7 tips for addressing negative feedback on your content

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.

Featured photo: Flickr Creative Commons © Jerry Bunkers

Communications strategies: What’s right for your organization?

Photo: Gisela Giardino, Flickr

It goes without saying that strategic communications is essential to organizational and professional effectiveness and impact.

Without strategy, your communications will lack focus and direction and may be perceived as inconsistent and unreliable. Non-strategic communications may even end up undermining or contradicting an organization’s overall mission and vision.

Communications strategies are fundamental for every organization, entity and brand – large or small, for- or non-profit.

However, I contend that not all types of communications strategies are essential for every organization and brand. For example, larger organizations working across the globe will have more communications needs than smaller organizations, and may therefore require not only an overall communications strategy, but strategies for internal communications, social media, content, etc. The communications strategies your organization needs will depend on its size, budget and overall mission, vision and objectives.

The must-have strategy for all organizations

An overall communications strategy is an absolute requirement for all organizations, entities and brands aiming for success and impact. Your overall communications strategy lays out exactly how your communications will be used to accomplish organizational and professional goals. It sets out your communications mission and vision and clarifies your audiences and niche, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, the communications resources you need, governance mechanisms, the communications channels you will use, and other important aspects. This strategy should also address all of the important communications functions and needs in your organizations, such as promotion, stakeholder engagement and fundraising, public and press relations, internal and crisis communications, digital and social media, and content strategy. Non-profits: Click here for an excellent resource for developing a communications strategy and workplan.

Additional strategies: Must-haves for medium-sized and large organizations

In my view, organizations that are defined as ‘medium-sized’ or above should be those with dozens or more employees, substantial budgets and investments that are five figures or more, and large stakeholder bases spanning sectors, nations and/or continents.

In this context, the stakes are higher than for smaller organizations. Working at this scale means that media and public scrutiny is likely higher. And if your organization is working at this level, ensuring your stakeholders and partners deliver your message in a unified and consistent way is a bigger challenge. As such, medium-sized and large organizations need to go beyond the overall communications strategy and develop more detailed strategies on specific communications focus areas. The overall communications strategy should be the foundation and reference point, and any new strategy should always link back to the overall communications strategy. With that said, I recommend developing additional strategies for:

It’s worth noting that smaller organizations can also reap substantial benefits from public relations and social media strategies.

Supplemental strategies to boost effectiveness

Lastly, all organizations can benefit from more focused and specialized strategies covering:

  • Press/media relations
  • Content
  • Digital communications
  • Marketing communications
  • Stakeholder communications
  • Fundraising communications 
  • Departmental communications

I don’t consider these strategies essential, but if you want to take your communications game up a notch and really deliver impact, I’d recommend developing them. But do keep this in mind that most of these strategies are interlinked. Some objectives will overlap, so be careful not to duplicate efforts.

Bringing it all together

Developing most or all of these strategies might seem daunting, and getting caught up in developing ill-informed strategies for months on end is just procrastination and not at all effective. Your strategy development process should be systematic and efficient, and the final product should not be a long-winded dissertation. Simple one-pagers or short PowerPoint presentations can suffice for specialized strategies, as long as the work to develop a clear strategy has been done, and the strategy document itself is clear, tangible and actionable.

I would recommend having one master document linking all the strategies, with the overall communications strategy as the foundation and main reference point. In fact, specialized/specific communications strategies can be sections within a 10-page communications strategy document.

Look out for future blog posts where I’ll be exploring each of the additional communications strategies mentioned above.

10 steps for effective crisis communications

Photo: Samuele Ghilardi

You’re the head of communications at a foundation. It’s 12 AM and your phone rings. You’re told that one of your foundation’s local grantees has been accused of corruption by a local newspaper. What do you do?

You could ignore it and hope it goes away, or dismiss the story given that the newspaper is not well known or has a bad reputation. But what if the story is picked up by more prominent media outlets like the BBC or CNN? You could put out a statement via all of your media channels staunchly and vigorously denying the accusations. But what if you’re making a mountain out of a mole hill?

How do you ensure that you respond appropriately to crises or potential crises? To answer this question, Jonathan Bernstein of Bernstein Crisis Management outlines 10 steps for crisis communications.

Why crisis communications? As Bernstein notes, in the absence of adequate internal and external crisis communications:

  • Operational responses will break down.
  • Stakeholders will not know what is happening and quickly become confused, angry, and negatively reactive.
  • The organization will be perceived as inept, at best, and criminally negligent, at worst.
  • The length of time required to bring full resolution to the issue will be extended, often dramatically.
  • The impact to the financial and reputational bottom line will be more severe.

The 10 crisis communications steps are:

Pre-crisis
1. Anticipate Crises
2. Identify Your Crisis Communications Team
3. Identify and Train Spokespersons
4. Spokesperson Training
5. Establish Notification and Monitoring Systems
6. Identify and Know Your Stakeholders
7. Develop Holding Statements

Post-crisis (or during the crisis)
8. Assess the Crisis Situation
9. Finalize and Adapt Key Messages
10. Post-Crisis Analysis

The extent to which you engage these steps will depend on the context that you are working in. Furthermore, Bernstein makes some important points on the importance of steps 1-7:

“Reacting without adequate information is a classic “shoot first and ask questions afterwards” situation in which you could be the primary victim … If you haven’t prepared in advance, your reaction will be delayed by the time it takes your in-house staff or quickly hired consultants to run through steps 1 to 7. Furthermore, a hastily created crisis communications strategy and team are never as efficient as those planned and rehearsed in advance.”

Read Bernstein’s full article here