Gini Dietrich

Five Ways to Deal with Negative Online Comments

By: Gini Dietrich | December 13, 2011 | 

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, 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!

  • Great post – and though this probably falls under at least 2 of your 5 points, I would like to add the importance of asking “How can I make you happy?”

    Like your experience in the restaurant, sometimes a simple apology is all that’s needed and it could actually prevent you from making this a bigger deal.

    Not long ago, a customer call was forwarded to me by an employee with “This guy is pissed!” I picked up the call, introduced myself and ended with “I am sorry to hear that you are not satisfied with our service – what can I do to make you happy!”

    He vented a little bit then said “All I want is X.” That was a request that was outside my range of authority so I explained that policies prevented me from doing X but “…would Y and Z be acceptable?”

    It was. And then I made sure he had my name, title, email and direct phone number and invited him to contact me whenever I might be of assistance.

    Followed that up with an email (immediate) and phone call (a few weeks later) – and he was a very happy customer.

    Best, Pat

    • ginidietrich

      @patmcgraw That’s EXACTLY what people want. They want to be heard and they want to know you can do something. Really great story…thank you for sharing!

      • @ginidietrich Glad you enjoyed – and thanks for the Merry Christmas wishes!

  • Great advice shorty. Is that negative ? Ha. I really like “Apologize” The simple I’m sorry and a Thank You can end it right there. The old “Kill em with kindness” still works. Like you said, some people are just going to be negative and critical, no matter what happens, but I think most people just want to be heard. Listen and hear them out. Think about it and respond with kind, understanding words. Let them know you Care.

    Thanks again Gini.


    • ginidietrich

      @Al Smith Dang. You and the caring. But what if we don’t care?

      • You cant fool me. We all know that you Care. Looks like the Bears & Dolphins are both stinkin it up. Sorry about all those injuries. wow.

        hang in there. Miss u.

        • ginidietrich

          @Al Smith I don’t want to talk about it.

  • Great list. I think number one is important (and we must be on the same wavelength with what I wrote about today), but a lot people just don’t think that anyone could possibly have anything bad to say about them, and they’re surprised when it happens.

    • ginidietrich

      @KenMueller I once told an audience that they should listen for things like “your name sucks” to see what people will say. Some goofball in the audience tweeted Gini Dietrich SUCKS to see what I would do. Of course, I take my own advice and was listening and tweeted him back. He was amazed at how quickly he got a response.

      Even though that’s not a real negative comment, the situation works when it is.

      And it’s too soon for me to read anything with Tebow in it.

      • @ginidietrich It’s never too soon. You can even comment with “Tim Tebow Sucks” if you want.

        • @ginidietrich And you don’t even have to read the post on my blog! Some social media consultant already lifted my entire post already and posted it as his own work on his site!

        • ginidietrich

          @KenMueller I love scrapers!

        • @ginidietrich@KenMueller I can just see Gini stopping her talk to respond to a tweet. And getting that smug look saying ‘busted you wise ass’ then calling out the tweeter: ‘Will @horsehockey please tell everyone what you just did. That’s you? Stand up. I said Stand Up! Now tell everyone what you did. I am not starting this talk again until you do and you can the one responsible for us staying late’

        • @KenMueller@ginidietrich I love how Brian Urlacher said ‘Tim is a good running back’. Ridiculous that the Bears lost the game. Makes me think the game was fixed. And trust me plenty of pro games get fixed by the mob. It only takes one fumble. One forgetting to stay in bounds… change a game.

          If you don’t believe me you need to listen when is on Jim Rome. There is a reason the NFL, NBA, NCAA and other leagues has him give warning talks to players each year.

        • @HowieSPM (any comment that mentions the Jungle automatically receives a like from me.)

        • ginidietrich

          @HowieSPM I cannot speak of this game right now.

  • I know this scares people. When you are a small business especially. If you are a big business you already deal with it so not an issue, and you can’t even fix or pacify everyone who complains. But it can crush a small business. That is why I don’t always feel the Yelp’s and CitySearches are always a good idea. Your reviews stay forever. An angry Tweet or Facebook wall post is gone really fast.

    The real question for a business and you discuss this, is people are talking no matter what. Do you want to know what they are saying? You should. But not everyone feels this way. Then use the negative comments to convert new Brand Ambassadors (this works!), or at least to mine the data for product or service improvements.

    Big companies have no excuses. With the volume of online media covering everything under the sun aside from a catastrophe like BP nothing should blindside you. The wealth of chatter and media to help your business, especially negatives is there for your taking. Take it! Use it!

    • ginidietrich

      @HowieSPM The funny thing is, most small businesses (unless they’re retail) won’t have negative comments for a long time because they’re already really in tune with what their customers are saying. So they’re scared someone will say something bad about them, but it’s rather unfounded.

      • @ginidietrich you told that restaurant manager right? So they knew right there. But I have 10 years of restaurant experience. I bet you are a high maintenance customer running the staff ragged, sending food back, complaining about the drink size….I see through you Gini! 8)

        • ginidietrich

          @HowieSPM Yeah…that’s totally me.

      • @ginidietrich@HowieSPM I work for small biz and we have very open policies in dealing with customers which as you say Gini helps us from getting these negative comments. For example, we have the power to work with our customers in any way we can and if we get in a place where we can’t think of a way to help them, we know we can always walk right into the “higher up” offices and get some help. That way even if we have to tell the customer “no” they know that we did whatever we could to try to find a solution. Great thoughts & list as always Gini and down with trolls! 🙂

  • 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

      @mcmullen_greg It’s a great policy. Exactly what you should be doing!

  • 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.

    • ginidietrich

      @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.

  • 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!

    • ginidietrich

      @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.

  • 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.

    • ginidietrich

      @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@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

          @TheJackB@rustyspeidel Sigh…

        • @TheJackB@ginidietrich@rustyspeidel Ok, that made me laugh Jack…

  • 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!

    • ginidietrich

      @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.

  • 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 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 😉

    • ginidietrich

      @jackielamp What?!? Not everyone will like us?? Speak for yourself! Hrumph.

  • 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.

    • ginidietrich

      @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@TheJackB And if they are doing things well, not only will the person look like a moron, but I’ve seen quite a few cases where the other members of your community come to your defense on your behalf, sometimes before you might even be aware of the situation.

  • ToddBartlett


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

    • ginidietrich

      @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.

  • 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 : )

    • ginidietrich

      @Mark_Harai And, really, offline too. What’s the saying? God gave us two ears and one mouth so do twice as much listening. Something like that.

  • This is why I admire people with a lot of patience. 🙂

    • ginidietrich

      @hackmanj I have zero patience, but this is fairly easy to manage. 🙂

      • @ginidietrich I think you have more patience than you give yourself credit. Of course patience is a work in progress kind of thing. Unless you’re Mother Theresa.

        • ginidietrich

          @hackmanj That’s because you don’t hear me talking to myself at my desk…”Calm down, Gin. Respond appropriately.”

      • @ginidietrich@hackmanj Ain’t THAT the truth. Exhibit A: Gini and snow. 🙂

        • ginidietrich

          @jasonkonopinski@hackmanj I WANT SNOW!!!

        • @ginidietrich@hackmanj I rest my case.

  • What about comments that go on behind your back? Does that mean you’ve arrived? How do you deal with those?

    • ginidietrich

      @Ameena Falchetto I know comments go on behind people’s backs, but I’ve never had a situation where it happens with businesses. Typically people want the business to know they’re unhappy.

  • 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.

    • ginidietrich

      @mdyoder I try, but he doesn’t go away. @KenMueller

      • @ginidietrich@mdyoder you’d miss me too much. And Mike and I went to college together way back in the day. Just refound each other within the past year or so via FB and Twitter, not realizing we ended up in the same basic business.

  • 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.

  • Sietsemaorchard

    @mdyoder you respond to them

  • 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.

  • ivanzeno

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

  • LisaMarieDias

    @pascalclaeys Thanks for the RT – have a great day!

  • ThenOmarSaid

    @pascalclaeys @LisaMarieDias You should forward that tweet to @lowes.

  • 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.

  • sgreco7

    @jacque_PR @ginidietrich good piece.Thanks. Often times companies do more harm than good when responding to negative reviews..

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  • eVirtual_Assist

    @ThePaulSutton @ginidietrich However, it seems somebody who has a valid complaint, not addressed properly + keeps coming back, is a troll?

    • 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

      • eVirtual_Assist

        @ginidietrich I suppose it depends on your interpretation of ‘properly addressed’

        • 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

  • jwongjk

    @radziahazmi always a pleasure to share. glad you found it useful 🙂

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  • ginidietrich

    @SueScheff Ha! I didn’t know there is a #slander

    • SueScheff

      @ginidietrich 🙂 #Liable #Defamation #Google #Bomb <BTW: LOVED your article! There isn’t, it is a verb>

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  • reviewcap1

    Customers that jump on yelp, google, or one of another hundred or so review sites, to write a bad review about a company. Customers need to understand that there is a pretty good chance that the business they are complaining about, probably won’t ever see the review. If they never see the review then they can’t address the problem. The bad review will drive other customers away and financially impact the business, but the business will remain in the dark as to what is going on. We don’t feel a business should have to lose 10%  or even go under because the staff had an off day.  Customers and business management need to communicate to effect change. allows this to happen and will benefit all parties involved Customers, Future Customers and the Business. Consumers need to be bit more responsible about writing bad reviews, they have a tremendous impact on businesses today.
    We just released an In-house review service that lets customer rate and review a business while they are still on site.
    The service lets businesses collect input directly from customers and learn where improvements may need to be made. it also lets the business publish the written reviews, so that google can find them. It’s a pretty unique service and can be very beneficial to just about any business.

  • 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.

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  • Juliwilson789

    for such a nice post. I found a lot of useful tips from this post. Keep
    blogging.thanks for sharing. good bye.