A big reason businesses are afraid to adopt social media is fear of negativity.

Bad reviews. Cranky customers. Critical comments. Negative experiences memorialized by Google, Bing, Yelp, and a host of other online platforms.

Of course, these comments—the bad, the ugly, and the good—are happening already. The only real option for companies is whether you want the chance to add your voice and your perspective to the conversation.

Not to mention that most people just want an acknowledgement and an apology when something goes wrong. So why wouldn’t you want the opportunity to make your customers happy?

That said, dipping your toes into the social media waters means you will at least occasionally have to deal with negativity.

Have you been flamed?

Urban Dictionary describes flaming as “insulting someone electronically.”

I was flamed recently in a group discussion on LinkedIn. Suffice it to say that “comrade” and “Putin” were a part of the comment someone directed at me in response to a comment I’d made on a post. (The topic of the original post and my comment were on whether the U.S. Post Office is a technology company. Not Piketty, Ukraine, or any other hot button topic.)

My response: I called him out for calling me names.

He then amended his original comment so that it looked like my response to him was coming out of left field.

I then posted verbatim what he’d deleted. Actually, I said that had his original comment ended as it does now I’d have had no issues. And I added: “But I’m looking at what you originally wrote in response to me.” (Seriously, it didn’t occur to him that LinkedIn might be sending me e-mails when new comments are posted.)

He decided at that point to say nothing more.

Sometimes you have to speak up.

This “conversation” happened in a private LinkedIn group, and I felt the venue and the behavior demanded a response. Other times, however, I’ve chosen to ignore stupid comments directed at me (Twitter trolls, I’m not talking to you). And once, in the early days of Twitter, I deleted a tweet in order to avoid the risk of being flamed by the mob. (Note that I don’t advise deleting tweets—and I deleted this one before anyone saw it. And then promptly wrote a blog post about it.)

A response protocol is key.

There are a number of different ways to handle negative feedback about you and your brand online. Knowing when to respond, how to respond, and who should speak for your business are all things you should consider before you go online.

Developing a response protocol will serve as your insurance policy, something to have ready in case a problem arises. Because, as I was reminded, problems will arise.

Have you ever been flamed? How did you and/or your business respond?

Photo by Scott Hudson (Flickr).