The significant growth of social media use in recent years is a double-edged sword for clubs.  It offers the opportunity to promote, grow brand recognition, reach potential new customers and add a human element to a corporate brand - but it also opens up a very public avenue for negative feedback.

Complaints that clubs may have historically received in the private manner, be it verbally, in-person, over the phone or written in a letter or email are now available for everyone to see and form a judgement on.

Don't think this if your club isn't on social media it mitigates this risk.  Customers will discuss companies online regardless of whether their subjects have profiles on these networks.  Ensure you're equipped with the tools and knowledge to address the negativity, and turn foes into fans.

Know What's Happening on Social

Social media is only one slice of the larger world-wide-web pie, so while it's important to monitor your won social channels, be mindful that disgruntled customers will often take to whatever means available to express their unhappiness.

Setting up Google alerts is a great starting point to ensure your monitoring efforts are all-encompassing.  They are an effective, proactive way to be notified whenever your club is mentioned on the internet, including news, videos and blogs, and assist in reducing the time spent actively searching for mentions online.  You can choose the frequency and quantity of alerts to receive and, best of all, it's a free service.

Alerts can be set up for as many keywords as you like, meaning you can also keep an eye on what's happening in the local community, industry issues, and even neighbouring clubs.  Make sure the words or phrases you're tracking are precise enough to avoid collecting unnecessary data, but broad enough to deliver relevant content.

When it comes to keeping tabs on what's being said on social media specifically, there are a variety of other tools at your disposal.  Most clubs will have a Facebook, Twitter and Instagram account - potentially multiple profiles on each, perhaps for a restaurant or bar within the club or for different adjuncts - so it can be easy to become overwhelmed and place monitoring social media in the "too hard" basket.  The trick here is consolidating platforms to make overseeing social media a breeze.

Tools like Hootsuite and TweekDeck present all your tracked words and phrases, social activity, mentions and messages from each selected social account on a single dashboard and are free for a limited number of social profiles.  There are also a plethora of more premium paid options should you have some budget dedicated to social media or digital marketing.  They have similar offerings to their free counterparts by way of monitoring, though offer much deeper analytics and reporting and sometimes include distribution functionality too.  This means you can schedule content and respond to comments and private messages from the one page, as opposed to switching between platforms.  Pricing and inclusions vary, so check out iSentia, Mention, Meltwater or Sprout Social for more information.

Always Respond to Feedback

Paid monitoring options are particularly worth considering if there are multiple people responsible for monitoring social media - whether that be in the setting of several members of a communications or marketing team - or because of a lack of in-house expertise.

Regardless of the situation, someone needs to own each task and take responsibility for following up or responding.  Many paid options have teamwork or assignment functionality, allowing delegation of tasks, inclusion of accompanying notes, progress updates and auditing of responses.  While this may sound like overkill for some, it promotes a healthy workflow and ensures all feedback it addressed appropriately, encouraging the best possible public perception of your club.

In Edward F. McQuarrie's The New Consumer Online: A Sociology Of Taste, Audience, and Publics, a study showed that 29 per cent, 34 per cent and 30 percent of people sometimes, often or almost always read reviews before dining at a venue for the first time.  First impressions count, and unfortunately these may be formed before someone has even stepped inside a venue.  For this reason, it's extremely important to acknowledge your customer feedback, both positive and negative, and respond accordingly to ensure future customers aren't deterred.

It can be helpful to draft a range of sample responses that are customisable to the particulars of the feedback.  This promotes a more consistent, timely response, as the responder is not writing each individual reply from scratch each time.

Beware coming off like an auto-bot though.  Ensure you address the poster by name and acknowledge their compliant, concern or compliment.  If a solution or explanation is suitable but cannot be offered immediately, communicate that, but revisit the post and reply once one is available.

Depending on the severity or seriousness of the feedback, you may choose to continue the conversation with the poster privately.  It's important to respond to the public-facing comment as well though, assuring others who come across it don't assume it has been ignored.  A simple example can be along the lines of: "Hi xxx, thanks for contacting us about this.  This is definitely concerning and we would like to find out a bit more information so we can look into it further.  We've sent you a private message with a few questions.  Could you please respond when you have the chance? Kind regards xxx."

Encouraging the poster to respond privately gives you a chance to placate the situation without publicising issues further and adding fuel to the fire.  If the matter is resolved privately, it's a good idea to go back to the public post with acknowledgement and a positive prompt, for example: "We appreciate you taking the time to provide us with more detail on this matter, xxx, and hope to see you a xxx again soon!"  This shows others you've taken time to address the issue and offer a solution or compensation of sorts.

Finally, if you club has made a mistake, own up to it!  Admitting fault, apologising and rectifying the situation is much more acceptable than avoiding it.  Just take the recent United Airlines debacles as proof you can come back from a sticky situation.  Their stock recently hit an all-time high, despite dragging a bloody passenger off an overbooked flight, a dead pet rabbit and mistakenly sending a passenger to San Fransisco instead of France.

Be Quick to Respond

You should respond to any negativity (or positivity, for that matter) as soon as you're aware of it - if you're monitoring effectively, this should be almost instant.  There's no use in letting something simmer unaddressed while you take time to look into it as this can often lead to a snowball effect in the absence of a brand response.  A little acknowledgement goes a very long way and the faster you respond, the better you will be perceived.

See Negativity as an Opportunity to Improve

If you're taking the time to appease a disgruntled customer, ensure their feedback or issue is fed back into the business and actioned so you're not repeatedly facing the same issues.  Try not to think about responding to negativity online as an obligation, but rather treat it as an opportunity to improve your club.

(SOURCE: Gioenne Rapisarda, ClubsNSW Communications Officer, ClubLIFE June 2017)