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How to handle negative comments on social media

Uncategorized Nov 30, 2021

A public negative comment or scathing review plastered on your social media page is enough to turn a good day sour. It can be tempting to immediately delete and block, but as your PR we say: please don’t!  Instead we have laid out our best practice tips below with a free PDF cheat sheet to help you when you get stuck.

One of the most common questions we are asked is when to delete and block a person, and if bad commentary can be outweighed by positive stories.

Our advice generally is that automatically blocking and deleting, or continuing to push positive stories to counteract the bad commentary online is never a sustainable long-term solution, and in many cases will make things worse over time. 

Of course, there are people that cannot be reasoned with; misinformation, disinformation and spam bots that are actively detracting brands in their aim to build positive online engagement; responding requires an enormous amount of time and effort, but we assure you, following best practice is still worth it.

But before we get into best practice when dealing with negative online commentary, it's important to be aware of your legal obligations when it comes to online reviews...

Did you know in 2019 an investigation by New Zealand’s Commerce Commission fined holiday rental management and accommodation company, Bachcare, $117,000 for editing customer reviews published to its website and removing comments? You can read the full article by clicking on the image above. Bachcare were deemed to be ultimately misleading consumers by altering and withholding online reviews, which breached the NZ Fair Trading Act of 1986. 

The point here is not to blast Bachcare for past mistakes, but to highlight this media piece as an example of why it's important that businesses and organisations consider strategic communications, including their social media, as an important part of their business strategy.

But what if it isn’t a genuine complaint?

The internet is full of people making comments to get a reaction, and every circumstance will be slightly different. The main thing is to ensure you have a strong social media policy in place that you can point people to. This will enable you to be able to moderate the conversation to protect your brand, people and the community you are looking after.

Below are our six steps that we go through when dealing with negative comments on social media to help you respond clearly and confidently. 

1. Assess

If you have just received an unwanted comment on social media, before you respond, read the message carefully. 

Ask yourself: 

  •  What type of message is this? 
  •  What is the sender's intent? 
  •  Is it a genuine complaint?
  •  Does it break your social media community guidelines? 
  •  Does this need to be escalated to senior management? 

PR TIP: Social Media Guidelines
Your social media guidelines/ or a policy is an important part of this process and should live on your website. By having social media guidelines/ or a policy that is visible to the user it empowers you to be able to delete non genuine comments we talked about earlier, in particular trolling, and messages that include hurtful or abusive language.

2. Screenshot

We recommend documenting the message in case the situation escalates,  screenshots can also be used as a training tool for your team. It's also important to document as comments on social media can be edited or deleted, so if it is of a serious nature, you will want to ensure you have the original message.

If the message needs to be dealt with by a different team, or a senior stakeholder, ensure that you deliver the message, and that they will be able to respond within the hour. 

3. Craft your response - Quickly!

It is generally advised that social media comments are responded to within 30 minutes to an hour. Genuine complaints warrant a sincere apology upfront. We also advise taking the message offline quickly, by introducing a direct contact channel (email, phone) so that while resolving the issue all communications are not in the public domain. Remember, your quick response, apology, and willingness to see the situation resolved will always be received better than silence.

Your first response is the most important and should:

  1. Acknowledge and, if called for, offer a genuine apology. 
  2. If the person has used inappropriate language, or is particularly aggressive, point to your social media guidelines to remind them that any further comments that are in breach will be deleted but that you are committed to helping resolve the issue. 
  3. Ask them to take it offline - invite the person to continue to resolve over a private channel (an email, or a direct helpline number).
  4. The response should be diplomatic, genuine, and be in the brand voice.

Ask a team mate, colleague or someone you trust to read your response objectively, checking it sounds genuine and correcting spelling and grammatical errors.

Most social media users expect a response within an hour, says “Generally, the faster a business responds to comments the better,” encouraging a response within just 30 minutes.  News travels fast so it’s important to stay on top of your communications, and stop an avalanche of people weighing in on the subject.

Example response: “Hi (Name), my name is (insert name). I’m sorry this has happened, we want to get to the bottom of this, and we want to find a solution for you. Could you please contact us here [insert contact details] so we can help.”

PR TIP: The only way to respond quickly is to have somebody assigned to monitoring and managing your social media.

4. Resolve

Dealing with complaints can take time. Once it has been dealt with offline, reply again to the same chain, making sure it is resolved. This documents that the complaint has been settled and shows your customers you were committed to resolving the issue.If you have promised something on social media, make sure you follow through.  

In the best case scenario the person may delete the message or leave another comment saying thank you - and that is the goal we are aiming for!

5. Future proof

Review your social media strategy, guidelines, processes and responses regularly. 

We recommend that you investigate the following:

  1. Social media strategy
  2. Social media training
  3. Social media policies and guidelines
  4. Social media monitoring
  5. Response document
  6. Social media processes

6. Still need help? Contact your PR

Contact your PR professional who will be able to advise accordingly. 

You can contact Kingdom PR at: [email protected] | 027 636 0010

In summary, a negative comment on your social channels doesn’t have to ruin your day or cause unnecessary anxiety. Having a policy in place sets clear guidelines and boundaries for your online community and ensures consistency across your team.

Download our one page cheat sheet PDF: How to handle negative comments on social media.



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