For Vendors: Handling Negative Social Media Feedback — Three Case Studies and Some Tips

Thumbs DownIf you’re a right-thinking individual, you’ll find it hard to believe that sometimes not everyone agrees with everything I write. In fact, sometimes people have taken exception to things I write. On the rare event when it has happened, it’s usually the vendors I write about who disagree with me.

In this post, I’ll present the stories of three different times this has happened to me in the past year or so. I’ll cover what happened, what the vendor didn’t appreciate about what I said, how they decided to handle that, and the end results of their actions.

In the interest of keeping good relationships with these vendors, I will not be naming names or products or people’s names. You are welcome to speculate all you want, but I will neither confirm or deny details on anyone involved in the stories that follow.

[DISCLAIMER: If you think you recognize yourself in any of the examples that follow and you come off in a positive light, then, yes, naturally I was writing about you. If, on the other hand, you think you recognize yourself and you don’t come out looking so great, don’t worry about it — I was clearly writing about someone else.]

Case Study #1: Disagreement Over the Contents of a Blog Post

Interestingly, in this particular case, two different people at the vendor in question took exception to two different parts of the contents of the same blog post. I’ll talk about them as “Case 1A” and “Case 1B”.

The Setting

Based on information I received from the vendor in an advance briefing, I wrote a “day of” post giving details of the vendor’s product announcement.

Case 1A Vendor Exception

Concern over whether a particular table of data should be included in my posting.

Case 1A Vendor Response

Less than an hour after my post went live, someone high up in the vendor’s technical marketing organization sent me email. It went more or less like this:

Dave, great post. Thanks for helping us get the word out.

Would you mind removing the table listing [REDACTED] from your post? We actually consider that information confidential.

I reviewed the material the vendor had provided me and, while all the material was marked with an embargo date, I saw nothing marked as confidential. I responded, letting them know that. I received a response that went something like:

You’re right. We meant to mark that table as confidential — we just wanted to provide extra context to bloggers — but we failed to mark it as such. I’d personally appreciate it if you’d pull the table from your post, but no one here will actually get upset if you don’t — it was our mistake, not yours.

Case 1A Results

I removed the table in question right after receiving that second email. It was such a reasonable request, put forward very politely. With context, it just seemed like the right thing to do.

Case 1B Vendor Exception

Didn’t like that I’d included an “origin story” for a name the vendor uses. In the context of this post, it doesn’t matter whether this is a company name or a product name.

Case 1B Vendor Response

Less than thirty minutes after the resolution of Case 1A above, I received email from the individual who heads the vendor’s entire marketing operation. The email went more or less like this:

Dave, great post — thanks for your support of our product.

Would you mind removing the “origin story” from your post?

I responded asking if I’d gotten any of the details incorrect. The response I  received was along the lines of:

No, not at all. You got everything correct. We just don’t talk about the origin of the name any more, even in internal new hire trainings. Mostly it’s because that story reflects more of how we approached technology a few years ago, and we’ve expanded what we do since then. We worry that the story can cause people to focus on only one aspect of what we do and miss the expanded picture.

It’s up to you. I’m just asking if you’d remove the reference as a favor.

Case 1B Response

I reread my post twice, once with the origin story and once without. I decided that I’d only added the story for additional color, and because I’d always been curious where the name had come from. None of the technical points I made in my post were weaker without the additional color. I came to the realization that I had no strong feelings one way or the other about leaving the story in, but the vendor clearly did. I removed the story.

Case Study #2: Disagreement with Wording Within a Blog Post

The Setting

Remarkably similar to Case #1, but with a different vendor. Based on information I received from the vendor in an advance briefing, I wrote a “day of” post giving details of the vendor’s product announcement.

Vendor Exception

Someone high up at the vendor disliked the way I had categorized their product.

Vendor Response

On the day after my post went live, I received email from someone at the vendor asking if I had a few minutes for a phone call. I did, and responded saying so. My phone rang almost immediately. The gist of what they said was:

Dave, great post. ${Marketing_Guy} sent the link to your post to our CEO and an hour later ${CEO} sent mail to the entire company saying that everyone should read it because it’s a great way to explain what we do to customers

There was just one person who had anything less than positive about your post.

I asked who had a complaint and what it was. The response was:

The CTO in charge of ${Product} disagreed with how you described ${Product}. Actually his exact words were: “It’s not a [Word_I_Used_to_Describe_Product]. It’s a ‘Platform’. Tell him to change it.

But it’s not a platform.

Yeah, it is.

But it isn’t.

${CTO} says it is and since he designed the thing, I tend to trust his opinion on it.

Not by my understanding of the word “platform”, but I’ll tell you what: if you can tell me what can be built on top of your product, I will not only change the blog post, I will, from this point forward always refer to ${Product} as a platform.

OK, I see your point. We’re pretty much standalone. Nothing can actually be built on us.

Well, I’d said I would call and ask you to change it, so I’ve kept my word. (laughs) Thanks for your time!

Response

I left the post unchanged.

Case Study #3: Dislike of Some of My Twitter Commentary

The Setting

A vendor we partner with rolled out a new version of an online tool I’ll call “The Tool Whose Name Shall Not Even Be Subtly Hinted At”. This tool is pretty much required for partners to use if partners want to actually sell any of the vendor’s product.

I’ll spare you details, but let’s just say that the rollout was not a stellar example of a successful rollout. As I went through my attempts to use the tool, I live-tweeted my experiences (as I often do with various work-related things I’m up to).

Vendor Exception

Some folks working for the vendor apparently didn’t appreciate my expressing my frustration with the quality of the job they’d done on this particular launch.

Vendor Response

About four hours into trying to work with the tool — with no success — I received email from one of the executives in my company. It was email he had received from an individual at the vendor.  It said something to the effect of:

Can you ask Dave to tone things down on Twitter? He’s kind of beating on us for some issues with ${Tool}.

We’d hate for anyone to get an inaccurate impression of the quality of our tools.

Response

I re-read the email four times. Then I checked:

  • my Inbox
  • my Junk mail folder
  • my Spam folder
  • my Twitter feed
  • my DMs
  • my personal email
  • my texts
  • my phone’s voicemail

Not a single attempt had been made to reach me directly.

I called ${Executive}. The conversation went something like this:

Hello, Dave! (laughs) I’m guessing you got my email.

I did.

What do you think?

They told on me. They didn’t call me to complain about something I did. They’re making it your problem?

It seems that way.

Were you sending the email along as an FYI, or as an asking me to go along with it?

Well, you know that our relationship with all our vendor partners is very important to us.

I do, but that doesn’t actually answer my question. Are you asking me to stop?

Would you mind? As a favor to me?

You do understand that there was nothing “inaccurate” in anything I tweeted, right?

Never doubted that for a second.

OK. Since it’s you asking, and since you understand their concern is more about people getting an accurate impression of their rollout, I’ll stop.

Thanks.

I stopped tweeting about that tool any more that day, and have since refrained from ever referring to it by name online ever since.

The Aftermath

Let’s take a look at where things stand now as a direct result of the various vendor responses I received.

Case #1: Direct Approach, Simple Requests

I continue to have a great relationship with this company. If anything, I’ve gained respect for the individuals involved in the events described above for their direct handling of things:

  • Reaching out to me directly
  • Sticking to facts and explaining things
  • Making clear, simple requests phrased as requests

Case #2: Direct Approach, Slight Pushback

I continue to have a great relationship with this company. My opinion of one individual is now slightly changed since that individual seems to believe that just calling a product something will make it so — but I still have professional respect for the individual’s tech skills. I also continue to enjoy working with all the other folks involved.

  • Reaching out to me directly
  • Making a clear, simple request
  • Being willing to see another point of view and take it into account

Case #3: Indirect Approach, Scolding

While I would say that I have a good relationship with this company as a whole, I have to admit I lost both personal and professional respect for one individual and how they handled things:

  • Not even attempting to reach me directly
  • Treating me condescendingly
  • Unwilling to own that mistakes were made

Two side things came out of the events of Case #3:

  1. Someone else at the vendor saw my tweets and made some internal phone calls. They then put me in direct contact with some folks on the team who support users of the tool in question. Throughout the day these folks worked and helped me to get my issues and those of my coworkers resolved hours faster than they would have been if we’d had to open regular support cases.
  2. There is now an online tool that I only refer to as “The Tool Whose Name Shall Not Even Be Subtly Hinted At”.

GeekFluent’s Tips for Responding to Negative Social Media Feedback

Based on the experiences described above and on others, here is my advice to any vendor or brand in responding to things you take exception with:

  • Don’t assume malice. All too often what you might interpret as malicious intent may just be a misunderstanding.
  • Do reach out directly. No one likes having someone go over their head.
  • Go even more direct. While email and DMs are good, phone calls or video chats are even better. You get all the voicetone cues that are missing from the written word, and both folks involved get reminded that they’re dealing with another human being.
  • Don’t make demands. It’s the writer’s blog or social media account, not yours. Your attempt to tell them what to do could cause more friction.
  • Do make requests. Assume that you’re dealing with a reasonable person and just ask for what you want. If they say “no”, you’re no worse off than you were before.
  • Do explain. What made the difference for me in Cases 1A and 1B above was the vendor’s explanation of their request. It allowed me to see it from their point of view.
  • Stick to facts.
  • Realize that some things are matters of opinion.
  • If someone says something you don’t like, and turns down your request to adjust things, don’t cut them off – continue contact. This isn’t a loss, but a chance for a future, greater, victory. The best reference is someone who says “you know, I didn’t used to like this product, but the new features added in the current release changed my mind…”
  • Realize that you can’t please everybody all the time. Some people are just never going to like you or product and there may be nothing you can do about that. Don’t lose sleep over it. Realize that there are millions of other folks out there on social media who might come around to your point of view.

Are there any tips I missed? If you’re a blogger, what’s worked when someone has taken exception to something you’ve written? If you’re a vendor, what’s worked when you’ve taken exception to something someone wrote? Share with us in the comments.

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