Many of us run blogs, write articles or manage social media for our organizations. In any of these scenarios, we may have been faced with – or may one day face – a situation where a reader responds with a negative comment on the content, or the organization or person responsible for the content. Comments can range from disgruntled, to scathing, to downright slanderous. How do you address negative comments? Here are seven tips, based on an article by Brian Appleton, published in the Content Marketing Institute blog.
1. Play it cool
Appleton reminds us that responding in the heat of the moment usually makes things worse. He adds: “Take the time to consider your reply and don’t jump to conclusions. First, consider the context of the complaint and then formulate a response.”
2. Understand your responsibility
Your responsibility first and foremost is to your target audience and stakeholders. They deserve the most attention and effort devoted to addressing a negative comment. “If the commenter isn’t part of your target market, don’t go overboard to appease him or her,” says Appleton. Address the issue in the most appropriate way given the context, and use the opportunity to showcase your brand in a positive light.
3. Resist the urge to go generic
What’s worse than ignoring a negative but valid comment? Responding with a generic statement. If your response is clearly copy-and-paste and is not customized to address the concern, you will further infuriate the commenter, and may even infuriate and frustrate other readers who up until then had a favourable view of your organization or work. You may lose supporters.
4. Identify hopeless interactions
In some cases, you may encounter commenters that you know you will not be able to reason with. These people include trolls – described by Appleton as “people who enjoy stirring up trouble by trying to provoke irrational or emotional responses” – or disgruntled stakeholders (for example, ex-employees or partners) who have a personal vendetta.
When dealing with slanderous comments, comments that your audience would deem offensive, or comments that could put your stakeholders in harm’s way, it is acceptable to hide or delete such feedback. In less damaging cases, you may choose to either: (a) directly respond to the comment in a professional manner that counters the claims with specific examples (such as links to articles, publications or data supporting your position); or (b) avoid unnecessary back-and-forth with the commenter by not directly responding to the comment but addressing it nonetheless in a separate post or statement. In this post or statement, you should also counter any negative claim made with evidence to support your position.
5. Block or ban (in rare circumstances)
In addition to hiding or deleting highly damaging feedback, it is also acceptable to block or ban specific commenters as a last resort. But before doing so, try to see if a peaceful resolution that preserves your brand’s integrity and addresses legitimate concerns is possible.
6. Respond kindly, not in kind
In all cases, remain professional. Do not resort to ‘fight fire with fire’ approach, mockery, or other inappropriate responses. You may gain some fans, but in the long run, this may damage some of your key stakeholder relationships, given that such responses will likely not be consistent with your brand – the brand the your stakeholders know and trust.
Instead, make a real effort to truly understand the issue at hand, and the actual/underlying intent of the comment. “Once you think you understand how the message was intended, you can craft an appropriate response,” says Appleton. And remember: ensure that your response is professional and consistent with your brand.
7. Transform the conversation
“Turn a negative into a positive by changing the narrative and owning the experience,” says Appleton. For non-profits, this could mean using your response to acknowledge your failure and, more importantly, explain what you are doing to learn from and address the failure. In other cases, an author can own their mistake and unapologetically laugh about it with their audience. In all cases, always be transparent, accountable and true to your brand. By doing so, you will build trust and be more positively perceived by your audience.
Bonus tip: Prevention is the best medicine
“It’s always best to anticipate problems and address potential concerns before your content goes live,” adds Appleton. I couldn’t agree more. You can save yourself a lot of stress by putting in the work beforehand to anticipate and address issues and concerns. Some ideas include:
- Addressing potential issues that may be raised by readers in the content itself
- Banning offensive words in your social media channels, via the platform’s settings (such as on Facebook) or by sharing guidelines and codes of conduct
- Upholding your brand’s integrity, transparency and accountability in all facets of your work
- Working with all partners to ensure that your brand consistently delivers positive and impactful results
Using the above tips can help you address real concerns and issues in a way that satisfies your stakeholders, turn doubters and detractors into believers and followers, and enhances your overall brand perception. Good luck, and let me know if I’m missing any critical points in the comments section below. In a future post, I’ll explore other aspects of crisis communications, such as addressing negative press.