Whether you have a social presence or not, you have to be aware that people are talking about you on social media. Hopefully, they’re giving glowing 5-star reviews every time they leave your restaurant. However, reality is different. Even if you’re doing everything right, sometimes angry customers leave negative reviews, or, worse, do their best to attack you. No doubt all of those ranting posts leave a foul taste in your mouth and make you feel like a failure.

What to do?

RULE #1: Don’t respond to those who are just trying to get a rise out of you.

Unless they are looking for you to fix a very specific issue with a particular experience they had in your place of business or with one of your employees, your best bet is to not respond at all to irate posts. People are often looking for an outlet for their anger when they complain online, and responding immediately makes that outlet both you and your business. The anger doesn’t usually decrease at this point.

Note: obviously, there are a lot of situations in which you absolutely do need to – and should – respond, and you need to do it quickly. Complaints on social media are expected to be handled within 24 hours by a majority of people who bring their issues there. And you can’t just ignore every single bad thing that comes up. However, the important thing to remember is to find the difference between an angry person trying to vent frustrations and someone looking for assistance, then respond to the latter.

RULE #2: Be kind about it.

If you do respond, never make light of a person’s experience, even if they’re unfairly complaining about something that is negligible to you. It is clearly not negligible to them. Making light of it not only further drives a wedge between you and them, but it also lets any bystanders who read it see an impersonal business that doesn’t care about its customers and their feelings. It doesn’t matter if that’s true or not; on social media, you are creating (and responding to) perceptions and experiences that will represent your business for everyone who sees your posts. Would you respond that way to that customer in person? How would you feel if your manager or an employee said that to a concerned patron on site?

RULE #3: Be personable but don’t be insensitive.

It is okay, and even encouraged, to be funny and playful, but know where your limit is. Throwing away social comments by laughing at them or mocking them also makes you seem insensitive. People generally would rather do business with humans than headless corporations, so adding a sense of humor is a good thing. It makes you relatable. But it’s not appropriate in situations that could be perceived as sensitive to anyone.

RULE #4: Don’t immediately delete all of your negative reviews.

Companies with only 100% 5-star reviews seem unreal. Nobody is perfect for every second of every hour. Having the occasional negative comment isn’t all bad, especially if your reviewers leave context like, “the line was so long it took forever to get food.” This doesn’t even always indicate to people reading the comment that your business is undesirable. Quite the opposite, actually. A long line usually shows your business is offering delicious food and it’s worth the wait! Of course, sometimes you’ll have legitimately negative comments about your food or service. It happens. People understand.

RULE #5: When necessary, take it offline but let your online customers and readers know about it.

You should do what you can to make sure your customers have good experiences and remember your business fondly so they are more likely to return and advertise for you via word of mouth. When they don’t, you need to address it. Someone loudly yelling at a waiter at their table attracts unwanted attention and you want to deal with it quickly and quietly. Occasionally, that will carry over to your website, Facebook page, or other social media account. When you need to make concessions to ensure a good experience that you want to keep private, sometimes you’ll have to contact the customer by phone or email. If this is the case, don’t leave the comment unanswered online. Post a comment such as, “We’re so sorry about this, and are going to work it out with you privately. We’ll contact you soon!” Then, do so. Never fail to contact someone if you say you’re going to. They will get justifiably more angry and let everyone on social media know about it.

RULE #6: Remember who you’re dealing with.

People who are angry – whether because they’re being unreasonable or they had a legitimately bad experience – are still people. They have feelings and those feelings have been hurt in one way or another. It might not even have been by you, your employees, or your business. You might be getting the tail end of a bad day that culminated in something tipping them over the edge. Even through the internet, on a computer or a phone, they are actual human beings. Responding with that in mind helps keep you from making the situation deteriorate further.

RULE #7: Take a long, hard look at what went wrong.

You do, of course, need to address the social media comment or angry post, but you also need to flesh out whether what happened to incite it was an actual concern. Was one of your employees in the wrong? Was food not cooked properly? Did something legitimately go wrong? What steps can you take to ensure it doesn’t happen again? If you make a policy change or do something to fix an issue, let your social media viewers know so they can understand you’re actively trying to help.