How to deal with negative comments and posts

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is ‘what do I do if someone says something nasty on my Facebook page?’ A reality that you must be aware of is that creating any social media account has some risk, and that over time, you will receive some kind of negative comment or behaviour because that is just human nature. You need to consider how you deal with it especially if you are managing an online community for a brand or business.

At the strategic level I have worked with key stakeholders to create guidelines for MRU that outline step by step how to respond to negative behaviour on our social media channels (which I recommend) but as a community manager, nothing compares to suddenly being faced with negative comments and properly managing them in the moment. I have had my fair share of experience dealing with negative comments over the past few years and know how nerve wracking it can be and how overwhelming the responsibility you feel can be.

Identify issues ahead of time – if you already have some challenges that your customers complain about in the traditional way (in person, email) creating a Twitter account or a Facebook page will only provide a more public venue for them to complain. Identify these issues and how you would respond ahead of time so you are not caught off guard. Know your audience; consider every scenario and the consequences of different actions such as deleting a negative post, responding privately vs publicly. Make sure you include key people in crafting responses to sensitive issues ahead of time; depending on the organization this could be the owner, the President or the head of communications.

Have guidelines in place - taking the time to put together well-thought out guidelines for communications staff and employees of your organization can save you heartache later. Guidelines that specifically outline how to respond to negative behaviour online help people/employees feel like they have some control over their response when they are suddenly in a situation of dealing with a furious customer.

Post a disclaimer on your social media site – in the ‘about’ or ‘bio’ section of your site you can provide a short disclaimer that any posts that contains excessive profanity, threats/abuse, racial comments etc. will be deleted can be helpful so that you do not need to explain why a post was suddenly deleted every time it occurs. If you do have official guidelines in place you can also refer to those here – I like this approach because it makes the response to negativity about the behaviour not the person who made the comment.

Have a strategy for the different types of negative behaviour -¬† it is important you work with key people in your organization to decide what you consider ‘crossing the line’ as negative behaviour so everyone is on the same page and how you deal with different scenarios that come up.

MRU student pays tuition in coin fueled hundreds of comments on social media

Also be aware that social media channels operate in different ways so you need to consider how your response should be carried out on each channel; for example comments posted on your Facebook page can be seen collectively by all your members in one place, while on Twitter your followers only see what you post, not what all your followers post about you (unless they seek it out).

  • Venting - again, it is human nature that no matter what your business or brand you will have customers at some point that will be unhappy or angry for a variety of reasons and want to vent to you about it on your social media sites. Response: acknowledge their unhappiness publicly and quickly, and 1) try to fix their problem if you can 2) provide them with specific information that will help them 3) be honest and realistic about what you promise.¬† Just by responding you will help diffuse their negative feelings¬† – not responding at all may look like you don’t care.
  • Trolling - unfortunately there are people out there that seem to have nothing better to do than to try to annoy you (your business) using social media. This could be anything from daily sarcastic or snarky comments on your sites to posting inappropriate pictures or comments to even ‘hassling’ your other community members. Response: do not engage them in conversation as this is what they are hoping for – attention. Try to ignore them for as long as you (and your community) can withstand. If it continues post a public note to them that your site is intended for constructive/fun/thoughtful discussion between people that care about/love the brand and that further comments will unfortunately lead to being blocked if it continues. If it continues or escalates block them, your community most likely will thank you!
  • You are in the news - if for some reason your organization is in the news or media for a negative reason you may get a flurry of negative comments in a short time frame, many that are legitimate comments and many that are just jumping on the band wagon to fuel the fire. Ideally you would know this was coming and you would be prepared! Response: you do not need to respond to every single comment made, but rather with one or two general responses across various social media channels to your communities addressing concerns. This will show you are acknowledging the situation but that you are communicating about it from an organizational point of view. One tactic in this situation would be to issue a release onto your website and post the link to the release to Twitter, post on your Facebook page, LinkedIn page etc. to centralize the response.
  • Serious comments with consequences – these are usually quite rare but you still need to think through exactly what you would do in the event of a negative comment or post your organization would consider ‘serious’ such as threats to others or themselves, posting of private/confidential information, slander etc. You will know it when you see it as a community manager because your heart will stop as you read it. Response: try to access their profile/bio and take a screenshot of it so you capture any information on themselves they provide. Take a screenshot of the serious comment. Delete the comment and block them. Send the screenshots to your internal areas such as security, human resources, student conduct etc. that would be responsible to take over.

Community manager ‘must do’s’ when dealing with negative comments:

  • Remain calm – remember this is not a personal attack against you, it is aimed at the business you work for so it is imperative you take a breath, think about your response objectively and respond calmly. If you feel yourself getting overheated walk away from your computer – remember every response you give affects your company’s reputation and brand.
  • Do not delete negative comments – unless they fall under the ‘serious’ category of negative comments (i.e. threatening) leave them up and respond accordingly. The whole point of businesses and brands on social media is to provide a two-way communication channel for your customers – deleting a negative comment will anger the person (even your community) and potentially escalate the situation. It can also make your business seem cold and uncaring.
  • Ensure your response is accurate - it can be tempting to provide a quick response off the top of your head to diffuse a negative comment but if the information you provide is not correct or specific enough it will only make them more unhappy and create more negative posts. Check links, phone numbers, email addresses etc. for accuracy before providing them. If you are unsure of the information to provide or the accuracy of it, find someone you work with who does before responding. If you are responding using your phone be especially careful because it is easier to make a typo on your phone.
  • Don’t go it alone - if you feel especially stressed by a negative comment or are unsure of how to respond, engage your colleagues or boss to help you. It is much better to include others to provide a well thought out accurate response than to go it alone and risk making the situation worse!
  • Remember every response you give is public - you are never just responding to one person’s negative comments on social media, your other community members will see your response as well. And, if your members decide to share your response the potential reach goes up astronomically. So before posting, read over your response as if you were your audience; does it address the issue brought up in the negative comment? Does it make sense? Does the tone sound helpful or is there a hint of sarcasm or anger in your response (remove!)? If the situation is sensitive maybe have a colleague read it for you.
  • We are all human - mistakes can happen and we all make them; if you respond to a negative comment making any of the mistakes mentioned above, take ownership of it and take action immediately by sending out another post clearly indicating the mistake, the correct information and/or a quick apology for it.
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