Five ways to respond to negative social media

Why would anyone willingly invite public criticism? That’s what social media seems like to many businesses — an opportunity to encourage the scrutiny of disgruntled customers. Some companies avoid social media altogether or abandon the Twitter and Facebook accounts they once set up, leaving it as a barren wasteland. They see it as a waste of time or, at worst, a chance to stick your foot in your mouth.

These fears represent an outdated mindset about business. The new trend is toward transparency. Face it. The criticism is out there, whether you want it or not. But when you engage directly with customers through social media, studies reveal that positive interactions — even after a negative comment — greatly improves your brand with that customer.

What matters is how you respond to negativity and embrace the feedback.

In order to turn those lemons into lemonade, the first step is to realize that not all social media encounters are the same. You can create a list of standard replies for the most common responses you may receive, but there simply isn’t a way to anticipate everything that may come along. A good social media response requires you to truly listen to what the other person is saying, to understand the nuance in every gripe, grumble, and bellyache, and to respond in a timely manner.

Typical responses can be grouped into five categories. Each category has its own approach.

1. The problem solver

These responses are the easiest to resolve. A commenter has a sincere question about a product or service. Be their hero. Look it up, ask around, and send them an answer. If the answer is too long, if it requires you to seek additional information from the commenter, or if it’s personal in nature, take the conversation off the public feed and message them privately.

2. The sincere apology

You have an angry customer sharing a negative experience they’ve had, and they want to know what you’re going to do about it. Opinions differ on what’s the best way to respond. It depends on the severity of what happened. However, keep in mind, even if it doesn’t sound like a big deal to you — it may be a big deal to them. You can’t completely disregard what happened. A well-worded apology can go a long way, pair it with a promise to resolve the problem and, if necessary, provide a follow up. Be careful about over-promising. You don’t want to incentivize angry customers. Also, be careful about the non-apology apology: “I’m sorry that you feel that way” just doesn’t work.

3. The redirection

Sometimes 140 characters just aren’t enough. The problem is too complex, and the resolution is far trickier than an apology and a coupon. Situations that may involve a legal concern are especially sensitive, and you don’t want to wade through that online. In these instances, a polite redirection is necessary. Let the commenter know who they can talk to, and put them in contact with them.

4. The validation

A frustrated commenter may not need anything more than a little empathy. “I hear ya, buddy.” They just want to know that someone on the other end cares about the situation. The dog food company can hardly be held responsible for when I run out of dog food at 6 pm on a Sunday, and the only store that cares that particular brand is closed. (Speaking purely hypothetically, of course.) A simple “we’ve all been there; that’s a bummer” is a nice way to build rapport when the situation is beyond anyone’s control.

5. The troll

There’s a saying on the Internet: “Do not feed the trolls.” Trolls are commenters who have no agenda other than to start trouble and sow discord online. They revel in controversy. They want to push you to see if you will push back. It’s best not to take the bait. They are masters at causing chaos, and you simply won’t win. For any absurd comments that are clearly trying to start a fight, it’s best to ban the user and delete the comment (if possible). Fortunately, most other users can spot a troll and won’t hold it against you.

As more customers turn to the Internet and social media, it’s tempting for some businesses to shy away from online interactions. However, companies willing to engage with customers, both the pleased and the perturbed, will find that being part of the conversation is better than pretending it doesn’t exist. Learn more about social media services offered by Imaginuity and how we can help you engage in the social conversation.

About the author:


For over 20 years, Imaginuity has been combining imaginative thinking and innovative technology to create transformative results for our clients, their customers, and our people. Our services and platforms manage complexity to improve marketing outcomes.