Online engagement with consumers presents organisations with an interesting challenge: sharing their brand with consumers.

Unlike traditional marketing channels such as television or print advertising, social media allows consumers to speak back.

Many consumers view Facebook pages as a community and have little hesitation in making their views heard. This has enormous benefits but also presents a challenge: can organisations let go and participate rather than control the conversation about their brand?

A dialogue with consumers brings enormous benefits: real and meaningful engagement with a brand can create strong brand loyalty. It also enables organisations to answer questions or more extensively develop consumers’ understanding of their products and services. It can also provide the opportunity to effectively manage consumer queries or battle any myths or misunderstandings about the organisation, or its products and services.

However, there is always the likelihood that consumers may post something negative or complain about the organization on a social media channel. Or potentially worse: write something positive about a competitor. Some organisations delete these comments for fear they may negatively influence other members of the community. To so undermines both the integrity of the social media community and the organization itself.

Last month Chapstick found itself in the middle of a media backlash after it became apparent that the organization was deleting comments about a controversial photo posted on Facebook. As AdWeek states, “The image isn’t even that big of a deal – it’s ChapStick’s reaction to the criticism that galls.”

Allowing the negative comments to remain can actually be a positive action for an organization.

Responding to negative comments, and seeking to amicably resolve any issues, can have many positive outcomes. To respond shows that the organization cares about the community and their experience with the brand. Consumers can, on the whole, accept when a product or a service fails. What they cannot abide is when an organisation doesn’t listen or seek to resolve the issue.

If a comment is deleted, community members feel that they are not being heard. But more worryingly, they may view the organisation as being deceptive and dishonest. Integrity can months or years build but can be dashed in a moment.

If a comment is responded to, community members feel valued and cared for. In many cases, they will share this view with their online friends. Most importantly, other community members who may read the exchange will also see the organization as having integrity and honesty.

Engaging unhappy community members is an opportunity to engage and manage relationships, rather than a disaster. Demonstrating your organisation’ integrity and honesty speaks volumes and can play a large part in winning over unhappy customers but also engage with new ones.