Fuel it or fling it? – Dealing with negative comments

Fuel it or fling it? – Dealing with negative comments

An inevitable consequence of engaging, popular online content is that it’s going to attract criticism as well as praise, and the ways of dealing with this vary from one company to the next.

You could be like Arizona-based Amy’s Baking Company, which became infamous after a 2013 appearance on Gordon Ramsay’s ‘Kitchen Nightmares’. After repeatedly locking horns with the restaurant’s fiery owners, Ramsay eventually gave up and conceded, for the first time on the programme, that this was an eatery he had been unable to help. This prompted the restaurant to find itself in a quagmire of social media criticism and trolling, to which the owners would unfailingly reply angrily. Perhaps not surprisingly, Amy’s Baking Company closed down last year.

So, rising to the bait and insulting your critics is not a good move, but what should you do instead? A good first step is to identify what type of ‘negativity’ it is. Usually, it will fall into one of three categories:

1. Identifying inaccuracies

Mistakes are always frustrating and regrettable, but they do happen. Even national newspapers regularly have to print columns correcting or completely retracting their own stories, although they tend to do this in a small box in the corner of page 23, having plastered their inaccurate story on the front page a few days earlier.

On the internet, it’s all a lot more visible. If you make a spelling mistake or an inaccurate statement, somebody may instantly, and publicly, point out that you’ve got it wrong.

If this happens, the first thing to do is check whether the commenter has a point. Don’t assume they are correct, because you may be able to justify what you’ve written. For example, in this article we posted last December, one reader was surprised that we had used the word ‘queer’. We checked our sources and found that Facebook did indeed include the word ‘queer’ in its own wording, and that it was repeated by The Telegraph and Evening Standard. This, in fact, is good engagement – someone had challenged our article and we were able to defend it.

If, however, it is apparent that you’ve made a mistake, the first thing you’ll need to do is correct the piece. If it’s a particularly embarrassing or inflammatory error, you may want to delete the comment and thank the person who noticed it privately. If it’s something relatively minor though, there’s no shame in leaving the comment there and publicly thanking them, remembering to accept it in good humour.

2. Complaints

If someone has taken offence at what you’ve posted, or has a complaint about your service that they’ve tagged on to some of your content, a different approach is likely to be needed.

Again, look into it and consider whether they are making a valid point. It may turn out that they have a personal grievance here, so the best thing to do is make it publicly apparent that you are looking into it and trying to help the complainant, but keeping the particulars of it private. A good approach is to publicly say that you’re sorry the content or your service has upset or offended them, and explain that you have sent them a private message in an attempt to rectify this.

A complaint may simply come down to a differing point of view. For example, you might write an article about the 10 best cities to visit in the UK, and receive a reply like:

“I can’t believe you haven’t included Liverpool! What a rubbish article!”

In these cases, stick to your guns! Explain that there were many cities that narrowly missed out on your top 10 and that you welcome discussion on alternative suggestions.

3. Trolling

The internet can often seem like one big playground, and there are plenty of ‘keyboard warriors’ out there who want to do nothing more than kick up a big stink, and don’t really care where or when they do it. What should you do if they descend on your site?

Well, as we’ve discussed, don’t insult or get angry with them, or you’ll only be stooping to their level and won’t come out of it well. You may want to simply delete them if they are offensive or add nothing at all to the discussion. You could even report them to Facebook or Twitter if you feel they have really overstepped the mark.

Alternatively, you could try to be funnier than them. This should be approached carefully but, with internet trolls often not being the brightest or wittiest folk around, there are examples of companies coming out of trolling incidents well by turning the joke back on the perpetrator. It has to be said, singer James Blunt is an absolute master at this.

As you can see, ‘negativity’ covers a broad spectrum on the internet, and there’s no ‘correct’ way to combat it. Be sure to choose a way that’s right for your company though, and ensure that all users of social media within the firm are aware of it.

Content Team Leader at Engage Web
John works for Engage Web as a Content Team Leader and regularly contributes to the website and programmes of his beloved Chester F.C.
John Murray
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