Gini Dietrich

Seven Steps to Dealing with Critics

By: Gini Dietrich | February 17, 2015 | 

Dealing with CriticsBy Gini Dietrich

A company of 70 assisted-living and retirement homes in the Midwest hired us a few years ago to see if social media could help them communicate with the children of their residents. 

Through our research, we discovered a Wii had been installed in every common living area throughout the entire organization…and residents were playing games on the consoles.

When tasked with the idea of using social media to engage the resident’s children, we knew we had to find a way to showcase these Wii competitions and see if we could extend them beyond each community.

Coming up on March Madness, we suggested they create the NCAA of Wii players and have the residents compete with one another.

As they played, it was recorded in real time and uploaded to the community’s website and through Facebook.

Then friends, families, and other residents could vote on the winner for each specific community. Just like in college basketball, each team could advance on and eventually face off in a “national” championship.

It was a lot of fun and people really got into it—sharing the videos, asking for votes, and suggesting games to play. And, let’s be real, retired people playing Wii is pretty fantastic.

When Critics Attack

One week, in the middle of all of this, the CEO and I were traveling to a conference together.

The night before it began, we were in the hotel bar chatting about work and he asked to see this creation of ours. I pulled out my laptop, opened Facebook, and scrolled through the different pages to show him how active and engaged his communities were in this contest.

As we were scrolling through, someone posted on the page a very scathing comment. It was unprofessional, it was mean, and it used a lot of swear words.

The woman was the daughter of a resident and she was angry after receiving a call from her mother, who was extremely upset about her visit to the beautician that day. Apparently she’d had her hair colored and it turned blue. 

The CEO backed away from the computer and put his hands up as if it were on fire.

We talked about what to do and then he timidly put his hands on the keyboard and typed,

I’m the CEO and I just saw this. Would you mind sending me your phone number so I can call you?

The woman did so and he took out his cell phone and called her. Right then and there.

He learned this wasn’t the first time her mother’s hair had been turned blue by the hairdresser and the salon refused to do anything about it. She was upset at their lack of empathy and customer service. He let her vent for a good 10 minutes and then offered her mom three free salon visits. He also called the salon manager and had a talk with her to be sure that never happened again.

The woman was so pleased with his responsiveness, she went back to the Facebook page and posted about it. Today she is one of the company’s biggest fans.

Turn Critics into Fans

Of course, it’s not always going to be the most senior person in the organization responding to the critics, but it isn’t hard to turn a critic into a fan if you apologize and fix the situation.

When this happens to you—and it will happen to you so don’t bury your head and pretend no one will ever be unhappy enough to post publicly about you—there is a four-step process you should employ.

  1. Get to the bottom of the initial complaint. Sometimes the critics might be right. If they are right and not complaining just to complain, listening to what they have to say will lead to identifying and solving an issue before it grows too large or gets out of hand.
  2. Consider the source. On the other hand, if the person is there only to cause trouble, you can ignore them. Responding will only add fuel to the fire, which is what these people feed on. Rather than calling them critics, we consider them trolls. Most of you will know who your trolls are because they show up consistently and try to take you down. All of our clients have a list of people they should ignore. Consider it your mental black list.
  3. Weigh the influence of the person. If the critic isn’t on your black list and you’re not sure of their complaint, consider how much influence they have within your industry. While you don’t want to be disrespectful of anyone complaining, you can definitely prioritize responses based on the person’s influence.
  4. Reply and then listen. If the complaint is valid, you should reply to the person—publicly—and then ask them to provide their contact information through a private message. Replying publicly allows other people to see you’re handling the situation, and then you can take the conversation offline. In the very best case, the person will post publicly again after the situation is solved, as happened with my friend.

Seven Steps to Dealing with Critics

Most of you have sites, communities, and content that increases your brand awareness, helps you position yourself in your market, and generates new leads.

But there will be occasions when people will want to tear you down. Sometimes those people will be anonymous—in those cases, you can decide to ignore them.

In other cases, they’ll be people you already know—they may have vocally complained about you in the past, or they may be a friend turned foe.

Whoever it is, it’s important to be strategic about dealing with criticism. The following seven steps will help.

  1. Create an internal policy. Everyone on your team—both internally and externally—needs to understand what your policy is for managing criticism online. A bad situation can be made worse by a well-intentioned employee or external partner who doesn’t understand your policy. The policy should lay out who will respond to critics online, what they’ll say, how quickly they’ll respond, and what to do if someone not authorized to comment sees or receives a comment.
  2. Be cautious. When dealing with critics, particularly if they’re anonymous, you don’t know how severe the reaction could be or how successful they may be in creating an online crisis involving hundreds or thousands of others. A good rule of thumb is to publicly say you hear them and you’d like to discuss offline. Then take it to the phone or in person. Get it out of writing so you can hear the tone of voice and see body language. The last thing you want to do is get defensive or engage in a back-and-forth debate online.
  3. Assume the best. Even if you think the answer is obvious or right in front of their face, sometimes the critic is misinformed, or doesn’t know where to look for the information on your site, or may be unwilling to search. When they complain about the obvious things, be helpful, pleasant, and non-defensive. You should never assume malicious intent until you’ve covered the obvious.
  4. Consider the medium. Unless you run a sports, religious, or news site, it’s unlikely anonymous trolls will want to spend their every waking moment criticizing you. So keep your goals in mind. Consider the medium of the criticism. If it’s directly on your blog or on Facebook, it’s far more difficult to ignore than in a tweet.
  5. Deleting posts. While deleting posts may remove the damage for the time being, when people discover you’re doing so, they’ll take you to task for that… and it won’t be pretty. Consider a politician who lies about his affair. Soon enough we all find out; cue news conference, with (or without) his family standing next to him, to admit the affair he lied about for months. It’s far worse to be found out later than to attempt to ignore it to begin with. And, when you’re transparent about your blemishes, an amazing thing happens: your community comes to your defense.
  6. Use common sense. Take your corporate hat off and think like a human being. No one wants to be talked to in corporate jargon or be showered with pre-approved PR messages. Be understanding, listen, and make things right. 
  7. Have a written external policy. The policy should describe when you will delete comments or ban a commenter, and establishes the tone of the conversation allowed on the site. For instance, the policy at Spin Sucks is that you can’t swear (we’ll edit out the swear words if you do) and the discourse must be professional. The written policy helps you moderate the conversation in a professional but open way.

It’s a very uncomfortable position to be in. None of us want to be criticized or have critics.

But, as the saying goes, if people either love you or hate you, you’re doing something right.

Today’s Exercise

Set your timer for 30 minutes and pull out a piece of paper—either in a notebook or on your computer.

Now you are going to create drafts of your internal and external policies for dealing with critics.

If you already have policies, that’s great! You’re far ahead of the competition. In that case, you’ll review them both and revise and update them.

If you don’t already have them, spend 15 minutes jotting down things that will go in your internal policy and 15 minutes on your external policy.

Of course, you’ll have to revise and finalize these—and get them approved, in most cases, but this will give you a good start.

Set your timer and go!

The Scavenger Hunt

If you are participating in the Spin Sucks scavenger hunt, today you will visit Jon-Mikel Bailey’s blog.

The secret word is in his blog post, “Good Branding, UX, and Content Marketing Start with Your Story.”

Just write down the secret word in Jon’s box on your scavenger hunt card (if you don’t have a card, download it here).

We have through March 3, so keep playing along.

And don’t forget…if you buy a copy of Spin Sucks between now and March 8, we’ll send you a fun package full of goodies to use in your office.

Just email the receipt to Please include your mailing address so we know where to send the package.

Now get to work! Thirty minutes. Go!

image credit: Shutterstock

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Always best to deal with haters ASAP. So many organizations bury their heads in the sand, in the hopes they’ll go away. Hint: They NEVER do!!

  • belllindsay Nope! And ignoring them always makes it worse. Always.

  • ginidietrich I had such FANTASTIC customer service over the weekend. By an internet/mobile company no less. Blew my mind.

  • belllindsay Whoa. Case study blog post?!

  • You know, I don’t play games, but I’m enjoying these posts, and also getting ideas for more blogs I should be following.

  • PJWright

    I like negative posts.  They give you a chance to demonstrate to a huge audience that you are paying attention, you care about your customers and that you want to give the best customer service you can.

    I worry about the companies that don’t respond to negative reviews.  By not responding they are making the situation worse.

  • This is something I recently discussed with Dannybrown and gotweetsgo recently discussed here:
    Critics aren’t always a burden – in fact, they mostly make valid points that you need to consider about your business. So, it’s vital that people understand how to effectively handle a critic or a negative comment. Thanks for the read, ginidietrich – some great tips and I especially love the exercise to kick start the process for businesses!

  • ginidietrich

    coledouglas7 Thank you, Cole!

  • RobBiesenbach NICE!!!

  • ginidietrich I was thinking about it, for next week. 🙂

  • coledouglas7

    ginidietrich my pleasure! You know I’m a huge fan!

  • For #5, I take you mean ‘think twice before deleting posts.’ Which – yeah! People will be ‘negative’ nothing is perfect or wonderful and TEHO will always, always apply. There are no absolutes and ‘it depends’ is NOT a copout. The CEO story pretty much nails it and exemplifies why social IS customer service, why HR is more than listing jobs on LinkedIN, why SM and FB need to be about SO much more than sales, marketing; and why all of this integrated communications IS Public Relations as I sing my favorite tune. 

    This is part of a theme I’ve been considering a while now, all having to deal with judgement and opinions. We critique and criticize; we judge and misjudge; some troll, flame, insult and fuel the fire while others will rubberneck or just look away. It’s human nature, often played out online and in social media for the world to see. It’s one reason I’ve been less ‘social’ lately, trying to find a balance and temper my judge-y opinions. More than offering thoughts and ideas, I want to better answer the ‘and? why does that matter? how does that happen?’ questions. FWIW.

  • RobBiesenbach I think that was a compliment?

  • PJWright I have the same attitude about negative posts. AND they give you great content ideas, too.

  • Kelsey Vere It’s pretty frustrating when an executive orders people just ignore the criticism. Just like in real life, there is only way to improve what we do.

  • 3HatsComm We actually talked about this very thing on Inside PR this week. It’s been a little more than a year since the Justine Sacco incident and The Times did an in-depth piece on what it’s been like for her. The gist of it is we need to chill out about trolling and flaming and lynching. It’s very good.

  • ginidietrich

    coledouglas7 And, for that, I love you!

  • Two quick comments. The BIG GUYS gave up. Go to Coke’s facebook page. So many people post a day saying thanks for the obesity epidemic and thanks for killing children it is impossible to do anything unless they closed the page. I think it is one reason they kind of have left the page but don’t do much aside from direct push content on occasion. McDonald’s has ignored the haters and only responds to actual questions in their Ask us anything campaign.

    The second one is BE A LEADER! Chobani was getting hammered two summers ago during their mold crisis by the No-GMO Project. This effort actually forced them to say ‘naturally made’ vs all natural because the cows would eat GMO corn feed. They stuck their head in the sand (upsetting me greatly and I lost a lot of respect for them). It took over 6 months for them to post a weak statement in January 2014 and finally in March 2014 got real about it. Rewind to that summer. Ben and Jerry’s decided to just jump into the fray and lead the discussion. They were outspoken about their challenges (not enough grass fed milk on the market) and the were the biggest supporter of the GMO labeling law that Vermont passed. Just think about that…they supported labeling that might require them to state the milk came from cows that ate GMO food. Mad respect for BnJ.BTW Chobani jumped in last summer as also a proponent. 

    Now you can go the Mashable route and ban truth telling folks from commenting! 8)

  • Howie Goldfarb I’m not sure what this has to do with dealing with negative criticism? I agree with you and think there are some leadership issues in all of this, but I’m having trouble connecting your second paragraph with the topic at hand.

  • ginidietrich Did it not sound like one? I should have done an exclamation point or a smiley face. Thumbs up, guys! : )

  • ginidietrich the second one is two companies same industry both find they are targets of criticism for their businesses and one hid/ignored and one decided to turn it around and instead of react they led from the front thus avoiding criticism.
    For big companies often the criticism is about business practices like Nestle and palm oil. Pepsi did bring back real sugar which not sure why it didn’t do better in the market place. But you can takes these as opportunities is my point.Head in the sand only works so long and if you change long after the fact you fail to win any image battles.

  • ginidietrich 3HatsComm I read it. Very excellent piece. Forget the trolling side of the story. I kind of feel if you are dumb enough or naive enough to be someone working in the tech industry in a senior position and you publicly tweet edgy to unsavory posts (she did more than the AIDs one) you maybe shouldn’t keep that job.

  • belllindsay ginidietrich And you know the thing is, I get so giddy over amazing customer experiences, because they stand out. It doesn’t take much to really please a customer. Listen, be human, repeat.

  • I keep ignoring Dallas but he won’t go away. Do you recommend legal action at this point?

    In all seriousness, these are solid steps for any organization. All to often I see companies shy away from blogs or even social media because of their fear of negative comments. If they have a solid plan in place for dealing with these then there is little to worry about. If they’re still worried then the problem might be that they deserve the negative comments they’re so afraid of. Dang dangling participle.

  • mitchellfriedmn

    ginidietrich I only ever really want to make myself happy. Seriously.

  • ginidietrich

    mitchellfriedmn That’s a good plan!

  • Great post and good concrete steps. One thing that stuck out to me about your first bullet – “Get to the Bottom of the Initial Complaint.” This is so important because sometimes people don’t actually know what they’re really upset about. Kinda like kids. 😉 Getting to the real root of the problem is critical.

  • Howie Goldfarb ginidietrich 3HatsComm I have a theory on that. Sacco apparently only had a hundred or so followers. No doubt there’s a certain amount of freedom and lack of accountability when you feel like nobody sees your tweets or posts.
    Also, and more dangerously, that could cause someone to “act out.” As in, “What do I have to do to get noticed around here?” So you become more provocative, more reckless.
    I am NOT a certified psychologist!

  • jonmikelbailey I definitely think legal action is key with dallaskincaid. I would even consider a restraining order.

  • Jen Novotny Or they’re confused and don’t realize what the problem is. We get a handful of complaints with every webinar we do because people don’t realize they can get the information by clicking the link in the email. When we explain that, they become A LOT less angry.

  • DallasK

    ginidietrich jonmikelbailey dallaskincaid WTF?!

  • RobBiesenbach Howie Goldfarb ginidietrich Grree.. editing zapped my reply! Anyhoodle…

    I read that piece, it’s queued up in my buffer. I don’t think there shouldn’t be consequences. It’s that some of these ‘punishments’ seem much harsher than the ‘crimes,’ in part, b/c it played out online. I’ve seen worse, sure you all have too – incompetence, poor judgment, offensive jokes – yet nothing comes of it. Why? Because it’s management, leadership (or their favorites) and they just… get away with it. 

    It’s an easy out b/c it’s true: everyone makes mistakes, even a career killing ‘one bad tweet’ or scathing internet comment. Trying to circle back to the post, guess it’s something to keep in mind when dealing w/ critics.

  • ebubeonline

    Cision Work so uber Smart & Hard to the point of singularity! An Event Horizon will occur & critics will become awed in thy rare tutelage!

  • ginidietrich

    Cision Yes! Add more tips!

  • kfreberg

    ginidietrich Cision Great tips! I’d add creating a sustainable education program w/ potential simulation training for each platform.

  • I am so disappointed with this post. I was expecting 8 tips. Why are there only 7? That’s an odd number.

  • karensutter

    kfreberg ginidietrich Cision We’ve been involved with and advocate elearning for a dozen years & see simulation training as invaluable.

  • DallasK ginidietrich jonmikelbailey dallaskincaid Exactly, WTF?!? I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, it’s a nightmare. Every time I turn around, there you are.

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  • Great read! I’ve always taken the approach that there is really no such thing as a negative comment. While it’s absolutely true that there will always be at least one ranting comment on any campaign, it’s an opportunity to have your team and/or company live up to its claims. 
    So long as you’re not dealing with sensitive info – bank numbers, SS#, etc. – dealing with the issue out in the open will win you kudos more often than not. Even if there isn’t a complete resolution to the problem, you’re showing others that you care enough to address the issue and be as transparent as possible in how things shake out.

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  • Great Post, thanks for nice one

  • Great Post, thanks for nice one

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