It’s Not Personal: Responding to Negative Social Media Comments

March 4, 2015

negative social media comments

It’s not personal. It’s business. While admittedly it’s easier to preach than to practice, on your business’ social media outlets, you need to live by this mantra. Other than the fact that it’s a great quote from The Godfather and You’ve Got Mail, keeping this in mind will ensure you take the high road in the face of negative social media comments, carefully considering your response before posting it for the world to see.

To continue with the movie theme, Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail, Kathleen Kelly, responds, “All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It’s personal to a lot of people. And what’s so wrong with being personal, anyway?”

Well, I’m here to share what’s wrong with emotionally charged responses on social media. Just as Kathleen Kelly took her business seriously, so do you and so should you. The problem is, if you take attacks on social media personally, it can turn into a blood bath.

We’ll look at some tips on how to mitigate the effect of negative comments later on, but first let’s consider this reply which piqued my interest in how companies respond to negative comments online. The response came from the company after a negative comment was posted questioning advertising on the organization’s Facebook page and the company’s authenticity. Both the organization and names have been removed to protect both parties involved, and I have eliminated some text for the sake of brevity.

October 29, 2014 – So idiocy is running rampant today at [BUSINESS NAME] and I’m a little annoyed. Some idiot named [NAME] obviously doesn’t know how to work a computer … So again, your idiocy is overwhelming and I hope you keep stewing in your cauldron of hate. If you would like to email this woman regarding her stupidity please do: [EMAIL ADDRESS].

I still cringe when reading this, however, nearly five months after the post, I still think of it from time to time. It is the perfect example of taking a comment from social media too personally, and lashing out before considering the effects and formulating a thoughtful, meaningful response. This is the exact reaction you want to avoid when responding to customers under your business profile.

Now that we’ve seen example of how not to react, let’s consider the ways you should respond to negative comments on social media:

  1. Documentation. If a negative or controversial comment comes up on your social media outlets, be sure to log or take a screen shot of the comment in accordance with your company policy. Proof is essential should the comment lead to a legal or escalated scenario.
  2. Do not delete comments. Deleting a comment does not eliminate the issue; in fact, it may only instigate the individual to come back in full force. Be sure to consider a thoughtful, honest way to answer the question as there is usually a way to make the situation positive. And remember, you always maintain the right to remove inappropriate or irrelevant comments including racist, derogatory or solicitor comments.
  3. Set the tone. An offended customer may very well try to push your buttons or elicit an emotional response. Here you have the opportunity to set the tone. Be positive, offer and apology, if necessary, and a solution. Just as customer service is at the forefront of your in-person business dealings, it also should be in your online presence. Remember, you are communicating in a public space, so anything you say can, and will, be used to promote or bring you down. Most of the time customers aren’t looking for perfection; a genuine, thoughtful response will suffice.
  4. Respond in a timely, public fashion. Word can spread quickly in the realm of social media. Once you have the support you need from leadership, be sure to respond within a few hours. Depending on the severity of the issue, you may have more or less time to answer. Unfortunately, in today’s fast-paced environment inactivity may appear as though you are ignoring the issue. A response shows care and concern for your customers’ opinions, no matter if they are positive or negative. You don’t have to maintain the entire conversation in the public eye, but let your followers know you are addressing the issue.
  5. Let your fans and followers fight for you. If you have an active fan or follower base, coupled with a great product and customer service, you can also gain consumer support and business endorsement. Sometimes, customers will take care of the battle for you, combating the negative comments with their own experiences and putting naysayers in their place.
  6. Monitor your reputation. Utilize Google Alerts or similar tracking services to receive updates when your organization or product is mentioned online. This is a great way to gauge the pulse of conversation about your business.

Now that you know how to respond the next time a critic comes your way, you will be prepared. Just remember – taking it personally is part of our nature, but you have the ability to shape your message in order to maintain your company’s reputation, minimize risk, and drive the results you’re looking for.

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is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.