Getting negative comments on social media can feel like an attack on your small business.

After all, you’ve put countless hours and endless energy into your business, so when someone criticizes your hard work in a public forum, it’s only natural to feel upset.

Luckily, negative posts don’t have to be a crisis for your business.

The important thing to remember is that people who post complaints on social media just want to be heard. Ignoring a post will show them and your other fans on social media that you don’t care about their experience.

If you take the time to thoughtfully respond, however, you can take control of the situation and turn negative feedback into a positive experience for your business. In fact, 33 percent of negative reviews turn positive when you respond.

Here are three steps to crafting your response:

1. Breathe

Take a minute and a few deep breaths to understand that this comment is not meant to be a personal affront. Most likely, your customer simply wants to be heard and considered.

Even if the feedback seems harsh or aggressive, it’s probably caused by something small that riled them up. Read over their post and see if you can put together the root of the problem, and what you can do to make the situation better.

Understand that they were likely writing their post in the heat of the moment. With a little time and some recognition of their complaint, there’s a good chance they’ll be less negative soon.

2. Acknowledge their pain

Regardless of whether or not you think your business really was in the wrong, it’s important to say you’re sorry. An apology doesn’t mean you admit to a mistake or were wrong — it’s acknowledging your customer’s negative experience and demonstrating that it was never your intention to disappoint them.

Your response should go beyond “I’m sorry” and directly mention what the commenter was upset about. Something like, “I’m sorry you had a bad experience with a server at our restaurant. In our 25 years of business we’ve prided ourselves in our friendliness and this doesn’t follow that standard,” will be more effective.

This apology not only admits the business (in this case a small, established restaurant) is sorry for this customer’s experience, but flips the story to express their history of business in the area and the level of service people expect from them.

In just two sentences, this business turned a negative situation into a positive one.

3. Take the conversation offline

After an apology, the conversation may need to continue in a private setting. Don’t be afraid to say “Could you email me the details of your experience so we can better serve you in the future?” or (if on Twitter) “Could you DM me the details so we can better serve you in the future?”

The faster you respond to the post, the more likely you are to defuse the issue. On Twitter 72 percent of people expect a reply from a complaint within 1 hour.

There will be instances when the poster’s intent is not to get better service from you, but to get a rise out of you. These people are not likely to want to continue the conversation in a less public space.

Read each post thoroughly so you can understand what they are trying to express to you. Is a customer legitimately complaining about poor service?

You should always respond to and follow through with any legitimate concerns. If someone is being very unreasonable, you can disengage with them after apologizing and asking for more information.

Negative feedback doesn’t have to be a disaster.

Shama Kabani, author of The Zen of Social Media Marketing, wrote “Even if you do get negative feedback, you can turn it into a positive by engaging in a constructive way and showing that you’re a genuine business.”

While a negative post feels like it is ruining your business’s integrity in the moment, the way you handle it could actually prove your credibility.

Stay on top of negative feedback by closely monitoring your social media, or even using a review monitoring software.

Lastly, don’t forget to build positive reviews as well. A recent study found that 88 percent of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

By staying on top of negative feedback and generating positive reviews, your business will be ready to make a great impression online and entice new customers right from the start.

Have you ever turned negative feedback into something positive for your business? Share your story in the comments!  

About the Author: Cami Bird is the Head of Local Success for MarketMeSuite, the social media marketing and engagement platform for small businesses. She is an expert in social media engagement and inbound marketing, and loves Welsh Corgis.  MarketMeSuite was the first company to pilot Constant Contact’s Small Business Innovation Loft.