5 Ways Brands Respond to Negative Social Media Comments (Hint: Only One is Effective)

Social media is a powerful tool for brands of all types. It helps them connect, engage, and establish trust with current and prospective clients, increase brand awareness, website traffic and ultimately increase sales.

Connecting and engaging with clients and fans is a great way to show the human side of your brand and establish trust and loyalty.  But what happens when something goes awry and negative comments start popping up on your brand’s Facebook page or Twitter feed?  How would you address this?

Social media managers respond to negative comments in various ways:

1. Ignore them:  The ‘Head in the Sand’ approach.  If you don’t reply to the comments, maybe they’ll just go away.  If a customer was at your place of business with a complaint, called or emailed your customer service department would you ignore him?  No way!  So why do some social media managers believe it’s okay to ignore complaints lodged on social networks?  That I can’t answer.  The unfortunate fact is that it happens.

 2. Delete them:  The ‘If No One Sees It, It Didn’t Happen’ approach.  The only thing worse than ignoring a negative comment is deleting it.  It only serves to anger the customer more and give them cause to react by telling ALL of their friends how awful your company and its employees are.  It’s important to note that the average Facebook and Twitter user has 100+ friends and followers, so a complaint from one or even a few customers grows exponentially, costing you customers you didn’t even have yet.

 3. Respond in kind:  The ‘I’ll show you!’ approach.  Let’s say a customer leaves an angry complaint on your company’s Facebook page or Twitter feed. You feel the complaint is unjustified or, for whatever reason, it makes you angry and you can’t help but respond with an angry or defensive comment.  Just as with the first two approaches, your response will only serve to exacerbate an already negative situation. Remember the old adage: The customer is always right – no matter how wrong he is!  Also, remember that the complaining customer is not the only person who will be privy to this exchange.

 4. Placate with a hollow apology: The ‘Gosh, Sorry You Feel That Way. We’ll Try To Do Better.’ approach.  The problem with this response is that it doesn’t appear to be sincere, nor does it offer a real solution to the complaint, which, again, only serves to exacerbate the situation. People are aware when they are being appeased. Most importantly, this approach offers no solution to the problem and the customer may not  give you a second chance.

Social media managers make these mistakes all the time, especially when there are multiple complaints (such as the one I covered a while back in my blog post regarding Ann Taylor brands and Cyber Monday). They ignored, deleted, and placated – all while continuing to offer new online sales and discounts without first fixing their substandard site.  They responded to a few complaints by asking the customers to call or email customer service.  For days afterward, there were complaints posted about not being able to get through by phone and getting no email response.  How can they possibly believe this would have a positive outcome? What should they have done instead?

I suggest that there is truly only one proper response when managing complaints on your brand’s social networks:

 5. Offer an apology AND a solution:  The ‘We Hear You and Value Our Customers. We Will Make This Right Immediately!’ approach This is your opportunity to turn a disgruntled customer into your brand’s evangelist!  This person (or people) obviously had some sense of loyalty to your brand if they’ve spent their money with you, “liked” your Facebook fan page, and/or followed you on Twitter.  Now, however, they’ve had an unpleasant experience and usually they just want to know that they’ve been listened to and that you (the people behind the brand) will make things right. In Ann Taylor’s case, there were problems with their website. They approached it in the ways outlined above, continued to send emails and post to social networks with apologies for inconvenience, and extended the time for the sales. What they didn’t do was fix the website, making it appear that they weren’t ‘getting it’ and, worse, that they didn’t care.

Considering the volume of complaints, it would’ve been impossible for Ann Taylor’s social media manager to respond to each one individually.  I would’ve suggested that they make one post and send one email explaining that they were aware of the issues, were working to fix them, and offering to extend the sale or give an even larger discount – once the site was fixed (and not a minute before).  I certainly wouldn’t have deleted posts or continued to offer online sales until I knew the site could handle the traffic.

I think sometimes brands forget that handling complaints via social networks are the same as dealing with them face-to-face (only with higher stakes).  If a customer were standing in front of you with a complaint, you’d never ignore them, walk away from them, or simply apologize without offering a resolution. So why would that approach be acceptable via social media? Answer: It’s not!

When you deal with complaints effectively, disgruntled customers will tell their friends how awesome your company is and what great customer service you offer. And they’ll encourage their friends to buy from you.  They have now become an evangelist for your brand.  Talk about powerful (and free) marketing! You’ve established brand loyalty and trust to a greater degree than you would’ve had if there had never been a complaint.

Just remember that no matter how fantastic your brand is, mistakes happen, customers get upset and complain.  With the growth of social media they now expect to be able to lodge these complaints – and get resolutions – via social networks. Think of it as an opportunity to prove how awesome your company is – or not.  It’s your choice.

How should a brand deal with negative comments? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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Carole Billingsley (@YouSeekSocial) is a social media consultant, speaker, and trainer. Combining her social media savvy with her expertise as an entertainment promoter, educator, and emergency preparedness coordinator, Carole founded Seek Social Media in 2011. She is known for her ability to make technical and social media topics easy to understand for even the least tech-savvy business owner.

76 Comments

  1. Ian Said
    June 28, 2012

    Thanks for the great article.

    With Social Media still being a relatively new way to interact with your clients, I find a lot of companies do not have an effective way to respond to complaints. I see it with my own customers too, in just the ways you described.

    Thanks,
    Ian Said
    Owner, idealsoftware.co.za

    Reply
    • Carole
      June 29, 2012

      Thank you, Ian! I agree, business owners are just beginning to figure out social media. I think when one sees a negative comment on their networks(especially the first time), it’s human nature to want to ignore, delete, or argue. That’s why it’s so important to take a step back, take a deep breath, and try not to take it personally. You must ask yourself if there is any truth to the complaint because, if there is, that needs to be addressed. A commenter on Social Media Today shared this post about the importance of having a social media crisis plan and I think there are some really great points to consider in the article. Check it out here: http://www.business2community.com/social-media/questionnaire-should-your-company-or-organization-invest-in-a-social-media-crisis-plan-0185706

      Take care,
      Carole

      Reply
  2. Alison Davis
    June 28, 2012

    Seek Social Media —

    Recently one of my podcasts was slammed by a listener in the name of “constructive criticism.” Needless to say, the experience was derailing and for a moment I felt like throwing in the towel.

    Then I suddenly saw the situation in another light: the person clearly spent a lot of time and effort on his missive to me; this was an achievement! I had gotten his attention and struck a nerve!

    Consider the source — something negative may actually be a positive in disguise!

    ~ Alison Davis
    http://www.alisondavis.org

    Reply
    • Carole
      June 29, 2012

      Hi Alison,
      That’s fantastic that you were able to look at the comment in such an objective way! That’s not easy to do, and many business owners can’t seem to pull that off! Way to go!!!! You hit it on the head…something negative may actually be a positive in disguise! Thanks for your insight!
      Carole

      Reply
    • Devlin Jane
      March 12, 2015

      Definitely! I never thought of looking it that way. But I get what you are saying. Yeah, sure there could be some bashers out there, but in many cases, the fact that one would take time to listen, react (whether negatively or positively) to your work or what you’ve written, and then take the time and effort to let you know about it is already an accomplishment in itself for you. Thanks for this great insight.

      Reply
  3. Camille Rodriquez
    June 28, 2012

    Nice article, and I agree! I would rather do business with an honest and approachable business any day, especially if I know they are attentive to my questions and needs. It speaks well for the business if they admit a mistake and make it right to the extent that they can. That always makes a good impression on me!

    Reply
    • Carole
      June 29, 2012

      So true, Camille! I think that’s what we all want from brands we do business with – to know that we’re heard and that they’re willing to correct issues as they come up. No one’s perfect and mistakes happen. It’s how you/your business responds to those mistakes that makes the difference! Thanks so much for your comment!
      Carole

      Reply
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  8. dialuz
    January 26, 2014

    Nice article and I agree! I would rather do business with an honest and approachable business any day, especially if I know they are attentive to my questions and needs. It speaks well for the business if they admit a mistake and make it right to the extent that they can. That always makes a good impression on me!

    Reply
    • Carole
      March 17, 2014

      Couldn’t agree more! Thanks for your comment. 🙂
      Carole

      Reply
  9. wireless internet tv
    March 16, 2014

    Wow! This blog looks exactly like my old one! It’s on a totally different topic but it has pretty much the same layout and design.
    Great choice of colors!

    Reply
    • Carole
      March 17, 2014

      haha! Nice!! Thanks for the color compliment. 🙂

      Carole

      Reply
  10. 4 mistakes small businesses make with negative social media posts | BuildMyBiz News
    March 26, 2014

    […] excuse to fire back angrily. Seek Social Media pointed out that ill-tempered responses will simply exacerbate the issue, resulting in a virtual shouting match between customers and site managers. This makes the company […]

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  11. lynne jenkinson
    March 27, 2014

    Great conversation..I believe that it is how a business deals with a ‘negative’ that shows what a ‘business’ is really about..because its soo easy when the ‘sun’ is shining..but when its ‘pouring’ down ..dealing with negatives takes a lot more skill

    Reply
    • Carole
      April 1, 2014

      Absolutely agree, Lynne! Thanks for your comment!
      Carole

      Reply
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  16. 4 Social Media Mistakes That Can Blindside Your Brand - BuzzPlant
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    […] Just as this can happen in businesses and your personal life, it can happen with your social media strategy. No matter who you are, you will get a negative Facebook comment from time to time. Eleven digital marketing experts weigh in with their tips and advice in The Art of the Response on Social Media.  Definitely worth a read; learn it before you need it. And, while we’re at it, make sure you don’t do these things! […]

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  17. Visual Map | Digital Inquiry at UCONN
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  18. Barb in Toronto
    October 1, 2014

    We think we have a unique situation (or maybe not), and nice to see this article still has traction a few years after it’s initial post. We specialize in a custom made product and after 25 years of being in business, our social media reputation is horrible. Why? Because it seems that when we can’t help a customer (after attempting to in numerous ways), and providing a full refund, they still use social media to bash us. We are completely baffled as to how to deal with situations where there really is no customer on the other end: technically, they aren’t a customer because we provided a full refund — in many instances, we have spent hours trying to help them. We of course still apologize openly and ask that they reconsider their post or tweet (we’ve never deleted any), but all have not done so. What’s a small business to do? Fight or flight are our instincts, too, but just not sure what to do. Yelp is probably the worst we feel because customers who praise us don’t get counted so only those customers who got a full refund are seen online. Very strange predicament which is why I’m here trying to find an answer 🙂 Thanks for letting me rant.

    Reply
    • Carole
      October 2, 2014

      Yikes, Barb! That is quite a predicament! Who could blame you for needing to vent?
      I know a lot business owners have had similar issues with Yelp, so you’re not alone there (not that that helps!). I think it’s a good strategy to leave the posts there with your response and apology…and outlining what you did to rectify the situation. I’d suggest actively encouraging satisfied customers to post positive reviews because at some point, those will outnumber the negatives. I think most people overlook negative posts/reviews when there are also many positives and when it’s clear that the business has worked with those who believe they’ve had a negative experience – which you’re clearly doing!

      I’d be happy to take a look at your pages and Yelp and try to give you some more specific feedback, if you’d like. Feel free to shoot me an email (carole@seeksocialmedia[dot]com) with your links. If I may ask, what type of products do you sell?

      Let me know if I can help!
      Carole

      Reply
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  20. Kevin Cooper
    October 19, 2014

    Good post. I do perceive the focus to be a bit narrowed to how or whether to engage negative comments from a tangible consumer of goods or services from your company or entity. What if such comments come from a disengaged party?

    I just deleted a comment on a video I boosted on Facebook from one of my local bands. This was from an individual that was a friend of a friend, had likely never heard of us prior to viewing the video, and likely is not going to check back to see whether his comment is still there. In this case, I had no relationship to maintain or repair, and was more concerned about maintaining a positive brand presence as this band, which currently is at just under 300 “likes”, is trying to increase its reach.

    I think we’re both right in our respective scenarios, but I do believe context needs to be assessed…. “customer is always right” didn’t apply in my case, in my opinion.

    Reply
    • Carole
      October 23, 2014

      You make a very valid point, Kevin. I need to update the article to include that there is no need to deal with trolls. There are, in fact, times when a response isn’t needed and deletion of a comment is appropriate.

      Thanks for your comment!
      Carole

      Reply
  21. Julie
    December 17, 2014

    Hi Carole,

    Thanks for this very useful article. May I ask a question related to non-profit service provider. A lady called our crisis line this week in quite a state, came in for services, but left screaming and cursing. She then left a troll-type review on FB accusing us of racism and only helping the poor. I am looking to advise our ED on responding, not responding. Any thoughts appreciated.

    Reply
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  23. Ajay singh
    January 7, 2015

    Great conversation..I how it feels ‘Sun’ shining..but when her down ‘pouring’ a ‘business’ is exactly what about..because its soo easy to show that the ‘negative’ with a business deals with negative ..dealing takes a lot more skill.

    Reply
  24. Jayson Rivers
    January 8, 2015

    Thank you so much for this article new to this world and I never know how to respond to such negative comments. Thank you

    Reply
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  26. » Take me to blog about my Christian faith and compassion.
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  27. hyip
    March 12, 2015

    I just came to your article by searching what is the best comment box of social media. I have seen many choice. I see that you are using an open box so any body can participate. Just curious how you manage spam comments?

    Reply
    • Carole
      August 23, 2015

      hyip,
      You’ve probably already gotten the answer to this. I don’t know what happened, but I’m suddenly seeing old comments that I never received a notification about. =/
      I use Akismet plug in and it handles spam wonderfully! Very rarely do I have to deal with them because Akismet catches them.

      Sorry for the delay!
      Carole

      Reply
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  29. Mike
    June 18, 2015

    I own a reviews aggregate system and our motto is “You don’t just get one quote when you get an extension built for your restaurant, so why just rely on what people are saying about your business on one website?” Don’t ignore the poor feedback. See it as the opportunity to improve your business and get it right next time. By just looking at tripadvisor reviews and dismissing them is bad for a business. Similarly reading radiant reviews and basking in the afterglow of believing everything is perfect with your business can be just as detrimental. Owner at http://www.reviewswatch.com

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    Reply
  32. Lara
    August 30, 2015

    Hello, this is wonderful info!

    I’m managing a FB page for my church, and of course there are people who disagree or who really dislike the church. They feel the need to come and post their dislike on the page. I wonder, how can I react to that in a professional manner with more than a sincere apology that they feel that way? It’s not like I can change the organization, one in which I believe in fact. And I know telling them their views are wrong is, well, wrong. Do you have any advice?

    Reply
  33. Cristina
    September 8, 2015

    That’s a great article.

    But I have another situation:
    A stylist who came for an interview and a trial to my salon, didn’t get the job. I’m not going to get in too much detail, but the guy is seriously deranged. He left the salon shouting and threatening to destroy my business on social media. And he got so far 4 of his friends to write bad reviews for us, pretending they are unhappy customers.

    What can one do in this situation?

    Reply
  34. ora exacta
    October 3, 2015

    Am aflat aceasta pagina, dupa ce am cautat despre 5 Ways
    Brands Respond to Negative Social Media Comments
    (Hint: Only One is Effective) pe Google. Se pare
    ca informatia dvs e foarte valoroasa, mai ales ca am mai gasit
    aici si despre ora, ora exacta, lucruri interesante si folositoare.
    Mult succes in continuare!

    Reply
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  40. Nick Krantz
    March 17, 2016

    Hi Carole,

    Although this article is a bit old I somehow stumbled upon it while searching the web for some other content I was after and gave it a good read and it really made a lot of sense to me and its an important message that isn’t really being spread to business owners.

    You have given me some inspiration to write an article on this topic as a result, feel free to check it out at http://www.mymarketingmate.com.

    Reply
    • Carole
      March 24, 2016

      Fantastic…and thanks! I’ll be sure to check out your article, Nick!

      Reply
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  43. Andrew Rutherford
    April 24, 2016

    Nice Post! These blogs are a great source of help and also inspiration. Thank you for the post, there are some great sites here.digital media recruitment

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  47. laura Ronderos
    June 14, 2016

    If people leave racist comments on the company’s facebook page regarding religion or subjects like the Halal certification what should I do?? I am not sure how to approach that… I was told to ignore it, but I am not sure that is the right approach.

    Reply
    • Carole
      June 28, 2016

      Laura, I wouldn’t respond to racism or hate speech. People who post those types of comments can’t be reasoned with and you’ll find yourself going round and round. Block them from your Page and remove their comments. Sorry you have to deal with that!!

      Reply
  48. Andrew Rutherford
    June 15, 2016

    Usually I never comment on blogs but your post is so convincing that I never stop myself to say something about it. You’re doing a great job,Keep it up.

    Reply
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  51. Ron
    June 19, 2016

    Just read this article (http://www.localchannelnews.com/local-business-facebook-firestorm/) where a local restaurant last night just got hammered by an unhappy client on Facebook.. but most of the regulars came to his defense on line… The question is, should he let it be for now or try to make up for it..somehow? That unhappy client has been a “non-happy frequent flyer”.

    Reply
    • Carole
      June 28, 2016

      How great for the customers to come to the restaurant’s defense. I’d suggest a sincere, apologetic response and an offer for a small discount on the next visit, free appetizer, or something along those lines. Nothing big, just a gesture of good faith. I’d also respond with thanks to those who defended the restaurant and offer them a little something for their loyalty. Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
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  53. Celeste
    June 20, 2016

    I have seen some gnarly reviews from customers on social media sites with poorly emotional responses from the business. But the best response to customer complaints was from a little sushi restaurant by my house. It got about 3 months of bad reviews regarding service and food coming out of the kitchen, or sushi chef, taking too long. The restaurant took it seriously and offered a sincere apology to each review. They hired more staff. They told each of the bad reviews to come in for a second chance, mention that they saw it on the site, and they would get a free saki bomb. They extended it to anyone else who saw the bad review. The place has taken off since back then (which was about 3 yrs ago) and now it’s difficult to get a table there. I always was impressed how genuine they responded to each complaint, learned from it, and exceeded expectations.

    Reply
    • Carole
      June 28, 2016

      What a great story, Celeste!! Kudos to the restaurant for listening and acting on the feedback! Thank you for sharing.

      Reply
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