When you open up listening channels, such as social platforms or blog comments, there will come a time when you receive negative comments. It’s inevitable. But you can take steps to minimize the impact — and even turn a negative comment into a positive impression for your hospital.
But some hospitals are avoiding conversations in social media out of fear of negative comments. If that’s keeping you from engaging in social media, take a moment to remember the rewards.
Nearly a thousand U.S. hospitals are hosting blogs and Facebook pages that allow negative comments. According to a survey of U.S. hospital Facebook pages, only about 2% of comments on hospital pages are negative.
Those negative comments, however, are valuable. A decade ago, when your patients had a negative experience they would tell 10 or 15 of their friends or family members. Today, they’re blogging, posting and tweeting to hundreds and thousands. Wouldn’t you rather provide an opportunity for them to tell you so that you can do something about it?
Don’t let the fear of negative comments keep you from enjoying the rich rewards available to hospitals participating in social media. A few important steps will help you handle negative comments successfully.
#1 Adjust your listening attitude.
If you can view negative comments as a way to gain insight into a segment of your community population, then you will grow to value them instead of dread them.
Granted, some of the expressions may not be in the tone or language that you would like to see associated with your hospital, but it’s key to remember how valuable this information is and approach it as an opportunity for correcting misinformation or to gain insight on ways to improve service.
It’s important to communicate this approach to your staff. Having a thick skin helps, along with reminders not to take the comments personally or respond personally – but view them for what they are – customer perceptions. Think of it as an opportunity to clear things up with a lot of people at once.
#2 Monitor the conversation – and respond quickly.
Before you are able to fashion a response, you need to be aware that the comments exist. If an unhappy patient blogs about the extreme wait times in the ER on Friday night…and several other community members join in the flame throwing…you don’t want to wait until Monday morning to respond.
By responding quickly, you have the ability to stop much of the firestorm.
There are several options for monitoring that range in price and sophistication. Some tools are free; others are fee-based. Whichever you choose, just be sure to monitor the conversation.
#3 Don’t jump the gun. Follow these guidelines.
When you receive a critical comment, don’t react. Take a deep breath and keep these important guidelines in mind.
Respond on the same channel first. In your quest to communicate about the problem, it is important that you do it in the same venue where the comment originated. If it’s a tweet, respond first on Twitter. If it’s a post on Facebook, respond on Facebook. If the problem is YouTube, your response belongs there, as well.
Be honest. Don’t promise more than you can deliver and make sure that you don’t appear to be covering up a problem.
Take the high road. Don’t adopt the tone of your attacker. When you respond in a relaxed, calm way you’ll build sympathy with your followers. You’re not going to win anyone over by belittling or being sarcastic or dismissive.
Don’t get defensive. There have been times when our clients have read anonymous negative comments and the staff knew who wrote them. They knew the comment was misinformed, and wanted to defend themselves. Wisely, they took a deep breath.
Tread with caution. If you get into a “fact correction” mode, you will lose. You can’t disclose patient details, and they can, whether true or not. Instead, highlight the hospital’s concern and emphasize positive steps you are taking. This can go a long way, especially for those readers who are not directly involved with the situation.
Have conversations, not arguments. An angry patient is an invested patient. He wouldn’t have taken the time to comment if he didn’t care. Try asking questions about his complaint, rather than telling him he’s wrong. Show a little empathy. If you can show that you take concerns seriously and find ways to prove it, then you’ve rewarded his concern for your hospital. Do it right and he’ll feel better about you than ever.
Say what you can. Even if you can’t access the facts immediately, a response like: “I am sorry you experienced such a long wait at the ER tonight. I know Dr. Sue Jones would like to hear from you. She’s been working to try and alleviate wait times, but obviously the steps they’ve put in place failed you on Friday night. You can contact her directly by calling 555.1212 or emailing her at Sue_Jones@yourhospital.com.” Even though very little information was given out, knowing that there is someone listening and responding can make a big difference.
#4 Avoid the urge to purge.
Don’t delete negative comments. That will just anger the person who made the comments more and give the impression that the hospital is uncaring. There is also the likelihood that she will take her negative comments about you elsewhere.
In rare cases, however, some comments should be deleted. For example, Swedish Medical Center in Seattle “reserves the sole right to review, edit and/or delete any comments it deems are inappropriate” and lists the following options:
- Edit comments for content
- Remove off-topic contributions
- Delete offensive comments and attacks
- Block offensive contributors
- Delete spam and suspected spam
- Remove comments that violate the privacy of patients and their families
You’ll notice that a whole range of negative comments is not listed above. Simply because you are embarrassed or unhappy about negative comments is not reason enough to delete them. Doing so will only hurt your hospital’s credibility.
#5 Invite a private meeting.
Always invite the person to call or meet personally with the person who can help her fix her problem. This demonstrates that the hospital is willing to give “face-time” to people who have concerns. Taking the conversation private makes most people more reasonable, since they’re no longer playing to the crowd.
Handling disagreements well is a visible way to show that you really care about your patients.
#6 Require commenters to register to comment using their own names.
Studies indicate that people act more civil online if they must register before commenting, so build a simple “we want to hear you” registration mechanism into your site. This gives an opportunity for those who really want to engage in conversation to do so and dissuades the trolls and flame throwers from participating unless they have a legitimate concern.
When your hospital adopts social media tools, plan to use them as “conversations.” You’ll have the opportunity to be both speaker and listener. And, just as in face-to-face conversations, most exchanges are pleasant. But don’t expect that every one will be.
Follow these steps and you’ll be well on your way to building stronger, more meaningful relationships with your patients, their families and your community.
For a more detailed explanation on this subject, visit our What We Think page to download the free e-book titled “Responding to Negative Comments in Social Media.” We have also created a useful infographic titled “Negative Comments in Social Media – How to Take Action” that you can download here.