Pets are big business. According to a report in The Australian newspaper, pet owners are spending a combined $12 billion1 a year on pet care (this includes food, grooming, vet bills and insurance).

Of Australia’s 6 million pet owners, 72% are generation Y (aged 18-29 years) and 64% are generation X (aged 30-49 years)2—which makes them high social media users3.

These days social media is part and parcel of being in business.  It’s one of the myriad of ways that a company can promote its services and generate business.  Vet Answers has a good article which explains why it’s a good idea to engage with social media.

Yet while we all know that social media can be very rewarding for brands and businesses, it can also be damaging—particularly if a customer posts a negative comment or review about your pet business.

Why social media comments & reviews are valuable

Online comments and reviews work in two key ways. They provide you (the business or brand owner) with vital consumer insights and feedback about your pet business (yes, both good and bad). And they give existing and potential consumers information about your business, products or services.

Comments and reviews can be a source of word-of-mouth marketing and they can support your search-engine optimisation efforts.

Despite the benefits, many businesses fear online comments. They simply can’t get away from the burning question, “what will I do if someone posts a negative comment?”

The funny thing is, the way businesses respond to negative comments can really shape the future of their company and build a better image for their brand.

By actively responding (in a positive way), taking responsibility and attempting to make things right you can seriously raise your brand status with new and existing customers.

Negative comments are a perfect opportunity to show your authenticity and to create a positive online presence for your pet business—providing you take the right approach.

How to handle negative comments & reviews online

Everyone understands that the internet offers an anonymous free for all for comments and reviews. This anonymity encourages some people to go all out when posting negative remarks (more so than if they were face to face. In which case they probably wouldn’t comment at all!).

As a former social media manager, my advice is to tackle every negative comment or review head on. Wait, that doesn’t necessarily mean responding. It also doesn’t mean ignoring them or even worse deleting them!

Firstly, put yourself in the shoes of the person who posted the comment or review. Do they have a valid point, could there be an underlying issues making them angry. If the answer is yes (or even if it’s no), start off by empathising with them, perhaps thanking them for taking the time to comment and accepting the criticism.

NOTE: This definitely doesn’t mean apologising profusely or coming across as patronising. As such, choose your words carefully and consider the tone.

The customer is always right – even if they’re not, so move the conversation along and talk about what can be done to rectify the situation.

If there’s absolutely nothing you can do to fix the issue, accept the ownership and thank them for the learning journey. Remind them (and anyone else reading) that you care about your customers and are committed to offering them the best possible service or products.

It’s important to remember that when replying to a negative online review or comment, you’re not just responding to one person. You’re talking to each and every person reading.

If you’re having a particularly bad morning and you’re feeling a little emotionally fragile. Guess what? Now is not the right time to post a response.

Yes, you need to respond in a timely manner, but waiting an hour until after you’ve had a cuppa and calmed down can be the difference between resolving and escalating the issue.

The importance of monitoring and managing comments & reviews

Managing online comments and reviews can be time consuming but it’s essential. It demonstrates that you’re listening and engaged in what customers have to say about you and your business.

Set aside time every day (morning, evening or both) to read and respond to comments and don’t forget that positive comments require a response just as much as the negative ones.

Sometimes the fact that you’ve responded is the impetus for someone to write a comment or review. If customers feel that their comments are falling on deaf ears (i.e. not being read or even monitored) they simply won’t bother.

If you come across a really shining Facebook or Instagram review, why not reuse it on your website, turn it into a poster and use in-store or tweet it and thank the person at the same time.

Key points

Recognise the benefits

Accepting the benefits of social media comments and online reviews will underpin any activity you take to encourage customers to comment on your pet business and review your products. Reviews and comments create a sense of authenticity, enable your brand to rate higher in online searches and give customers peace of mind.

Be present

Regularly read comments and reviews. This means making a point of dedicating a set amount of time daily or weekly to spend on your social media accounts.

Make your life easier

Platforms like Hootsuite, TweetDeck can make the job of monitoring comments easier by merging all your social media platforms (comments included) in one place.

Be timely

You can’t wait a week to respond to a negative comment. Ideally a reply should be posted within a few hours.

Stay calm

No one likes criticism. Think carefully about your response before you post it. Choose your words wisely and consider your tone.

Be thankful

Appreciate the opportunity to rectify a problem you might not know you had. There’s the chance that if one customer feel this way, so do many more.

What’s your experience of social media comments and reviews? Do you actively encourage customers and clients to review your service or products? Have you ever had to deal with a negative comment or review?

No matter how big or small your pet business is, it runs the risk of being sued. Even if you take the upmost care when responding to online comments or reviews, you still run the risk of being sued for defamation, so it pays to think about protecting your business from slander and libel.

Information sources:

  1. Murdoch, M: Australians are spending $12 billion a year on their pet, The Australian, April 2017. Accessed online March 2019
  2. Animal Medicines Australia, Pet Ownership in Australia Report 2016: Accessed online March 2019
  3. Jetscram: Social media user statistics and age demographics for 2014. Accessed online March 2019.
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Liz has a passion for all things cat and dog, and was one of the first in Australia to bring Pet Insurance to the market. She has headed up Petsecure for the past 12 years, and is committed to promoting and supporting the amazing work done by rescue groups around Australia, and those who work to promote a better life for all animals.

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