So your small local business is up and running and you’re trying to get the word out. “Hey! I’ll set up accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest! ALL THE SOCIAL NETWORKS!!” Sounds great! You spend time setting up social network accounts for your business and making them look snazzy. Perfect! Now to spread the word and see the “Likes” pour in and hopefully with them, customers. You contact all your friends to share your new page and like it. You start following other businesses like yours in hopes of getting followed back. Things look like they’re working out great!

Fast forward a few months. Business is going good and you don’t have time to keep up with the social media profiles you created, and you realized that your customers wouldn’t really be looking for your services via social networks in the first place and that word of mouth, local advertising and that funny sign spinner on the corner do more to bring in traffic. You keep the social accounts active because you put a lot of time into them and it doesn’t hurt to have them around, right?

Since you haven’t been paying attention to your social accounts as closely as you should, you’ve been missing a few grumpy customers (legitimate or not) who took to the social airwaves with their grievances. You didn’t respond to their first posts so they commented again and again. Now you need to go and try to fix the situation. It’s been a while since they posted, do you admit that you haven’t been paying attention to them? Do you ignore their posts and try to push them down the page with some of your own posts? Do you apologize publicly and try to address their issues?

Research has shown that people are more likely to complain than to compliment. In one survey, respondents were 50% more likely to share a negative experience online than a positive experience.

Before you decide to get all up in the social media for small business, here are a few things you should think about:

Why do you need social network accounts?

Ask yourself why your business really needs social. If you are targeting Millennials or Gen-X and your business integrates well with social networks for spreading info or if you have a targeted clientele who would follow your social posts to get the latest updates then go for it! If you have a small shoe store on the corner catering to people with special orthopedic needs, you might want to rethink that whole social thing and focus your advertising efforts elsewhere.

Do you use social networks personally?

If you don’t, maybe you want to either skip it for your business or hire someone who knows their way around. Chances are if you’re not social yourself, you will have a hard time being social for your business. There will be time involved in setting up the accounts, monitoring them, posting and replying to customers. If this isn’t something you already do, you might get overwhelmed.

Do you have time for social?

Many businesses treat social networks as alternative ways of advertising with the idea that if people like you, they’ll naturally like your Facebook page, subscribe to your Twitter feed, etc… That’s not usually the case. Sure, social networks are a way to get your name out there but more importantly, it’s a bi-directional communication channel – you send coupons, updates and specials to your followers but they (or anyone else) can send public comments back to or at you.

It’s great when these are good comments but typically, people are more apt to post a negative comment than a positive one. There are obviously exceptions but again, it depends on what your business does and who your customers are. It’s important to stay on top of any comments that you need to respond to otherwise your wonderful social network pages can turn into negative advertising and work against you.

There are a few tools that can help you manage multiple social networks at once like HootSuite and SproutSocial.

What social networks should you use?

This depends quite a bit on your answers to the previous questions. How much time do you want to spend on curating your posts and comments? Do you have a business where sending pictures is all you need to do or do you need to send out posts describing an offer or giving a consumer tip? With the number of social networks out there, trying to manage accounts on all of them could end up being very time consuming for you with little reward.

How will you handle negative comments?

It’s important to know in advance how you will handle an irate customer who vents his or her frustration on the internet. Will you respond with an apology and remedy? Will you ignore it and immediately post some of your own content to push the bad one down the page? Knowing what to do ahead of time will allow you to keep negative posts from becoming the first thing someone reads about you when they land on your social page.

Elizabeth Harper suggests that when you’re responding, be calm, empathize with the customer and offer a solution publicly. Handling a complaint the correct way can actually improve your business’ reputation.