Addressing negative online comments about your brand is something that every social media manager will have to deal with from time-to-time.
I see these types of questions pop-up all the time in groups and communities that I'm part of:
- How do we deal with negative online comments made on social media about our brand?
- What's the best way to respond to negative comments in order to avoid further argument?
- Do we have to address criticisms online, or can we just delete them?
The short answers are yes, you have to address the comments, publicly; no, you can’t just delete (all of) them.
The best way to respond? In this post, we'll cover some key notes on just that.
But before I get into the specific tips, I encourage you to remember:
- The reality is that many of you won’t have to deal with this on an overwhelming basis. A negative comment here and there is normal.
- Many people just want to be heard, or they're having a bad day outside of the interactions on your page/profile.
- Intent can be taken wildly out of context when a comment is made online, as you can’t see or hear the person making it.
All of that said, if you do see a negative online comment about your brand, here's an overview of the key steps you can take to address it.
1. Refer back to your external social media policy
All social media managers need to create two specific types of social media usage policies for their organizations.
- One is internal (for paid staff, interns)
- The other is for external (general public online community) policies
Your Internal policy is for the people who represent your brand, whether directly or indirectly, including staff, stakeholders, partners, etc. This includes notes on brand voice, posting frequency, and escalation points in case problems arise.
Your external policy is public-facing, and clearly outlines what you will not tolerate in terms of comments and remarks posted on your social media accounts.
Here's an example of an external policy that I worked on with a nonprofit client:
Welcome to the official Facebook fan page for MetroWest Nonprofit Network (MWNN)!
Here we will share news about our workshops and events, as well as updates about local and regional nonprofit resources, funding sources, photos, videos, interesting stories and articles.
We want to keep our Facebook page an open forum, but we are also a “family-friendly” page, so please keep comments and wall posts clean. We want you to tell us what’s on your mind, but if it falls into any of the categories below, we want to let you know beforehand that we will have to remove it:
- We do not allow graphic, obscene, explicit or racial comments or submissions nor do we allow comments that are abusive, hateful or intended to defame anyone or any organization.
- We do not allow third-party solicitations or advertisements. This includes promotion or endorsement of any financial, commercial or non-governmental agency. Similarly, we do not allow attempts to defame or defraud any financial, commercial or non-governmental agency.
- We do not allow comments that support or encourage illegal activity.
- We do not promote our members’ events or job/volunteer opportunities on this page. Please email them to [email protected] and we will post them on our website.
Also, the appearance of external links on this page does not constitute an official endorsement on behalf of MWNN – it just might be something we found interesting and wanted to share!
Whew! Now that all THAT is out of the way, let’s get to know each other. Post, share and tell us what you’d like to see more of from MWNN!
Post your external, public-facing policy on your website, where you can link back to it from your social media accounts, in order to ensure that there's no confusion as to what will get someone banned and blocked, and what will get a comment deleted.
Both of these policy documents are key in ensuring consistent, effective management of your online channels and streams.
2. Determine the intent of the comment
Whenever a negative comment is posted, take a close look at the language the person has used, then at the account of the user who posted it.
Is this a real person, with a real bone to pick, or did this come from a troll, someone who frequently posts similar on other pages?
Wikipedia defines an internet troll as:
“A person who starts quarrels or upsets people on the Internet in order to distract and sow discord by posting inflammatory and digressive, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the intent of provoking readers into displaying emotional responses and normalizing tangential discussion, whether for the troll’s amusement or a specific gain.”
The key words here are:
- To distract
- To sow discord
- Amusement and specific gain
Trolls want to shift the conversation to their agenda. Do not feed the trolls.
While it's important to respond to all genuine, sincere concerns that are raised by your audience, you also need to understand which are just that - genuine, sincere complaints - and which are merely baiting you and your staff/assistants, for their own gain.
Learn the difference, and how to spot the key troll indicators, and avoid getting caught up in needless - sometimes endless - back and forth battles.
3. Redirect the conversation onto a private channel
Once you've established that your complainant::
- Hasn't directly violated your stated social media policy and...
- Is not a troll who's just trying to start trouble for trouble’s sake
Your first point of call is to apologize and address their concern as best you can with the context you have available. But carrying on a question and response in a comments thread - if your initial response is not enough for the complainant, or if you need more info in order to track down further context, you should recommend redirecting the conversation into a private channel, facilitating more direct engagement.
Ask the person to DM you (ensure your DMs are open to the public), or email you if you want to give them your email, then take it from there. DMs tend to work best because the person doesn’t have to leave the platform, and again, it can feel more personal and responsive.
Here's an example of the basic type of language that you want to use in your response:
“Hi NAME, I’m sorry that you had a bad experience and that you're feeling this way.
Can you send me a DM so that I can get more information from you and discuss next steps? Thank you.”
4. See if your online community will go to bat for you
When you're actively building your social media community, you may think you're all alone in seeing and digesting these negative comments. However, as you grow your following, and your engagement, you'll notice, eventually, that your fans and followers will stick up for you too.
If someone says something egregiously wrong, or provides false information, or even just leaves a petty comment, your community will often stand up to this person to set the record straight.
That’s what having a dynamic community on social media means - people who are ready, willing, and able to go to bat for you and your brand can offset negative comments in the best way possible. It won't always happen, and you shouldn't necessarily rely on such, but it's another benefit to building strong ties with your online community.
As noted in the introduction, dealing with negative comments is something that all social media managers deal with from time to time, but it's important to ensure that you don't take it personally, and that you work to consider the broader perspective around why someone might have said what they did. The reasons behind such complaints can be complex - simple, straight-forward issues might be easy to resolve, and turn sentiment around, but more embedded, angrier responses could indicate that something more is going on.
It's important to approach interaction with empathy and compassion, enabling you to work with them, from their perspective, to make things right.