Negative comments online: 9 tips for dealing with them

11th February 2016

The online world, particularly social media, allows you to get your business name out into the world much faster, cheaper and more effectively than ever before. With 13 million Facebook and 7.4 million Twitter users in South Africa at the end of 2015, it’s a great way to market your venture and engage with your customers. However, it also opens up a space for people to negative comments and complaints – which can be quite unnerving to an entrepreneur since you’re probably very attached to your business, having built it yourself and all. In this article Marijke and Tracy, who shared their experiences with negative online feedback in Tuesday’s article, tell us what they’ve learnt about managing it. Our social media manager, Robyn, also shares her thoughts.

1. Decide into which category the comment falls

Most negative comments can be classified as either a genuine mistake by the business, a misunderstanding or a straight up meanie. If you have determined the ways in which you respond to each category, it reduces panic when criticism comes in, because you have already have a plan that you can follow.
Chatting about negative comments online.

2. Gather your thoughts before responding

When people are rude, it’s understandable to get offended. You have put a lot of time, effort, emotion and money into building your business from the ground up and negativity can really give your confidence a knock.

I realised that you actually need to take some time to calm down, write your response and then read it a while later before sending.

Marijke has found that taking time to calm down, and even discussing it with colleagues, often helps. It’s important to remember that any response will be in the public eye, and you are judged by everyone who sees it. A defensive and angry response can damage your business’s image while a well thought out, calm response can do wonders for the way it’s perceived.

3. Be as fast as possible

We understand that while you’re running your business you don’t always have time to be browsing social channels. However, it’s important to bear in mind that the longer people have to wait for an answer, the more irrational they get. Try and reply to negative comments as soon as possible, even if it’s just to let them know that you’re looking into the issue.

4. Own up to your mistakes

If the comment relates to a genuine mistake or misunderstanding, always take responsibility. We’re all human and we all make mistakes and that’s okay. Rather than deleting or ignoring the comment, which could look as though you have something to hide, apologise on the original post. You’d be surprised how many people become quite reasonable after you acknowledge that you messed up.

5. Apologise and take it offline

After apologising to legitimate complaints, take the conversation offline to resolve the issue. If possible, ask the person to send you a private message with their contact details and give them a call or email. This personal touch is often appreciated and lets the person know you take their complaint seriously – it could even turn your negative situation into a positive one.

6. You don’t have to respond to everything

Unfortunately, you get some people who seem to just want to pick a fight. You know the ones we’re talking about – the ones who don’t have a legitimate complaint but make it seem as if you’ve done horrendous things to them, their families and the families’ pets. The meanies.

Although we know that these comments often incite the most rage, it is important to not engage. Often the commenter only responds with more anger.

If you don’t engage, they’ll typically go looking for someone else. As a fall back, never challenge them. Be cordial, friendly and don’t get angry.

7. Learn from the situation

Marijke highlights the importance of not taking it personally or carrying it with you – especially with the meanies. We know this is easier said than done, but it’s very helpful in keeping your sanity!

8. Know what’s being said about you

Even if your business doesn’t have social media profiles, it’s still important to know what’s being said about you online. This will allow you to pick up common complaints and problem areas and adapt to feedback.

Google Alerts is a great tool for this. Simply enter phrases that you would like to be alerted to when they are mentioned. Your business name, product names and social handles are good places to start. You will then be alerted to any mention of these phrases on the internet, straight to your email.

Two women laughing as they deal with negative comments online.

9. Prevention is better than cure

Make sure your customers are aware of other ways in which they can contact you and provide feedback. Having your contact details clearly stated on your website and packaging lets people know that they can reach you in a more direct way to express their concerns.

Asking for feedback up front, such as when the customer is in your store or restaurant, allows them to speak to you or your staff directly and often helps sort out issues and misunderstandings faster and more effectively.