebook.com/netflix and read through the user comments. You’d think the unhappiest people in the world use that service.

  2. Very true. Unfortunately, negative feedback is far more common on most social media oulets. Hopefully that will change someday (doubt it), but until then, companies and organizations must continue to find ways to diplomatically respond to these online critics.

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