Gini Dietrich

Crisis: Dealing With Negative Comments Online

By: Gini Dietrich | February 1, 2010 | 

Last week, I was talking to my friend, and client, Lorri Wyndham about negative comments online. It was a timely conversation because, when I speak, at least one person asks me what happens when someone says something negative about them or the company online.

I like to use the story from when I first began speaking. Someone in the audience really pushed back on me and said, “So you are telling me that if I give someone a bad review, he’s going to go put it on Facebook?” Yes, that’s exactly what I’m telling you. Except it’s not going to start happening, just because I’ve opened your eyes to it…it’s been happening. And it’s really not any different than before social media. Before, that person would badmouth his boss to his friends and family via the phone. Now, though, his circle of influence is thousands, instead of a handful, of people. But, unlike before social media, you now know that employee is badmouthing you on Facebook because you are monitoring online conversations and can see what he’s saying.

So, Lorri said to me, what do we do when the negative happens?

I like to approach negative comments just like I would a crisis, in the traditional sense. The three R’s of crisis are: Reflect, respond, and recover.

Reflect. Read what the person is saying. Keep an open mind. Think about his/her side of things. Consider what, if any, changes you can promise once you respond.

Respond. Engage the person online, at first. Let your community see that you are responding and that you are open to not only listening, but to changing practice, based on this person’s negative comments. Then take the conversation offline, either via phone or email.

Recover. Once resolved (either with an action plan or you might come to an impasse), bring the conversation  back online.

My friend Blair Minton owns affordable assisted living homes in Illinois and Indiana. A couple of months ago, we were at a board meeting in Washington, DC and looking at his company’s Facebook fan page. A few hours earlier, a woman had posted that her mother had had a bad experience in one of their home’s hair salons. Blair immediately responded how sorry he was on the Facebook wall and welcomed her to contact him, offline.  She did and they resolved the issue. Then she went back to the fan page and posted how great the Heritage Woods CEO is and what a pleasure it is to have her mom in one of their homes because of his responsiveness.

The point is to be completely transparent and honest. In this instance, they did not come to an impasse, but that does happen. Communicate the impasse, should it happen. Let your community know what you’ve done. Make a record of it. And be consistent. The only way to be “rid” of a negative comment is to either create a brand ambassador out of the person or apologize, recover, and consistently communicate online with transparency and honesty.

How do you deal with negative comments?

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!

  • Ginny – great post. Not responding is the worst thing companies can do. People just want to be heard and companies biggest haters can become the companies biggest advocates if a company listens and responds. Every customer wants to feel important and responding to posts is an easy way do that.

  • Great post, Gini. I needed this one today. And this advice applies in personal situations as well as professional ones.

  • This is excellent advice. Some companies shy away from publicly responding to these things and that can sometimes do more harm than good. I believe online communication should be valued just as much as face-to-face. If someone were to come to a business with negative thoughts face-to-face vs on a facebook wall, would the manager, owner, etc just stare at them blankly? A response is always good. I like how you applied the three R’s.

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  • Great post, I think social media as a crisis itself, and its roll during a crisis is something that needs further examination. Given that the internet creates communication on steroids, the rate at which a minor problem can translate to a serious crisis is astounding.

    I agree that if social media is about creating two way communications, one of the best ways to use the medium is to provide genuine feedback and clearly articulate real attempts to solve the problem. If you do that, I think some degree of good can come from any problem.

  • WOW – how spot on is this? Image is everything everywhere, and this clearly illustrates two key points: First is the fact that service recovery is a powerful tool. Secondly, the image that is repaired does not just work for us as an individual – it is also works wonderfully for our entire organization. When we can have everyone on our team on the same page delivering the same message responding in the same manner then our image is consistent and POWERFUL.

  • What amazes me is how many people still believe social media is a fad. A negative comment online just might be what it takes to convince them that it is not and they better participate now!

    Yesterday I received a negative email from a franchisee. I wanted to jump right on it and respond with a message why he is totally wrong. I didn’t. I could say I was reflecting but actually I was just stalling. This morning I followed your 3 Rs and spent time reflecting. Now I am ready to respond calmly and hopefully we’ll recover.


  • Sage words of advice my dear friend – especially when you take the time to reflect upon why you are receiving negative comments in the first place. I especially enjoy the concept of the “open mind” and ensuring that you are actually reading what the people are saying or trying to tell you. Most times it is not the message but the delivery so time of reflection can certainly help address that issue. Great post. Andy

  • Gini Dietrich

    Greg – As you well know, from your CVS incident, not responding is almost worse than the negative comments. Look what happened to Dominos last year…and they responded; it just took them a few days.

    Laura – It ABSOLUTELY works in personal situations. I like to say, “I hear you. I need some time to think. I will get back to you soon.” And then I do.

    Lyn – LOVE that analogy! I’m stealing it. Thank you!

    Ben – Right on! People just want to know they’re being heard…even if it’s just to hear “I’m sorry.”

    Gregg – I love that you’ve taken it one step further to include the entire organization, not just the individual.

    Deb – I think any negative communication, written or in person, needs time to reflect. The difference with social media is we have some time to think about how we write something…and how it will be perceived.

    Andy – We are all busy. We all think we’re right all of the time. If we all step back and open our minds, we might learn a thing or two.

  • Great post Gini,

    One of the things that agitates me the most is when a company messed up or I need something fixed, and I was brushed aside or on hold for 2 hours and hung up on my a phone system or a CSR going to lunch. Not only did I leave negative comments, but I used Twitter which can multiply that by 10K.

    As a business owner, one of the things I said to myself is that I am going to treat every customer like I would want to be treated and I myself am very picky. If your customer service is excellent, in most cases it won’t result in a public negative comment even if they weren’t happy. Customers I find want to know you are taking care of the situation and that you are concerned with their issue or problem. They just need to know that you care about them.

    Negative comments let us as business owners/executives know that we aren’t doing are job right. Those people are actually doing us the favor and helping us be the best company or executives we can be.

  • Great post, indeed! When I first suggested the thought of social media to my company, they were apprehensive for this fact alone. With social media, there is a certain level of vulnerability that comes with participating. But, like you mentioned, these conversations were going on long before Facebook and Twitter, and will continue regardless if you’re involved on the space or not. The key is to listen to what people are saying—chances are there is an opportunity to improve.

    We had a consumer point out a flaw in our packaging and posted a YouTube video describing his disappointment. We chatted offline with the customer, resolved the issue and another video was posted singing our praises. Most people just want to know you’re listening to them!

  • Excellent tips, once again, Gini. It all comes down to this: People want to be heard. And they want satisfaction. To Lyn’s point, I actually have had experiences where I’ve complained face-to-face and had a manager say, “Well, I’ll talk to so-and-so and get their side of the story.” Excuse me? I’m not looking for a referee. I’m looking for good customer service. If you’re not delivering it, I’ll go elsewhere. I LOVE how Blair Minton dealt with the complaint about his asst. living facility. If he had one near me, it would be the first place I’d look into as I search for a place for my mom.

  • This is a very important issue to address, Gini. The key point is that you, as a business, should WANT to hear as much of any negative feedback out there as possible.

    You will make mistakes. People will be dissatisfied. These are facts of life in running a business. What’s important is that you allow yourself to stand accountable for any problems your customers might have.

    Even if the problem stems from something completely out of your power, you NEED to know about it so you can fix what needs to be fixed or make sure your customer is at least satisfied with the ultimate outcome.

    The worst thing that can happen is a customer is dissatisfied and decides NOT to tell you. Then you’ll never be able to make it better. And they’ll likely tell everyone other than you.

    Negative comments often lead to innovative products and services and allow you to focus on the most important aspect of running a business: Make sure you’re addressing the customer’s needs.

    As always, Gini, you’re right on target with your steps for action. Thanks!

  • Jason Verhoosky

    Great work Gini! This is a great guide to crisis, negative comments, and people skills in general! Be transparent, be honest, and work with people to promote and protect your brand.

  • Negative comments are going to happen, period. Only a matter of when. It’s how a company deals with the negative that matters most.

    Look at what Toyota is trying to do now: full page ads with “letters to customers” and press tours, keeping service departments open longer. As opposed to my dry cleaner, who ruined a sweater and STILL has not done anything to correct the problem (won’t get my business ever again).

    Going to give you some more Rs: Research and Relay. Research the complaint before reacting/responding, so you have all the facts. That way you’re better able to give the right help. Relay the issues up the chain of command to the proper people: R&D with product issues, tech/customer support so that the problems don’t recur.

    How I handle negative feedback? Reflection is the hardest, because you’re so close to your own work that it’s difficult to see the other side. So I always talk things through, seek trusted opinions before doing anything so I can respond professionally, not emotionally. FWIW.

  • Gini Dietrich

    Nick – Did you really just post a serious comment? You’re absolutely right – if someone says something negative about us, we listen and figure out what to do differently next time. Oh wait. No one says anything bad about us. Never mind.

    Ashley – Thank you for sharing your own experience! This is a great case study for everyone to take note.

    Kat – Send your mom to me. Blair and I will take care of her.

    Dan – Such a great, great point! We should all get to the point that we’re scared companies are not telling us what is wrong. Bravo!

    Jason – You’re so right. I wish we all could be less judgmental and more open-minded. Perhaps it would create world peace.

    Davina – First, thank you for the extra Rs. You’re right – they fit in really well, especially if it’s a company complaint. Secondly, I’m with you – I almost always have to take a breather so I can react professionally instead of emotionally. But I’ll admit, I haven’t always done that. It’s a lesson I’ve learned in the past couple of years.

  • Zerna

    I know that this is a late response, but I wanted to commend you on this article. I also wanted to give a shout out for Greg Evans of National Cyber Security because he has been and still is a prime target for negative comments. However, he is still going strong. For all those entrepreneurs who have had the same experience, fight back just like Mr. Evans is doing. This very informative and resourceful article really promotes peace in many ways.

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