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Gini Dietrich

Five Ways to Deal with Negative Online Comments

By: Gini Dietrich | December 13, 2011 | 
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When I speak, it’s pretty typical I’ll hear something along the lines of, “What happens when we begin participating online and someone says something bad about us?”

The fact of the matter is, people are already saying bad things about you. You have unhappy employees, upset customers, even belligerent investors.

The web doesn’t change that. Sure, those people now have a megaphone, but you have a huge opportunity. Because you can monitor and listen, you now know what people are saying and how to react to it.

Following are five steps for dealing with negative comments and criticism online.

  1. Recognize people will complain. You can’t control that. You’ve never been able to control it. Human beings like to complain. But we also like it when our complaints are recognized and something is done about them. If someone complains or has something negative to say, respond to them in the place where they’re voicing their concern. Then take it offline. Ask them for an email address or phone number and discuss their issues with them in private. You may have hundreds or thousands of customers. That’s OK. Customer service can manage this if they’re empowered to do so.
  2. Apologize. There are four words that work really well online. They are, “I’m sorry” and “thank you.” It’s amazing what happens when you admit your mistake and apologize. Suddenly the issue becomes a non-issue because there isn’t anything to complain about.
  3. Be exceptionally clear. Sometimes people will voice concern or complain about your return policy or your hours or something beyond your control. The more clear you are in your policies and communication, the better. Say, for instance, someone is complaining about your return policy on Facebook, but it’s very clear what it is and you’ve never strayed from it. Your other Facebook fans will chalk that person up to just being a complainer. You can say you’re sorry they’re upset about it and reiterate your policy. But don’t engage them in debate. Especially online.
  4. Put out the fire. I recently had an experience at a restaurant we love. We’re frequent diners, but we were treated so poorly during our last visit that we may not ever return. When we asked for the manager, he looked down his nose at us as if we were being ridiculous and did nothing to make the experience better. We didn’t expect anything for free, but we did expect an apology. We got nothing. Empower your employees to make the customer happy…within reason. It’s far less expensive than the damage one person can do online with bad reviews, bad ratings, and plain, old calling you out.
  5. Step away. Sometimes a person is being unreasonable and you’ve tried everything in your power to right the situation. We calls those people trolls; they just won’t stop no matter what. It’s important for your online communities to see you try (see the first tip), but then walk away if it’s a no-win situation. I recently was asked to look at the Facebook wall for a friend. The same man is posting crazy and non-sensical things on every one of their posts. It’s pretty clear he’s just trying to stir things up. They had responded to him a few times so other fans could see it. But people aren’t stupid. They can see the same thing I did – he’s just a troll. So I advised her to just let him be.

It’s not an easy thing to do – deal with negative online comments. But if you grow a thick skin and really listen (I mean, really listen), you’ll learn a lot about changes you can make to your products or services.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

71 comments
FlashPurchase
FlashPurchase

@ReviewCap Agree - it's basically the same as one would deal with any negative PR online or offline. It's stuff we learned in kindergarten.

janwong
janwong

Great stuff as always, Gini :) Was wondering what would you normally do if you found negative conversations outside of your brand page? For example, a conversation happening between two friends on Facebook / Twitter. Jumping into the conversation may be a little freaky.

ivanzeno
ivanzeno

@mechristopher we had someone make a negative comment about our recruitment process on linkedin. had to write similar guide to responding

WordsDoneWrite
WordsDoneWrite

This is the worst post ever. I can't believe you wasted my time with this!

Ok, you know I kid! Just giving an example of a negative online comment. You know I love ya, Gini ;-)

I especially appreciate #3. Being incredibly clear can avoid a lot of headaches, for the business and the customer. When everyone knows the rules from the beginning, most problems can be avoided.

bdorman264
bdorman264

When I speak, it's pretty typical I will hear something along the lines of, "why don't you just shut the heck up"? But I don't take that as a negative comment; it just gives me the opportunity to talk louder to make sure I get my point across. And no, I never have the urge to step away from myself.

Your 5 points are good points indeed; attack the situation head-on and in a non-confrontational way and you will probably be respected more for that.

mdyoder
mdyoder

Great advice, especially as it relates to Trolls. Just ignore @KenMueller and he'll go away! :) Kidding of course. Ken's a good friend. Merry Christmas.

Mark_Harai
Mark_Harai

I love all of the suggestions here Gini - your last one is the most powerful... Shut up and listen - really listen. I think its the most powerful skill to possess on the social web : )

ToddBartlett
ToddBartlett

Ginni,

Excellent advice. It is amazing that a few years into the social media revolution companies are still hesitant to deal with negative online comments.

TheJackB
TheJackB

I am a big fan of letting them speak. If they are completely unreasonable they will often do themselves the favor of hoisting themselves on their own petard. And if they have a reasonable claim then you are given the opportunity to demonstrate great customer service.

It doesn't have to be a negative experience.

jackielamp
jackielamp

I've encountered this with clients many times before. The first thing I always tell them is that the majority of people who take the time to comment on articles about them are going to say something negative. I lightened the mood with one client by sending them a "BroTip" from brotips.com saying "Haters are just fans in denial, bro."

But in all seriousness, there is no way that everyone will like you. I always suggest thanking them for the "feedback" (the nice version of what it is) and addressing their concerns as much as possible. I also think it's important not to ramble on too much as it gives them something else to pick apart in their next comment. It's always wise to say you'll take what they had to say into consideration.

Sometimes, though, the best thing to do is let the comment go. You risk looking petty if you start attacking back at everyone who makes a gibe at you.

My two cents. Thanks yet again for your advice on a topic that's been on my mind recently. GET OUT OF MY MIND! Haha ;)

MorganBarnhart
MorganBarnhart

While I agree with all of these methods, there are times when comments on a Facebook page simply needs to be deleted. There was one occasion in which I kindly asked the person to refrain from the kind of language they were using. But they came back at me even more angry and irate. So after a couple more times of trying to reason with him, I eventually had to ban him and delete his comments. Obviously not all people are that bad and most of the time comments can be resolved simply by acknowledging them, whether on Facebook or Yelp. Thanks for the article!

rustyspeidel
rustyspeidel

Had the same thing happen at our fav restaurant as well. They have a really rigid seating policy and we were forced to wait 45 minutes because our party was not complete, while 5 parties were seated ahead of us. All this hostess had to do was say "looks like you all are still waiting, let's get you seated and we'll deal with your late guest when he arrives." Instead, outright refusal to help. 20-year relationship, DEAD. Negative Tweets and Facebook posts about it, 10 times worse than caving slightly on the policy. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

PookyH
PookyH

This is a really interesting post - I'd love to know your thoughts on where you should respond. I tend to try and keep communications open and honest and allow my audience to see I'm dealing with things honestly and with integrity. But when the behaviour is more troll-like I am sometimes concerned that I am giving the troll an audience. This is usually someone with a handful of followers, by responding to their gripe on twitter, I'm allowing thousands of people to see the issue. What are your thoughts on this? At the moment, in that situation I usually ask them to DM me their email / phone number so we can speak further. They never do!

John_Trader1
John_Trader1

Thanks for penning this GD. We recently had an incessant troll hound us online repeatedly even going so far as to follow me around the web and leaving rather insulting and derogatory comments towards me after I left comments on articles, blog posts, etc. At first I was upset and tried to engage them in conversation even going so far as to ask them to guest blog post about their viewpoint and opinion (which they denied to do). Instead, they got more incessant so eventually I just let them be. They are still around but ever since I started to ignore their rants they did back down.

I do recommend in some circumstances to invite the naysayer to write an article or blog post stating their opinion and use it as content for your site. Shows that you are open to justified criticism, can respond in a professional way and want to hear from your entire community, not just the people who sing your praises. Doesn't work all the time but when it does it may be a good opportunity to defend your policies and turn a troll into an advocate.

mcmullen_greg
mcmullen_greg

We've recently ran into this on Facebook - had customers complain about our products and service department. Luckily we were able to put out the fires; but not without a lot of comments, phone calls and even a strong video.Our policy is to comment on it and attempt to resolve the solution offline. Our goal is to be personal in dealing with negative comments. We don't want to throw a reply online and consider it solved.

Great list, thanks for sharing.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@eVirtual_Assist No, I don't think that's the case at all. If it's been properly addressed and they're just fighting to fight

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@ToddBartlett It's been a few years for us, but most of my audiences still don't use the web, other than having a corporate website. We're in the mass minority.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@TheJackB I agree most will be seen as morons by the others, but it's pretty scary to tell a business that will happen.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@MorganBarnhart Totally agree, Morgan! If you have specific guidelines the person is breaking, it's appropriate, as a last measure, to delete and ban them.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@rustyspeidel Ours was that we were about half an hour early so we sat at the bar to wait on our table. We sat there for 10 minutes before the bartender, who was cleaning up behind the bar because it looked like she had dropped a bottle of wine, asked to take our drink order. When Mr. D tried to make light of the situation by saying, "It looks like you're having a bad night," she responded with, "I'm not having a bad night. Mind your own business." And it got progressively worse from there, when seated at our table, our server didn't want to accomodate the fact that I'm vegetarian, even though we go there at least twice a month. It was bad. I was so mad I couldn't even write a review about it. They actually lucked out that I didn't put it all over the social networks.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@PookyH That's exactly what you should do. Respond to them publicly by asking them to DM their email/phone number. If they do, they're likely really wanting you to do something. Otherwise they're just stirring up trouble.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@John_Trader1 That's a great piece of advice! I did that once and the guy did guest post. And then he sent me a note afterwards and apologized. But if they won't accept your invitation to debate in a public and professional forum, they're just trolls.

TheJackB
TheJackB

@ginidietrich@rustyspeidel A recent study by the Fouker Institute showed that vegetarians who exercise regularly are five times as likely to experience wild mood swings and negative feelings about familiar places and people.

I never worry about that because I am a happy carnivore.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@eVirtual_Assist And it depends on the issue. But if the person just keeps saying bad things just to say them, at some point it has to stop

Trackbacks

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