Your organization, your team, and your social media followers are all human. Humans make mistakes and have emotions. It is to be expected that every once in awhile there will be backlash on social media. How do you handle negative comments on social media and online? The key is to differentiate between #haters and valuable criticism. Come out unscathed (and even improved) by addressing the negative comments on social media immediately, recognizing the motive behind them, and responding accordingly:
Trolls vs. Debates
Many of the problems that nonprofits aim to solve resonate with people on a personal level, and may not align with everyone’s beliefs. This tension may lead to negative comments on your posts, and that can be okay – as long as they are constructive. When negative comments on social media are just bullying or irrelevant, they have the potential to result in uncooperative, ill-natured fighting. Either way, “troll” comments are not constructive and pull focus from your organization’s mission and work. In these situations, you can moderate your posts and hide or report any negative comments from “trolls” to avoid unnecessarily destructive or offensive commentary.
If there is a debate on your posts that seems to be facilitating itself without devolving into offensive speech, let the conversation run its course. Many businesses, such as Disney or PlayStation, post guidelines or house rules in their page descriptions to make it clear when they will hide negative comments and when they will allow for debate, so each follower has a fair chance to express their opinions without creating an unsafe environment.
How to handle negative comments social media
If someone comments with constructive criticism, it warrants a direct response and should not be hidden or deleted. Likewise, if a team member makes a honest mistake, by accidentally tweeting something personal or sending out a test email to the whole list, you should always address the issue with total transparency. Ultimately, it will be your response, not the negative comments, that defines the interaction. According to a study by RightNow, when customers received a response to their complaint, almost half were pleased by the interaction, and 22% even went on to post a positive comment about the organization. So, remain calm and follow the AAA approach for addressing a social media crisis:
The Three A’s Approach
Review the negative comments on social media and prepare your response as quickly as possible to shift the conversation before it spirals. Posting through the same medium (i.e. responding on Facebook to comments you received on your Facebook page) will also allow for a quick and clear response. Acknowledge the negative comment, and understand the strong emotions that prompted it. In order to defuse those emotions, begin your response with an empathetic statement validating the poster’s feelings. For example, “I hear your frustrations” or “We realize that the situation is challenging.” The response should be concise but comprehensive, and should send a unified message from your organization. Make sure your whole team is on the same page to avoid further confusion and frustration.
A crisis occurs when the organization responds defensively. The best way to handle negative comments on social media is to be sensitive to your followers’ emotions and takes responsibility. In the information age, “We had no idea” no longer flies, and convoluted explanations only cause greater headaches. If you truly did not know the impact of your actions or words, focus on how you have learned otherwise. If you used a term in your post that has a different connotation or meaning to your organization, explain that without being condescending. Be transparent about the situation and your organization’s involvement to avoid any more backlash.
Immediately offer a solution to the problem. If the problem is fixable, fix it. If it is not fixable, express empathy with those who were affected and do your best to resolve what you can or to provide a consolation. If it was an accidental social media post, delete it and do not edit it: The post already exists on the internet, and editing gives a visual image to compare and contrast to, which may only make it worse. In any case, articulate what you are doing and, if possible, how long the process will take. Update your followers and tell your story through the “fixing” process for even more transparency.
An example of how to handle negative comments on social media
Imagine organization ABC posted something on Facebook that was unintentionally and potentially offensive. Let’s say they were running a campaign to save all whales, but only included Blue whales from the North Pacific in their posts, resulting in activists for Gray and Atlantic whales posting negative comments. The organization could respond by saying:
“We hear your concerns and appreciate your questions. The focus on Blue whales from the North Pacific was meant to coincide with their upcoming period of migration. But whales of all shapes, sizes, colors, and habitats are endangered; every species variation deserves to be cared for and to have the opportunity to thrive. We are committed to saving all whales, and do not wish to erase or exclude any species. If we have made anyone question that commitment, we apologize. Thank you for your questions and for allowing us to explain our position.”
This response works because it:
- Acknowledges the critic’s emotions
- Explains their side without being defensive
- Shows that they have heard and learned from the critics’ responses
To most effectively handle social media backlash, create a clear crisis plan ahead of time and make sure your whole team is prepared to respond as quickly as possible. For more examples of how brands have responded to and dealt with social media backlash, check out these case studies.