February 8, 2012

Rachel Strella

Social Media & The Consumer: How to Handle Negative Feedback

There are a number of businesses that are still not embracing social media. They say things like, “We’ll get to it someday,” while others are simply skeptical of the emerging technology.  But, if I had to choose one core reason why some businesses are not embracing social media, I would say it’s because they’re scared.  They fear potential backlash from customers.

Fear stems from one’s illusion of control.  Avoiding social media doesn’t silence the crowd. In fact, it could make bad circumstances worse because the business has no voice when consumers protest.

Last week, Gini Dietrich wrote about the PR mess involving Komen charity.  I’ll let you read the details for yourself. I want to emphasize that Komen violated a cardinal sin of social media: deleting negative feedback!  When consumers posted messages on the Komen Facebook page saying they were upset, those comments were deleted.

The only thing worse than deleting comments would be to respond defensively and thus initiating a battle with the audience.

I highly recommend not deleting negative feedback unless it’s an extreme circumstance such as inappropriate language or lewd comments.


Because it’s already out there. Someone saw it. And when the person who wrote the message sees that it’s been deleted, they’ll post again and be even more irate. Essentially, deleting a negative Facebook post would like hanging up during a customer service call.

When done correctly, acknowledging negative feedback and responding appropriately is an opportunity to demonstrate excellent customer service. How a business handles negative feedback says volumes about the integrity of the business and how much the business values its customers.

Don’t ignore the feedback, either. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away any more than deleting it.

So what do you do when someone posts a negative comment?  Although it’s a natural reaction to be upset, do your best to stay calm. If you have to, walk away for a few moments so you can write your response with a clear head.  Once you’ve had time to let the dust settle, re-read the message and consider its validity. Swallow your pride and be honest with yourself.

If you’ve decided the feedback has truth to it, do the following:

  • Acknowledge the feedback.
  • Apologize – genuinely.
  • Take the conversation offline.
  • Offer a solution.

If you’ve decided the feedback is only partially true or it’s slightly misguided, do the following:

  • Acknowledge the error on your part and apologize.
  • Gently correct any misinformation (remember, be honest with yourself at this step).
  • Take the conversation offline.
  • Offer a solution.

If you’ve decided the feedback couldn’t be farther from the truth, do the following:

  • Acknowledge the comment and write a general apology for any perceived dissatisfaction.
  • Take the conversation offline.
  • Get more details.

In many cases, negative feedback will not be black and white. In fact, some of it will be highly subjective. The important thing to remember is to avoid getting emotionally involved in subjective opinions.  Use the feedback as a way to improve customer relations and demonstrate compassion for upset customers.

Accept that negativity will happen. Nothing is perfect.

My goal is that you will read this blog and do three things:

  1. Put a system in place for responding to less-than-positive feedback. Do not skip this step! Consider potential comments you may receive and be prepared to respond quickly and professionally.
  2. Be proactive about creating a positive customer experience.  The more you can do to assure customer satisfaction now, the less chance of backlash later.
  3. Become aware of your brand’s online reputation by setting up Google alerts, social mentions, etc.

Learn more about managing your online reputation by joining our LinkedIn Group, “Personal Brand Management.”

Have you ever received negative comments online? How did you handle it?

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11 comments on “Social Media & The Consumer: How to Handle Negative Feedback”

  1. The fact of the matter is, people are saying negative things about your company with or without social media. Now you have the chance to listen and participate in the conversation. Why wouldn't you want to do that?

    Your advice is spot on. Address the issue publicly and then take it offline. It gives us all of the opportunity to become better leaders and create products and services people want.

    1. Your blog on Friday hightlighted this point exactly! We need to be participants in these conversations.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


  2. Hi Rachel,

    Great advice! In all of your scenarios the best recommendation is to get the conversation offline and handle it privately. It can be that simple, and that effective. Yet, trained professionals can botch the process sometimes.

    This is not to say that you can't or shouldn't come back once the situation is under control and tell your followers how the issue has been resolved.

    Thanks for making it so clear and easy to understand.

    1. Hi Patty,

      It is simple, but I think some can complicate it by overthinking it. Negative feedback will happen. I think we need to shift our mindset to view it as an opportunity to better our customer service.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Negative contents can affect people in many ways. Consider that our preferences are now greatly been influenced what of we read online. Take the review posts for instance. There are constructive and legitimate contents but also uncivil or malicious rants. For online business starters like me, the latter are difficult to handle if left uncontrolled. For the past months we have been attacked by malicious comments/reviews from a certain group of dissatisfied clients. We already managed to handle it through our customer service desk but it seems like they to rant it over the complaints sites such as complaints board. CleanInternetReviews.com dealt with the issue right after we contact them.

    1. Sorry to hear you've had such a bad experience. There's not always a one-size-fits-all to these kinds of things - many times we have to use our best judgment (even when others' do not).

      Ken Mueller recently wrote some posts that might be helpful in addressing your challenges. I hope you find them useful.

      How One Small Business Turned Lemons into Marketing Lemonade


      Customers Exaggerate, So Don’t Overreact


    2. The things, you really cannot delete bad reviews. It's either you handle it your way or take a management help online. Good to think, that you opted to act right away.
      manage your presence online

  4. Hi Rachel,
    I'd like to get your permission to share and re-post this to our internal social network. It's such a good read and I'd like to share this to my colleague.

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