Here are six basic principles for handling difficult questions and statements on the social web. These apply to communications, marketing and customer service issues as much as they do human resources and other activities.
Move fast - The longer you take to respond, the more you risk appearing unresponsive, uncaring or, worse, secretive. According to NM Incite (pdf), users of Facebook pages expect to be responded to within 24 hours and Twitter users within 2 hours.
Be accurate - Despite the pressure on speed, try to be as factual as possible - angry customers and bloggers love to highlight, question and poke holes in wooly or cagey responses.
Be flexible- Don't assume that either the complaint is 100 percent genuine (consider carefully its motivation) or that you are 100 percent correct in your response. If you don't have the full facts, say so publicly and communicate updates thereafter regularly.
Be transparent - Admit if you have made a mistake. Denials, evasions insincere apologies as a means of quieting a community are often quickly spotted by the community and may simply inflame the issue.
Be sincere - If the complaint is genuine, apologize sincerely and with humility and in language appropriate to the audience. And yet an apology will mean nothing unless the problem is resolved in a reasonable manner.
Be human - Look to use language that is accessible, engaging and empathetic while remaining at core professional and objective. Avoid jargon and respond direct to the individual or group using their actual names. 'Dear valued customer' doesn't wash it with customers increasingly expecting personal attention.