Managing Negative Comments on the Web

Responding well to negative comments starts with being the first to find them.

You will eventually find an unflattering comment made about you or your business. Yet, in virtually every situation those comments can be managed to create favorable outcomes.

Most of them are the result of misunderstandings.  And once in a while, you run into someone that loves to throw stones.  Regardless of the reason, the prescription is the same.


#1 – Be the First on the Scene

It is surprising how many businesses do not take advantage of Google Alerts or other services for monitoring their web reputation.  When you do this, you can be the first on the scene to make an appropriate response.  And speed is of the essence when your reputation is at stake.

Being first on the scene gives you authority, just as it does the eye-witness of an accident.  You have the chance to shape future opinion and stop an errant commenter in their tracks.

#2 – Build a Strong Base

When you build a base of information that helps a community, it creates a body of knowledge that continues to grow over time to strengthen your reputation.  Reasonable people, and especially your fans,  will always weigh this against a solitary comment to draw the logical conclusion.

You have earned your reputation, and one little scratch is not going to bring it tumbling down.  If you handle this well, you will find that it can actually enhance your reputation, because it gives you the opportunity to use the situation to reinforce your credibility.  Treat it as an opportunity!

#3 – Diffuse

Suggest to the commenter that they do not have a complete understanding of the situation.  And above all, never be defensive.  I like to start with affirming their perspective.  “I can understand how one (not you) may come to that conclusion if they were not familiar with ….”  Just fill in the blank with the content that clarifies why one could come to that unfounded conclusion.  You’ve just provided an out that allows them to save face.

Even better is to start off your response by thanking them.  Why?  They are giving you the opportunity to address a concern that others probably have.  Now you have potentially turned the other silent naysayers who may have agreed with the negative comment into fans – or at least interested followers.

#4 – Clarify

It is usually not appropriate to give a lengthy or self-important response.  Sometimes people are venting and you just happened to be the recipient.  It is often best to keep your response short and to the point.  Writing lengthy paragraphs makes you appear defensive – and that just fans the flames.

#5 – Inquire

This can be risky, but if you have confidence in your community, end your response with an open-ended question to encourage a response from your community.  Just don’t ask them if they agree with you – ask them what they think.  If your community does not agree with you, then you need to respond again to further illuminate the truth.

#6 – Illuminate

Most situations will never come to this.  However, sometimes you will need to create a blog post that consolidates all of the information on the topic and adds new perspectives from additional research.  In other words, use your blog to create an informal  ‘press release’ that articulates an upbeat and clever response that gets everybody feeling good again.

This also gives you the opportunity to create something that you can point to should there be further discussion down the road.  Rumors and innuendo can spread and arise at the worst time.  When you have this in your back pocket, you can calmly refer everyone to it and go about your business with aplomb.

#7 – Let it Go

Once everyone feels the topic has been fully exercised, be the first one to let it go.  Rest your case.  Some people love a fight.  Skillful negotiators will always tell you that it takes two to fight.  Your approach shapes the environment.  Whether you are respectful, professional, casual, or humorous, that is the type of conversation you will tend to encourage.

You choose.

Of course, it should go without saying that negative comment from someone with an avatar image that is other than their own should be discounted, because others will do the same. They will challenge your reputation, even though they are not willing be be 100% authentic by putting a face on their social media presence.

About the Author:  Jeff Korhan, MBA, helps mainstream small businesses create exceptional customer experiences that accelerate business growth. Get more from Jeff on LinkedInTwitter and Google+.

Photo Credit:  compujeramey