negative reviewsThe internet is a powerful tool, and can often be underestimated by businesses. Small business owners must remember that nothing posted on the internet can be permanently deleted. Even comments on posts and social media can't be retracted. It is important to think carefully before responding to comments, posts and reviews.

Many small businesses find themselves in difficult social media situations from time to time. To help, BPlans has created a useful flowchart with tips on dealing with those situations. Here are the questions you should ask yourself to determine whether or not your should respond to a negative social media post:

1. Does the person who posted it have a profile, blog, or website which they primarily use for bashing others? In this case, monitor the posts without responding.

2. Is the post a rant, joke, or satire? Simply monitor the posts and do not engage.

3. Are there incorrect details in the post? If so, respond with the facts. Provide links to your website pages with the correct information.

4. Is the person posting in response to a negative customer experience? If the answer is yes, rectify the situation through direct communication. If you are not able to resolve the issue, direct the person to the appropriate department or personnel.

5. Will your response help the poster or the people reading the post to have greater clarity? If you are not able to add value to the conversation, it is best not to respond.

Once you have decided that the best course of action is to respond, be sure to adhere to the following:

1. Transparency. Ensure that it is clear that you are affiliated with the business. State your position or department in your response.

2. Fact-based. It is easy to stray, but your response should be focused and unbiased. Present factual information and provide reference links to your sources.

3. Timeliness. Respond to social media posts quickly, but be careful in determining which posts require a response and double-check your responses before you post them.

4. Consistency. Ensure that the tone of your response reflects the mission and values of the business.

5. Respect. Be gentle in your response and show gratitude for the feedback the poster has provided. Do not, under any circumstances, use offensive language.

Remember that you do not need to respond to every negative social media post. Responding to trolls only serves to widen their reach. Respond when you can add value, provide clarity or insight and assist customers with problems. Be professional in all responses and follow the guidelines to defuse tough social media situations.