Validation as Part of Social Media Customer Service

March 24, 2014

While many universities and their departments jump right into broadcasting their message via social, many pause before starting to use social networks for customer service. They know it will be much more difficult to use social in this way. Why? Because producing one-way content is easier than dealing with a two-way conversation. Some companies start using social media to broadcast and find that they are involuntarily included in customer service conversations. For example, when customers are unhappy, they might take to Twitter to air their grievances. Whether well-thought out or involuntary, your customer service via social is happening (or will happen) and you need to be ready for it.

Positive, neutral, negative

When someone mentions your department online, her mention will be positive, neutral, or negative. Plan your response to each type of mention. Here are some of my tips:

Positive mention

A positive mention is one that extols your department or shows the department in a positive light. This could be students taking a picture of themselves having fun at one of your events, or it could be direct praise of the department itself. How to respond:

  • Acknowledge with a “thank you.” He'll feel even better about it and will be likely to share more positivity in the future.
  • Like or share it to your own page.
  • Validate the feelings and keep the conversation going. If she says, “I love my linguistics class!” perhaps say, “That’s great to hear,” and add, “Which class is it?”
  • Some may not need a reply.

Neutral mention

These mentions may not require a reply, but others may. For example, questions about products can be neither positive nor negative; the individual merely needs more information. How to respond:

  • Respond with information (e.g., “Yes, that class counts as a humanities core credit.”).
  • Validate in some way. Some people want attention and will mention you more if you give them attention.
  • The mention may not require a reply.

Negative mention

These are the mentions we dread. This type of mention includes complaints and lies in an effort to put down your department, or it may consist of an innocent person who had a bad experience.

  • Don’t be defensive.
  • Don’t attack the person for his statements.
  • Take the conversation off-line quickly (e.g., “We’re sorry you had that experience. Email us at ___ so we can help you.”).
  • Some individuals say mean things, but not because they have a concern that can be resolved. Usually, this type of trolling should not get a response; they want a fire and you’d be fueling the flame. Just ignore.
  • Validate him. Help him feel heard and valued, even if you can’t give him what he wants.

Case studies on validation

These three types of mentions will have opportunities for you to validate the individual.


On Instagram, @murcia73 posted a beautiful photo of the MIT dome from a unique angle. This is a great example of someone expressing her positivity toward an institution through art. I made sure to comment via MIT's Instagram account, @MITpics, “Very nice.” And indeed, she continues to post to Instagram beautiful photographs of MIT's campus.


On Instagram, an individual posted a math joke and said, “Tomorrow I am participating in a national mathematics competition.” Through MIT's Instagram account I replied, “Good luck with the math competition!” She responded, “Thank you so much!” This wasn’t a positive or negative mention, nor was it an ask for information. However, I helped her feel noticed and validated for her love of math. I’m sure she views MIT more positively than she did before.


An individual had applied to an MIT program and was rejected. Feeling upset, he took to Twitter and posted,

“The future of education will be in the FACTS of the young leaders and not in the judgment of any system.”

Attached to the tweet was a screenshot of his rejection letter from the department. I have had this experience before and I know if I don’t validate the sentiment, the individual might continue to post until he gets the attention he wants. This wasn’t a bad or a malicious person. It was someone who was rejected and experienced disappointment. My reply:

“Let’s explore your idea further - besides time in industry, how could a prospective student be evaluated?”

His reply:

“I attached a visual map with my answer.”

The image he attached was a diagram of the qualities he thinks an MIT leader should have. My reply:

“Thank you for your thoughtful response!”

I validated him. I made sure he felt valued, despite the rejection.

Posted By
Stephanie Hatch Leishman

Stephanie Hatch Leishman

Former MIT Social Media Strategist

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