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Social Media & the Consumer: How to Handle Negative Feedback

There are a number of businesses that are still not embracing social media. They say things like, “We’ll get to it someday,” while others are simply skeptical of the emerging technology.  But, if I had to choose one core reason why some businesses are not embracing social media, I would say it’s because they’re scared.  They fear potential backlash from customers.  

Fear stems from one’s illusion of control.  Avoiding social media doesn’t silence the crowd. In fact, it could make bad circumstances worse because the business has no voice when consumers protest.

Last week, Gini Dietrich wrote about the PR mess involving Komen charity.  I’ll let you read the details for yourself. I want to emphasize that Komen violated a cardinal sin of social media: deleting negative feedback!  When consumers posted messages on the Komen Facebook page saying they were upset, those comments were deleted.

The only thing worse than deleting comments would be to respond defensively and thus initiating a battle with the audience.

I highly recommend not deleting negative feedback unless it’s an extreme circumstance such as inappropriate language or lewd comments.


Because it’s already out there. Someone saw it. And when the person who wrote the message sees that it’s been deleted, they’ll post again and be even more irate. Essentially, deleting a negative Facebook post would like hanging up during a customer service call.

When done correctly, acknowledging negative feedback and responding appropriately is an opportunity to demonstrate excellent customer service. How a business handles negative feedback says volumes about the integrity of the business and how much the business values its customers.

Don’t ignore the feedback, either. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away any more than deleting it.

So what do you do when someone posts a negative comment?  Although it’s a natural reaction to be upset, do your best to stay calm. If you have to, walk away for a few moments so you can write your response with a clear head.  Once you’ve had time to let the dust settle, re-read the message and consider its validity. Swallow your pride and be honest with yourself.

If you’ve decided the feedback has truth to it, do the following:

  • Acknowledge the feedback.
  • Apologize – genuinely.
  • Take the conversation offline.
  • Offer a solution.

 If you’ve decided the feedback is only partially true or it’s slightly misguided, do the following:

  • Acknowledge the error on your part and apologize.
  • Gently correct any misinformation (remember, be honest with yourself at this step).
  • Take the conversation offline.
  • Offer a solution.

 If you’ve decided the feedback couldn’t be farther from the truth, do the following:

  • Acknowledge the comment and write a general apology for any perceived dissatisfaction.
  • Take the conversation offline.
  • Get more details.

In many cases, negative feedback will not be black and white. In fact, some of it will be highly subjective. The important thing to remember is to avoid getting emotionally involved in subjective opinions.  Use the feedback as a way to improve customer relations and demonstrate compassion for upset customers.

Accept that negativity will happen. Nothing is perfect.

My goal is that you will read this blog and do three things:

  1. Put a system in place for responding to less-than-positive feedback. Do not skip this step! Consider potential comments you may receive and be prepared to respond quickly and professionally.
  2. Be proactive about creating a positive customer experience.  The more you can do to assure customer satisfaction now, the less chance of backlash later.
  3. Become aware of your brand’s online reputation by setting up Google alerts, social mentions, etc.

Learn more about managing your online reputation by joining our LinkedIn Group, “Personal Brand Management.”

Have you ever received negative comments online? How did you handle it?


Join The Conversation

  • Courtney Hunt's picture
    Feb 12 Posted 5 years ago Courtney Hunt

    Sound advice, Rachel. I would add that the concern and the recommendations apply to organizations of all types, not just for-profit businesses.

    A little over a year ago the New York Times ran a couple of pieces on managing comments, and one of my comments was highlighted. That prompted me to delve deeper into the issue and write my own post. Here's a title and a link for folks who would like to read more:


  • DavinaKBrewer's picture
    Feb 11 Posted 5 years ago DavinaKBrewer

    You're right about walking away, not responding until you have a clear head; take a breather, reread and then reply. It is hard to read criticism, esp. if it's something that's our own work - can't help but take it personally. And yet, there is simply no way to avoid it; perfection is so rare, pleasing everyone nigh unto impossible. If we are going to be social, we have to accept some bad w/ the good. Not to mention, it often IS that criticism - so meanspirited but most from those interested in our success - that can drive us to improve, make better products, offer more services. FWIW.

  • Rachel Strella's picture
  • Rachel Strella's picture
    Feb 10 Posted 5 years ago Rachel Strella

    Ha! You made me laugh with the "WORD" comment!!

    It's true, but I think people are devasted when they get negative feedback and their kneejerk reaction is to delete it. That's why I recommend walking away then coming back with a clear head!

    Be sure to share the your piece once you've written it!



  • DavinaKBrewer's picture
    Feb 10 Posted 5 years ago DavinaKBrewer

    I'm going to be writing - ok, ranting - about this soon Rachel. Let me just say thank you for this, "a cardinal sin of social media: deleting negative feedback." WORD!

    When will people learn that aside from trolls/spammers, this is part of being social. It's not all rah-brand, there will be negative feedback and you have to have a capable, well-trained communications team to handle it. There are times these can be opportunities to show responsiveness, really explain and communicate brand messages, so many things. FWIW.

  • Feb 10 Posted 5 years ago mmelander

    Thank you so much for posting this Rachel! This has been a struggle from within our organization as we are trying to align our leadership with this new reality and educate them on the new expectations of social. We've recently had to make a negative announcement in the press and we now have to manage our communities as a result. We are working very closely with our Customer Support team and are treating these comments as an inbound phone contact, with the exception that it's a public conversation between them, us, and everybody else. The neat thing about this is that our leadership team is following our pages and is seeing these conversations unfold on the page and while not all are positive we are definitely seeing some positive comments as a result of our transparency.


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