Today we’re going to talk about what happens after you establish your online presence – your website, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Yelp and all the other outlets you may use to connect with your customers on the internet. At the moment you go live, you’ve opened the door to ongoing communication. People will notice and sooner or later they are going to engage with you and make comments on your various social media feeds, also sending you emails and messages. I hate to break it to you, but these comments will not always be positive. By putting yourself out there you have allowed others the opportunity to bring whatever attitudes and opinions they have at the moment and to lay them out on your platform for all to see. What happens after that is up to you, but here is the good news – you can turn those random (and not so random) comments into nuggets of marketing gold!

The first thing to remember is this: your customers are real people who have taken their time to focus on you for a minute. Maybe they heard about you and they want to know where you’re located, so they sent you a Facebook message. Or maybe they recently purchased your goods or services and they decided to follow you on Instagram, shooting you a complimentary message in the process to let you know they appreciate you. Or just maybe there is someone with an axe to grind and you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, thus becoming an unlucky target. Whatever the situation that prompted a customer or potential customer to contact you or post a message about you, the only way that you should ever respond to any comment, question, or complaint is with kindness and respect. Remember that on many social media websites, the initial comment and response (and the length of time it took you to respond) will be publicly posted for an unknown period of time. That means that in the future, others will read the exchange and may form an opinion of you based on it. That’s especially important when dealing with criticism, because your response will outlast the initial misunderstanding or grievance that caused the issue, so just be patient and respectfully point out that you are available to help and it’s your goal to provide excellent service. Provide a solution that gets the customer to come back to your store or contact you directly and take care of the issue directly with them.

The great, complimentary messages should be handled the same way. You want people to notice you and the attention is thrilling – it’s the same for them. If you receive a compliment from a customer, don’t just smile to yourself when you read it – respond with a sincere thank you. It doesn’t have to be long-winded, you just have to let them know that it mattered to you to receive their message.

Once you put yourself out there, it can seem exhausting to manage and maintain your social media and internet feeds, especially if the messages start to build up. If you can, set aside several minutes each day at a time when you are as focused and relaxed as possible to check for messages and emails and respond to them in a kind and professional manner. Acknowledge your customers for noticing you and you will make them feel respected. Gaining their respect is one of the first steps toward gaining their loyalty!

The last thing to keep in mind is the same advice you receive when you’re dating or meeting new people in general: be yourself. As long as you are feeling respectful and kind, don’t worry about saying everything in the “perfect” way. There is no such thing as a perfect message anyway – most communication is meant to be experienced in the moment, so be in the moment when you respond to your customers and they will be left with the impression that you are a trustworthy, friendly business professional. And then give yourself a pat on the back, because relationships aren’t easy to build and you are doing a great job!