How to Respond to Negative Social Media Comments

by Peter Coffin, Vice President of Creative & Digital

As social media has continued to grow over the last 15+ years, more and more people are logging online to make their opinions known. With more users come more comments, and, inevitably, more comments results in more negative comments.

The most common question I get asked, whether it is from a new crisis client, a colleague, or a long-standing account, is “how should we deal with negative comments on social media?” While there, unfortunately, is no magic silver bullet solution that can be applied to any and every scenario, there are standard practices that you should always keep in mind.

1 | Never remove a comment

Unless a comment violates your terms of service or if it is vulgar, hateful, or obviously a “troll”, we would recommend never deleting a comment. Although tempting, erasing someone’s negative comment can add fuel to the fire. The commenter may notice that their comment has been deleted and will often escalate the issue more – either by posting additional comments or by encouraging others to get involved.

2 | Time is of the essence

With instant communication being the norm, you cannot let comments sit without a response for hours or days on end. Make sure that you have internal tools and processes in place for monitoring and responding to comments in a timely manner. The longer a comment sits unattended, the more opportunity there is for other people to piggyback off it and get involved. When an issue arises, you need to have a swift course of action so you don’t find yourself kicking the can and looping in everyone from your organization to weigh in. The longer it sits, the messier it gets.

3 | Pick your battles

Not every comment needs a reply. It is important to pick the best instances to make your voice heard. Remember that comments are public facing, so responding is an opportunity for you to tell your side of the story/show that your organization is responsive and that you care about your clients/customers/employees and have good service.

4 | Choose your words wisely

The two biggest no-no’s when responding to negative comments are coming across as too defensive or too cookie-cutter and generic. You want to make the commenter feel heard and justified. Providing a “clapback” response that has a defensive tone will again only add to their frustrations. Similarly, simply copy and pasting one of your pre-approved responses with no customization will dehumanize your organization and may result in additional comments, further outraging the commenter. Remember that the ultimate goal is always to diffuse the situation and take the conversation offline. Once you have successfully opened lines of more private conversation you can dive into all the details of the issue and offer bespoke solutions to make them happy. Doing this in private is important for both security and privacy reasons as well as helping to deter others from chiming in.

You should never let the fear of negative comments prevent you from posting and engaging on social media – you just need to do so with a clear objective. If all else fails and it feels like you’re in too deep, contact us and we’d be happy to jump in and help you navigate these often treacherous waters.

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With decades of experience in politics, media, government, and public relations, Issues Management Group leverages our expertise to propel and protect established, transitioning, and emerging organizations.

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