Seven tips to help you have difficult conversations on Twitter

Social media can be brilliant for business… until a customer with a grudge starts complaining! Here are seven tips to help you have difficult conversations on Twitter.

You can plan the perfect social media strategy all you like, but from time to time someone will throw a spanner in etc works, and threaten to undo all the effort you’ve put in.

It could be a customer with a complaint or grudge (justified or not). Or it could be a troublemaker deliberately spreading false rumours.

How you handle these tricky situations says as much (if not more) about your business as all the wonderful marketing messages you’ve spent tine honing, and all the amazing customer reviews.

Handled expertly, and you can turn a difficult situation (and an unhappy customer) into positive PR for your business. And even win new customers on the process.

But this takes a careful hand. To help you achieve it, here are seven tips to help you have difficult conversations on Twitter.

1) Number your questions and replies

Twitter unfolds in real-time, which can make it difficult to follow conversations.

On your feed, you see short posts as they are made. Conversations unfurl in a series of @replies, and are notoriously difficult to follow. So when you respond to a post, you need to remember that your comment could be seen out of context.

One strategy to get around this is to start numbering questions and replies. This makes it easier to track statements, and it clarifies that your post is tied to a previous one. If someone reads your comment and sees “1/3,” they’ll know that you have more to say on the subject.

2) Space out answers

Be careful not to talk over someone when having a difficult conversation on Twitter. Spacing out questions and answers will help you to appear more thoughtful, and your responses more considered.

If you need to, keep track of the posts you need to respond to, and get back to each person in turn.

3) Find out what the issue is

Try to establish exactly what the problem is – both your perception of it and how the other person might perceive the matter. This will help you understand the issue and decide what response is the most appropriate.

Consider too what it is that you want to achieve. If you can’t come up with a good reason to respond, then don’t — or consider taking a more humorous approach.

Take a leaf out of the books of companies like JetBlue and T-Mobile, who are known for their excellent customer service on social media.

4) Avoid becoming emotional

How you start a conversation determines the outcome. If you try to respond to an emotional customer with an emotional response, you set a tone for the rest of the conversation – and that’s not likely to be a great one for you!

When dealing with an emotional customer or Twitter poster, it’s important you dial down the emotions by being calm, rational and logical. Be positive and helpful, but avoid coming across as patronising.

So always be polite and respectful, and don’t be tempted into responding to insults or goading. It pays off in the long run to take the higher ground, even if its tempting to let them know how you feel (especially if they’re in the wrong) right now.

5) Publicly address the problem

If a customer is upset and venting about your company on Twitter, you need to respond. If not, it looks like you don’t care about you customers or business. It also risks the complaint taking on a life of its own and spreading further. 

How you handle a complaint says as much about your business as the complaint in the first place, so make sure you publicly address anyone with a complaint on Twitter, express regret they feel that way or had that experience (without admitting blame), and express a desire to help them or get to the bottom of what happened.

Then invite them to contact you off social media to resolve it (this can be by email, Twitter DM or phone). This way you can find out what happened and find a solution without creating any more public drama.

It also shows anyone following the saga that you care about your customers’ experiences and are proactive in resolving any problems.

6) Avoid being confrontational

You don’t want to come across on Twitter (or anywhere) as confrontational. To help with this, try to avoid using “you” statements, such as “you don’t understand, you didn’t read the warranty”.

Instead, use “I” sentences, like “I don’t understand, I see you are having problems that are not covered by your warranty”.

This strategy prevents you from sounding like you’re defensive, blaming or attacking, and avoids further antagonising an already irate follower or customer.

7) Address and rectify rumours

Sometimes it’s better to confront rumours or misinformation, rather than try to ignore them and hope they’ll go away. You can even see it as an opportunity to educate your Twitter followers on the truth.

So rather than try to avoid or distract people from a negative perception of you that you know exists, instead be upfront about it – and explain why it’s wrong.

For example, if you own an organic restaurant and there’s a rumour going around that your food isn’t genuinely organic, you can write a post on your site about where you source your food, and share a tweet along the lines of:

Heard that our food isn’t organic? Here’s where we source all our supplies from to prove that the rumours are wrong! <link to post>

Don’t ignore difficult conversations

It may not be ideal to have less than flattering conversations, or air your dirty laundry on Twitter, but you can’t afford to ignore what your customers are saying or hearing.

Use the advice in this article and you’ll be able to manage any tricky chats with professionalism, and hopefully steer the conversation to a positive outcome for everyone concerned.

Need more help with Twitter?

You’ll find more advice to help you use Twitter for business in these articles and videos:

Photo by Marten Bjork