This post was first published by Juliana Allen on March Communications’ blog PR Nonsense.

Social media can be scary … you put yourself out there, share your likes and dislikes, and essentially open yourself up for anyone and everyone across the globe to praise – or criticize – you. For clients, the latter is terrifying. What if their product gets bashed in such a public forum? What if confidential information gets leaked? The list goes on.

But the reality is, you can’t stop social media. Companies need to embrace it and see it for what it is – a portal for engagement that affords them more opportunities than ever before. The important thing to remember is that a big part of engagement is responding to any and all questions or comments you get – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Here are a few tips we recommend to clients to help them respond to social media comments:

Respond to customer/observer comments in a timely fashion

The window of opportunity for engagement can close quickly. But if brands interact with people via social media, the conversation could just as easily “catch fire” and spread all over the Web, placing your brand in front of millions of eyes. If you’re not sure of the answer to a question, say so, and that you will follow up once you have it. But, if you say you’ll get back to them, follow through.

Don’t avoid negative comments

Sweeping things under the rug is inadvisable given the prevalence and power of social media. Ignoring negative comments will only further agitate the individual(s) in question and leave them likely to spread negative messages about your company even further. Instead, use the opportunity to personally address his/her concern, and hopefully turn that person into an advocate for your company.

Respond constructively

Some people are looking for valuable interactions, while others just want to vent or build up competitors at your expense. Keep things positive, and always thank people for their input/feedback, even if it isn’t particularly useful.

Redirect to Appropriate Forums

If an issue or question proves too extensive for a quick reply via Twitter, Google+ or Facebook, use those platforms to direct the conversation to your blog or customer support team, where you can provide more detailed responses to these items. The former drives traffic to your site and continues to increase engagement through your blog.

Treat every interaction as an opportunity

If someone takes the time to engage you, there exists the potential to convert them into a client or advocate for your brand, even if the reason they contacted you was a negative one.

Can you think of any other useful tips for responding to questions and comments on social media platforms?