Managing Negative Comments in Social Media

January 10th, 2012 | Guest Contributor | 55 Comments

even angels can be negativeGuest post by Yvette Pistorio

If you work as a social media manager or online community manager you see these all the time … negative comments. When you see them you try at first to plan how to respond, but sometimes have a strong urge to react.

The best tip I can give: don’t take them personally. You’ll run out of energy if you do this.

Here are 6 more tips on how to manage negative comments:

Listen to what is being said.

Is it constructive criticism, a straight problem, or an attack? Deciding what the criticism is and understanding it will help determine your response.

Most customers who complain online don’t want to hurt your company. They just want someone to listen and help them with their problem so try and see what is behind the negative wording. Understand what the customer is saying instead of concentrating on how the words are being used

Respond quickly.

Don’t let negative comments linger. Responding quickly will let the naysayer know you’re listening and care, even if it’s just a “Sorry for the inconvenience, can we give you a call you to help solve your problem?”

The longer a negative comment goes without a response, the more credibility the comment acquires. So show the customer you are doing all you can to rectify the situation or at least acknowledge that you hear them.

Take it offline.

You can’t always gauge a customer’s tone online. Are they being sarcastic? How angry are they? The best way to determine this is to try and take the discussion offline. After you initially respond, offer your phone or e-mail address so they can contact you directly.

Be apologetic. 

Sometimes it’s best to take the “customer is always right” approach. Others will respect you if you apologize up front.

Know when to walk away.

My colleague Heidi Sullivan (quoting Jason Falls) said to me, “sometimes a turd is a turd.” Don’t get in a public fight over one complaint or a snide remark. It will only reflect poorly on you and your organization. If the comment is from a turd, your community will see them for what they are, and they will lose their credibility.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

If you aren’t sure how to respond to a comment, ask someone you know that has experience in dealing with customer complaints. This is something I still do on a regular basis. Sometimes I can’t come up with anything to say, or everything I come up with sounds bad, or I try to be funny and fail miserably, so I’ll send it to someone else and ask for their input.

The occasional complaint from a customer is inevitable, especially since social media has removed the filters that traditionally barred people from getting their views heard by the public.

However, when you show customers that you’re making an effort to hear them and acting on their feedback, it will go a long way toward turning that angry customer into an advocate.

So when you run into negative comments, handle them with speed and care.

Image: aaipodpics via Flickr, CC 2.0

Yvette PistorioYvette Pistorio is the social media manager for Cision, and a blogger for CisionBlog. She is a lover of cupcakes and HGTV, and enjoys a good laugh. You can find Yvette on Twitter.

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50 comments
bdorman264
bdorman264

I know people................we take care of troublemakers..............we don't get mad, we get even.......:).

Even though you might be spitting mad it is always best to take a deep breath and try to address it quickly and hopefully take it offline. However, we know some people are just not reasonable (imagine that) so you just have to face it head-on and try to minimize the damage.

Good points indeed; sometimes common sense can go a long way.

Hajra
Hajra

Handling negative comments can be tough, especially when opinions differ extremely. We just need to realize that everyone is entitled to an opinion and we have to open our minds to that; maybe agreeing to disagree!

frankmedia
frankmedia

Great tips here! Love the "sometimes a turd is a turd". However I think all turds still need to be responded to, perhaps in a 'Sorry to hear you feel that way.' and leave an avenue for them to vent offline.

ShakirahDawud
ShakirahDawud

Your tips are good ones, Yvete, thank you. Here's the thing: we're told to give our businesses a personal touch, to be human, to build our "personal brand"... and then someone rants about how they hate our store's color scheme. How do you suggest keeping it human-to-human without getting our feelings hurt?

KirkHazlett
KirkHazlett

Excellent, and very on-point. It's sooo easy to just figuratively pull the trigger and blast away. But the end result more often than not is more damage...to your brand...your reputation...your employees' pride when they read or hear what you said in a fit of pique. Thanks, Yvette, for a great reminder for us all...and thanks, Shonali, for sharing this wisdom with us!

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

It is really hard biting one's tongue when responding to upset clients or customers or people who drive by and comment. But we can never forget anything we respond with they can share.

Great post Yvette!

Shonali
Shonali moderator

One of the biggest mistakes I've seen companies make (or are tempted to make) is to delete negative comments. They'd rather do this, than deal with the issue at hand. Sure, sometimes that negativity is not justified - it might come from an ill-informed person, or someone who's just there to vent - but often these comments can be helpful, as you point out, Yvette.

And if those comments weren't being paid much attention to before by other customers/consumers, you can bet they'll start paying attention if they're deleted... thus creating more problems for them.

Really nice post, Yvette; thanks for writing!

shonali
shonali

@kmueller62 Did you get my email? Yes or no (to the question posed therein)?

Daniel J. Cohen
Daniel J. Cohen

Great piece. These tips are all very practical. Some articles on social media negativity suggest letting your fans post on your behalf to counter the naysayers... but not every brand has evangelists working on its behalf like Apple does. And let me tell you, as a guy who represents a brand that DOES have fairly strong fans, I still don't get many opportunities to let the customers do my work for me. Proactive social media response is still the best way to handle the issue. While interaction is the name of the game and you want to generally encourage free speech, there's nothing wrong with considering all of the options this post discusses. Letting comments sit is never a good idea. These responses are real world. Good post Yvette!

Cision
Cision

@frankmedia Thanks!! Sometimes you do have to respond to a turd but if they keep complaining after you've apologized and offered an avenue to vent offline, your community will notice and realize what a turd that person is!

Cision
Cision

@ShakirahDawud Thanks Shakirah! Let's take your example...they hate your store's color scheme, but they didn't say they hated you, right?! They didn't even say they hated your store. If you take criticism about your brand/business personally, you'll get burnt out really quick. It's not easy, but there are always going to be people that don't like your brand/business. When consumers complain they usually aren't attacking you as a person. Take a step back from the negative comment or criticism, and really look at what the consumer is criticizing. In your case of the store's color scheme...that can be an expensive fix!! If it really bothers you, take a poll and see what the rest of your customers think. If it's just one person complaining, don't let them get the best of you!

mdbarber
mdbarber

@cision Sure. I like posts that are straightforward and quickly understood. Plus it's timely!

Cision
Cision

@KirkHazlett It's tough not to take some of the criticism personally, but you have to remember the customer/consumer probably isn't attacking you personally. (I say probably because I've seen some recent examples of personal attacks!) Like you said, if you respond in haste, you risk damaging the reputation of your brand, your employee's and yourself. Thanks Kirk!

Cision
Cision

@HowieG I agree, it's tough. Sometimes I just start ranting to myself at my desk. My cube mates probably think I'm crazy!! But it's important to always take a step back and make sure you respond appropriately. And like you said, they can share what we respond with...so many poor examples of that lately! Thanks Howie!

Cision
Cision

@Shonali Thanks for giving me the opportunity Shonali :)

Cision
Cision

@Daniel J. Cohen Thanks so much Daniel!! Exactly, we can't all be Apple. Even if you have evangelists working on behalf of your company, I still think the brand should respond. It just shows that you're listening and you care about your customers. I think that's really important. I know as a consumer, I want to be responded to by the brand, not their evangelists. And I completely agree, proactive social media response is best!

Cision
Cision

@KenMueller Thanks Ken!! "You can't plan for the specific instance, but you can at least be ready." I couldn't say it better!!

shonali
shonali

@kmueller62 Sorry, I just saw this! Well, thanks... and now I'm on holeedaayyyy... woo hoo!

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@Cision I'd add that tackling negative comments with a touch of humor can often help to defuse them. So maybe something like, "What, you're Martha Stewart now? P;" (smiley face intended) or "Well, our COO [pic of dog] approved!" could go a long way to defusing such a comment. In a way, it's almost a compliment when people rant over things like that, because it shows that they really connect to your brand. Just my $0.02. @ShakirahDawud

KirkHazlett
KirkHazlett

@Cision@KirkHazlett

Thanks, Yvonne...I totally agree! I tend to stew about it for hours, if not days! It's not easy convincing yourself that the customer/consumer is (probably) frustrated and has hit the boiling point. I actually had a personal experience this morning where I blasted the Boston Globe's home delivery service online...and got a prompt call from their customer service rep who (a) talked me off the ledge and (b) left me feeling like they really care. So it truly is an ongoing learning experience! I am going to use your post in my upcoming "Health Communication Management" class in talking about interactions with patients and their families...you say it much better than I! Cheers,

shonali
shonali

@bdorman264 You don't have to try very hard for that. You're kinda epic from head to toe.

kmueller62
kmueller62

@shonali sometimes those are the best. and great post today. trying to comment but it doesn't seem to be working

shonali
shonali

@kmueller62 It's so much of a secret that even I don't know it. I don't think we have anything planned, which I kinda like.

ShakirahDawud
ShakirahDawud

@Shonali@Cision

Good advice from both of you, and... that was probably not such a good example. What I mean is, people will come to you on the level you come to them. I like being open and human and real about my business and myself. I've tried, but I don't know how to do business any other way. But some people feel that their entire heart and soul should be poured into their business--and end up getting their feelings hurt when someone makes a personal attack, when they really *shouldn't* take those things personally, or put themselves in the position to take them personally.

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