Social Media FAQ #1: What if they leave negative comments on my site/blog/forum?

I’m starting a new series, called Social Media Frequently Asked Questions. It’s a collection of the top asked questions I hear over and over. I’m putting them here on my blog is a great place to help everyone quickly get educated, convince their boss, or be able to help their clients get over these hurdles, pass them around.

Social Media FAQ #1: What do I do if they leave negative comments on my site/blog/forum?

First, understand the fear of most marketing and corp comm teams, they want to show the company in it’s best light, having a mar on it’s brand is a nasty blemish that don’t want to see, in the past, a counter press release or sweeping the issue under the carpet was an option, but no more with the rise of social media. So how can you help these folks?

Well the truth of the matter is, they are going to leave negative comments about your company elsewhere on the web, there’s no way you’ll ever be able to stop this. If you delete or remove the comments from your own corporate websites, it will probably escalate in a ‘louder’ location in blogs and other forums, so don’t do that. The savvy strategist will realize that by bringing the problems and issues closer to home, you’ll actually have a few advantages:

1) You’re in the know. Being on home court gives you the ability to quickly find out issues, so why wait for them to bubble up elsewhere on the web, consider this a ‘free alerting system’ –embrace!

2) Involve them. Detractors come in many different flavors, but in most cases, these are individuals that want you to improve your product, so embrace them, acknowledge them, and get them involved in providing solutions. More often than not, after they see the effort you’ve got to help them, they could become and advocate and sing your praises.

3) An opportunity: By acknowledging and fixing these problems in public, you demonstrate confidence, openness to customer insight, and can turn this into a very positive experience.

I’ve got tons of other answers, but I’d like to hear from you all, how do you respond to this frequently asked question? Great comments will be added to this list, and I’ll credit and link to you.

80 Replies to “Social Media FAQ #1: What if they leave negative comments on my site/blog/forum?”

  1. yah, but the gatekeepers dont let the negative comments to come thru.. Thats the very first step .. how do you manage comment moderation !!

    many blogs have comments moderation on- for the fear of trolls and spam, this by itself is a negative to generic users who has a biased opionion on your product / post..

    so the first step is keep comments open and make sure that one does housekeeping too !!

  2. Great idea, I’m really looking forward to the rest of the series!

    In my experience, acknowledging a problem to someone who complains is often the most important thing – trying to cover it up, or that it somehow is only a problem for them and no-one else (even if it is) never helps and usually makes people more angry or disgruntled.

    So when someone does make a bad comment, the first thing to do is to acknowledge that they’ve had a bad experience, and then see how you can work with them to fix it or prevent it happening in the future.

  3. It really depends on the nature of the negative comment. If someone offers a correction on a factual point when I was in error, I post my thanks and an apology if warranted. Often, people comment disagreeing with my opinion, and I welcome them. If the arguments are well-expressed, they make for a good discussion. If they’re not, they just make my detractors look stupid. Sometimes, I’ll use these comments to illustrate the untenability of the opponent’s position or his flawed assumptions. Occasionally, I’ll get a comment that’s just crude, but I usually leave even those up, unless they cross over into obscenity, again on the theory that the commenters just make themselves look bad.

    This is a good topic. Thanks for your post.

  4. Negative comments if founded in some semblance of truth falls into the purview of crisis communications. What convinces the clients who have bought in to the concept of crisis communications/rapid response plans, allowing negative comments is just another way to be transparent. It is also a way to identify those who care enough about the company to leave a comment and dialogue with these through other channels e.g. a phone call, an email, etc.

  5. That’s the dumbest post I’ve ever read!

    OK just kidding with ya big guy. Nice post and the fact is, thoughtful comments, constructive ideas is what this whole social media thing is to me. Remember I’m the social media is a movement not a marketplace.

    I live for the comment. Engage baby, it’s all about engaging the brain.

    Hope all is well, I’ll see you in April.

    All the best

  6. Make sure you hear about the nasty comments the instant they’re made by having Google Alerts primed with your name and those of your business (and your competitors!). Make sure notifications are set for ‘as it happens’.

  7. Jeremiah: Like always, good stuff. I’m dealing with this fear with our own Marketing and PR functions right now.

    The good news for us is that more folks are wanting to take part in blogging on Direct2Dell or engaging in discussion on IdeaStorm. However, getting them past the fear having to respond to negative comments (or to fix the underlying issues that are driving it) is where the real obastacle is.

    The best way I’ve seen to get people past that is to show them some of the benefits of having some of those difficult conversations throughout the full process. Taking action is the critical piece of the process, and many times it’s the hardest part. I call that closing the loop.

    When we can do that, it’s clear to me that’s the real power of social media. Done correctly–listening, engaging, taking action to fix or improve, then closing the loop with customers–creates loyal customers more than anything I’ve seen.

    Some of our biggest successes in social media involve dealing with negative issues head-on.

  8. Thought provoking post J, as always.

    I work in corporate comms during the day and on my own blog & websites by night and I know that ignoring people is probably the worst thing you can do.

    I confront their issues (if they’re clear enough to respond to) and I always find something positive to say about their comment. I encourage them to see the middle ground in between our different stances.

    I have found that they have softened their stance and I have changed my view as well.

    For me, that’s the true power of social media that many SMM’s don’t get. It’s not about telling, it’s more about moving the conversation along. And that means all parties grow in their knowledge and change.

    How I wish the company I work for would understand this principle 😉

    Have you every noticed how some of the most fascinating blogs are the ones that you don’t think you’ll agree with?


  9. An interesting post Jeremiah as the natural tendencies for most companies is to gloss it over or respond in a way that appears almost defensive or not at all. To the latter, let me just say that no response is a response that is open to far greater misinterpretation.

    For me the power of social media is the strength of the sincerity behind responses that are transparent, honest, direct and humble to some degree. When applying this approach in all things, not just social media, it always comes back with favorable results..even if the conversation is a tough one. And for our clients, it has prevented what could potentially be an onslaught of further negative feedback and has in fact created a more positive perception for clients.

    Last let me just supply a stat that I think may be valuable for those struggling with what to do with negative sentiment:
    – 1% reduction in negative word of mouth for the average company results in $49M in additional sales
    – 2% reduction in negative word of mouth boosts sales growth by 1%
    (Source: London School of Economics, Harvard Business Review)

  10. Jeremiah – Ironic that you just tweeted this. I have had a running debate/argument (not sure why I am wasting my time) with @MarkMayhew (who also does @FacebookEconomy about his incessant negativism and dissing about all those he disagrees with or disagree with him. I keep trying to point out that it smacks in the face of his attempts to become a credible resource on his topic. Now, it remains to be seen how much moderation is required because the web’s antiseptic nature tends to work well on negativism. Great post, Thanks. – Mike Pratt
    the style observer
    Gift Girl

  11. If you can’t handle negative comments, then people need to get out of the social media game. Negative comments are a part of the fun that is social media. It’s essentially empowering a powerful feedback engine for your company or product.

    The good thing is that most people can see intelligent responses. If you respond to negative comments with an intelligent and thoughtful response, people will recognize and appreciate it.

    Of course, one trap to avoid is saying you’re going to do something to respond and then not. That will just inflame users even more.

  12. Interesting subject, since this seems to be one of the first questions I’m asked after recommending that clients begin engaging in social media. I’ve seen several different approaches and the one I think works best is the one I used at WizKids a couple of years ago.

    We didn’t moderate comments (this was a message forum, so they were posts/replies) but if a comment was spam or contained something that violated the terms of service, it was removed. Other than that, we let everything through, and used negative comments as a basis for further conversation. I think that’s the key piece that many people miss when thinking about this space: rather than worrying that “oh God, someone might see this associated with my brand on a Google search,” they ought to be thinking “they will see how we respond to criticism when this pops up on a Google search.”

    Negative comments are all the things you said, and more. They often come from individuals who care enough to go online and post, which means they’re emotionally invested in the product enough to do that, and as you said they can (and have) become your biggest advocates if you involve them in the conversation using their comments as a basis for further dialogue – and addressing their concerns if possible.

    I think we’re starting to realize that online engagement may very well be too important to be left simply to PR or marketing people: it’s half PR and probably about 3/4 customer service. That’s the mindset I try to foster in my clients and the one I’ve used in the past, anyway.

  13. I got both positive and negative comments about my translation of your article “The Irrelevant Corporate Website”.
    The negative comments were basically from people who feel their business models threatened by the new order.
    The smart reader will perceive this as a sign of success, on at least two counts: 1) getting the message across 2) engaging outsiders in a conversation.

    It’s an opportunity for all of the involved parties to learn, improve and influence on each other.

    As long as one doesn’t take a “better than thou” stance, and signal/noise ratio is preserved on a good level, “negative” comments can only be a good thing.

  14. I’ve found that going through the exercise of setting up very clear community guidelines with our clients is a great way to lessen the fear of negative comments. It does a few things:

    1. Sets the tone for the community – is it a fun, anything goes attitude or more business related? This has a lot of impact on how comments are moderated and/or responded to.

    2. Gives everyone a starting point (members, internal teams, community manager) so if there are negative comments the community manager is empowered to reply, moderate or work with the right internal team to respond accordingly (on the community site or behind the scenes to the individual that commented).

    3. Makes the rouge user easier to deal with. We’ve seen this more often than a flood of negative comments. A very unhappy rouge member trying to make life difficult for everyone.

    If the guidelines are clearly communicated then any negative comments that do occur are a great ways to extend the conversation and discover if there really are improvements that need to be made or if they really are outside of the guidelines and can be removed without causing other members to be concerned about their content.

  15. Make one person, or department (depending on the size of the company and the task of moderating), but let them be a funnel. They can scan all the comments and send them onto the appropriate person to answer.

    If it’s a technical problem an engineer might be able to solve the problem better, quicker and more cost effective, than someone from customer service.

    So, in short – make sure the appropriate and most informed (and available) person responds to feedback.

    Also, don’t lose track of positive feedback. It can be easy to get sucked into just answering to bad comments, but positive feedback should be praised.

  16. Hear! Hear! Jeremiah! Everything you say is spot on. In our experience at Get Satisfaction, we’ve seen over and over again that allowing negative comments, truly listening and then engaging with the commenters in a public space you not only are embracing an opportunity to turn that person into an evangelist but, through that transparency, you’re building trust and showing integrity to your whole community — thus creating a cadre of evangelists. If handled properly (ie: not defensively and in a REAL, personal voice) a lot more good is bound to come from it than if the conversation had never happened at all.

    Thanks for a great post!

  17. Hey Jeremiah – nice post, as usual! I think about this a lot, especially as I try to help clients understand when, where, and how to blog effectively. Negative (and sometimes just plain offensive, even if not obscene) comments can be tiring, both for the blogger, and for the readers. I sometimes feel depressed when commenters choose to tear down a conversation, rather than contribute to it.

    I encourage allowing all opinions and moderating for spam and obscenity, and also responding to negative comments in a positive and productive way. It is, after all, a publicly observed conversation.

    I encourage communities, moderators, authors and commentors to keep relevance and authenticity as their main focus, and as I work with people considering a comment-able medium, I try to help them evaluate how ready their company or organization is to see the entire spectrum of what people have to say.

  18. Jeremiah,

    Like several have pointed out, it does depend on the nature of the negative press (sorting out the response from someone in a terrible mood that’s simply lashing out vs someone genuinely upset about your service).

    We’ll never lose the former, but the latter is key. If this customer took the time, even 2 minutes, to leave a comment, the response that you give can make or break that customer relationship. NOT responding will break the relationship, hands down.

    But it’s not like every complaint warrants giving something away (free shipping, free goods, coupons for future purchases, etc.) In all likelihood, I’d be willing to bet that these people will be more impressed by your response that you’re listening and, depending on the nature of your response, willing to spend a few minutes and engage directly with them, the issue they had will vanish from their minds but the fact that you responded will help keep them coming back for more.

    I recently went to a community site after getting an email that they launched a new feature. I checked it out and wasn’t impressed, so I left a few comments in their feedback form about what they could do to kick it up a notch (imagining that this feedback would simply end up in the electronic slush pile). Imagine my surprise when I got a personal response from their community manager the next day, including 3 different ways to contact him. They didn’t commit to actioning any of my suggestions, but you could sense the sincerity in his response that these would go off to the product team directly and hopefully some could be actioned at some point in the future. The fact that their new service is immaterial. The fact that they responded openly and honestly, AND in a timely fashion, made me a customer for life.

    In short, 90% of these cases are great opportunities to solidify relationships with disenfranchised customers, and if you play your cards right, you’ll turn them into an evangelist that will help grow your customer base in the future.

    Keep those thoughts coming!

    Best regards,


  19. Seth

    I agree with your statements, in many cases you don’t need to compensate with gifts or items. In many cases, acknowledgment and genuine empathy are what some are requesting and needing.

  20. barring outright trolling or racist comments, you have to let the bad stay up. adds perspective to the topic and in an e-commerce worls tells a buyer that actual people have bought this, not a fluff writer.

  21. Hi!
    I’m learning a lot from you all!, Thank you. I would like to ask you all something, maybe it could be the second FAQ associated to the first one:

    How do you manage the situation when someone posts a recommendation for your competitor’s product in your forum?. Are you going to leave the brand of your competitor published there?. I mean, that would help people to find my competitors more easily. And what if my competitor is actually better than me in some aspects (this happens often)?. Of course, I can respond highlighting the good things of my product, but readers will appreciate more that opinion that led them to find out a better product than mine.
    How do you handle this problem?
    Hey! And don’t say “make your product better!”, because, usually, the person in charge of the online marketing is not responsible for the quality of the product, we manage different objectives.

    Thanks in advance!!!

  22. Richard

    Absolutlty leave your competitiors names up there.

    Here’s why: If I can accept that customers are talking about competitors (I know they are, to suggest otherwise is foolish) then I want to be a trusted source and be part of the organic conversation.

    Besides, if I’m confident enough to allow conversations or even talk about my competition, then I’m confident that I can let my customers figure out the best solution possible.

    Now if you don’t believe me on this, you can go ask Jupiter Research or Gartner!

  23. I totally agree with you. It’s so much easier to firefight on home turf. Besides, uncomfortable situations like these are an excellent opportunity to win over/back customers. I think PR practitioners are somehow pressured to do just what their clients want, and that is to remove all traces of the ‘stain’. At least this was my experience in the print media some years back when it was not uncommon to receive calls from PR consultants to have a story spiked, all because a writer had asked some rather “pointed” questions during the press conference.

  24. One thing many of us forget is that our customer community is an asset that addresses “negative” feedback:

    Long standing active community members with a broader context do many things to help with this:
    1. Community members respond many times instead of you and present alternatives, which is received much better than you responding. A customer responding versus the company, what could be better?
    2. Community members will refine or better present the negative issue in terms that you can understand. Longer standing community members have a better understanding of how to communicate with you.
    3. The “champions” in your community are generally plugged into conversations with other community members and can bring up issues through private channels so you can avoid negative publicity by acknowledging/addressing concerns proactively. One way to do this is to provide special access to these community members to internal resources through private forums etc.

    The other thing to keep in mind is as we enable our community to be more active on our hosted communities their activity on external sites also increases and they becomes champions that respond and bring up issues to you on sites you may not be actively monitoring. Kind of the long tail of community engagement since your customer community is always going to much more plugged in to different areas than you ever will be or maybe even should be.

  25. Jeremiah,

    Great post and comments. As you say, the negative comments are going to be said *somewhere*, so at least by having them on your blog you are able to demonstrate your professionalism in how you address those comments. Plus, as has been said here, you may learn of legitimate issues, be able to right wrongs and potentially turn detractors into advocates (or at least no longer negative).

    Having said all that, I would also strongly recommend that companies look at having an actual “comment policy” that is prominently mentioned on their website. We didn’t have one and wound up in a situation where inappropriate comments were being left on our blog but we had no rationale for removing them and did not want to create more of a stir by doing so.

    We rapidly did put a comment policy on the site and now have a line in our WordPress template so that right above the “Submit Comment” button there is text “By submitting a comment you agree to comply with our Comment Policy”. Now we at least do have a stated rationale should we ever decide we need to remove any posts.

    You can see our comment policy and the others that I looked at in formulating it at:

    Thanks as always for your great posts,

  26. Jeremiah;

    I appreciate what Lionel had to say since I have seen him deal with this very issue head on in Direct2Dell.

    My advice is to recognize that negative comments can actually be positive. If there is something to fix you can handle it more quickly and if it is unfounded you can let you customers come to your defense (as they often will).

    Also, if comments are way off the track, are libelous and/or profane, you can also have a comment policy to remove them.

    However, I always recommend doing that very carefully and with great deliberation.

  27. Negative posts are a response to a bad experience,dealing with large corporations as most already said that like to sweep things under the corporate rug.Instead of facing problems head on and resolving the issue. Usually the person with the problem is likely to settle for a lot less than you think. Some times just justifying their complaint is enough. Most problems that occur are due to a lack of training and monitoring to ensure polies and procedures are in place.A complaint comes through corporate and administrative staff start to close rank or scream I am the boss and nothing is solved. If staff receive training and then monitoring and are praide or receive some type of positive reinforcement for a job well done….ther will probalby be less mistakes.

  28. Jeremiah,

    I have always believe that a customer complaint can be a huge opportunity if handled well.

    You routinely buy something from (say) a web site and next day it turns up regular as clockwork. Then something goes wrong. If handled badly you will never go back to that store. If handled really well you will not only go back, but you will tell your friends about it. Why? Because now you know that if something goes wrong in the future these guys will deal with it. It has actually made you happier because before you maybe always had a nagging doubt.

    Of course repeated mistakes or mistakes on the first order cannot be recovered from. You just plain need to get your act together.


  29. Hi Jeremiah…

    I haven’t been blogging for that long and so far no negative comments.
    I’ve had a heated debate with someone who’s newsletter I subscribe to — I responded to something he wrote… he asked for an opinion and I gave mine. He subsequently went on the attack! I couldn’t believe it. It was a huge learning experience for me to learn what not to do when someone gives you an opinion that is so different to yours.
    He asked for an opinion… I gave it… and he reacted so unprofessionally.
    Everyone has an opinion… you need to respect that… and learn from it. And sometimes you need to modify what you are doing and the way you are expressing yourself. But attack is childish.


  30. Jeanne

    I’ve not seen the dialog between you two, so I can’t judge. Feedback is a touchy game, always remember to give a feedback sandwich and focus on the positives too.

  31. Seems to me that context is everything here. If it is a public open community, one set of principles apply…if on the other hand it is a corporate or private community, quite another set.

    With one of my corporate clients, the “rules of engagement” were simple:

    1) Post professionally, speak like you would at work.

    2) Disagree with the message, not the messenger.
    3) Remember the community thrives on mutual respect.

    With those simple guidelines, we managed well over 800,000 messages with almost no editing or censoring by management.


  32. Hımmm 1) You™re in the know. Being on home court gives you the ability to quickly find out issues, so why wait for them to bubble up elsewhere on the web, consider this a ˜free alerting system™ “embrace! 🙂

  33. It’s really scary to face negative comments. Specially if they came from competitors whose only intention is to bring your product down.

  34. Negative comments if founded in some semblance of truth falls into the purview of crisis communications. What convinces the clients who have bought in to the concept of crisis communications/rapid response plans, allowing negative comments is just another way to be transparent. It is also a way to identify those who care enough about the company to leave a comment and dialogue with these through other channels e.g. a phone call, an email, etc.

  35. and finally, i feel that everybody will think that NO body will reply the comment that i leave here..and maybe nobody care the

    comment i leaved .this is not a personal blog ,and it's a public's too serious to discussion some thing like “how do

    you feel this project?”

    hot electronics deals

  36. Some blog owners delete negative comments. Sure, negative comments aren™t flattering, but well, if you provide a way for your readers to express their views about your article, you should respect their right to criticize.
    Not censoring negative comments shows that you respect your readers point of view and that you are an open-minded person.

  37. I have encountered many times your #1 question. I chose the easy way, to delete and ban the people who just mean harm to my business in a very obvious way, maybe got paid to do that.

  38. One of the best advices i got, is to mingle with your fans… always be among them ! Discuss, chat, gossip with them… it's all good !

  39. Even if someone is not happy with the product, you can always compromise somehow and still have a pleasant outcome, refund hassle, or give away something free.

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