How to respond to negative online comments

Sometimes customers have legitimate problems with your product—and sometimes the trolls are out to get you. Here’s how to handle both.

Uh oh. Someone doesn’t like your brand on social media.

Now what?

Don’t panic. Even if you have the best product or service in the world, chances are there is someone in the residual corners of the Internet who doesn’t like you and will make sure you know it.

An online presence does allow negative users—including trolls—to swing by and crash your party. But this isn’t the norm, so don’t let it discourage you from building an online community. You need an online community to grow your business, so don’t let some negative comment ruin the relationship you can have with loyal customers.

Besides, there are ways to handle the day-to-day negative social media comments you may receive. These are tips I’ve learned through my experiences. Feel free to chime in if you have something to add to the list.

Determine the cause

It’s important to determine the context for the negative comment so you can determine your response. For example, did your latest Facebook post prompt the negative comment? Is there something about your company you can tie it back to? Did someone react to a bad customer service experience or product problem?

Essentially ask yourself, “Are we at fault here?”

If so, you know what to do: Rectify the situation. Since this is a public forum, respond quickly—the rest of the world can see what’s going on. Keep the response short (one or two exchanges tops), acknowledge the shortfall, and redeem your fault by being willing to help.

Take this as an opportunity to show your company’s good customer service, but keep the details of the resolution private. Ask the person to privately message you his contact information, or ask him to email or call a customer service representative to take it offline. You don’t want opportunists to think you give away refunds like candy.

On the other hand, if what prompted the comment wasn’t your fault, there are things to keep in mind before you reply.

Determine the right response

I’ve come across many reasons why people post negative comments on a page. Sometimes they have legitimate concerns, such as a personal issue with the product. Other times they just need to blow off steam, and your page was the place for them to go.

When you have a negative comment that isn’t your fault, think about which battles you’ll fight. Consider if it’s even necessary to respond.

Why?

Some may disagree, but sometimes there simply isn’t anything productive the company can say. The last thing you want is to engage in a back-and-forth discussion with a customer who is angry and irrational. The person may not want a resolution, so it may be more prudent to stay quiet.

But if there is a statement your company needs to reply to, such as a gross misunderstanding about your company, you can do so by being polite and warm. Take an hour or two before you respond and, if possible, ask a colleague to look over a draft of your response. Think about how you can reply with a sentence or two that acknowledges the person (start with a “We appreciate your comment, so-and-so”) and sweetly resolves the issue. Most of the time, the person will come back with an appreciative response.

When to delete a comment or ban someone

Now and then you may encounter a rogue troll. This person who won’t be happy with anything you do. Don’t be intimidated by him, though. Remember, this is your community and you set the rules.

If you tried responding politely to no avail, click on the “delete and ban” button. That person has no business on your page if he can’t follow the community’s rules, especially if he used profanity or made offensive statements.

Again, these tips would serve you best for the day-to-day negative comments you may receive. If something a little more involved happens—say, a big online blow-up—you may need to implement a more involved crisis plan.

Ifdy Perez is a social media strategist with a specialty in community building. A version of this article originally appeared on the Vocus blog. Follow Perez on Google+.

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