How to deal with negative comments on social media

Social media is a prime meeting place for you to interact with your customers. Most of the time it’s a positive place full of happy people. But, occasionally, people will use Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Google+ and others to vent their frustration – whether justified or not – at your business. Here’s my strategy for dealing with negative comments on social media.

Posted by Becca

1. Don’t attempt to ignore or delete the negative comment.

Social media is a public forum. The poster’s comment has been posted publicly for others to see and ignoring it will not make it go away. Nor will deleting it. It’ll have already been seen (possibly even ‘screenshot-ed’) by others and deleting the post will make followers question your integrity. Plus the conversation may well start again elsewhere without your knowledge.

Instead, take a deep breath and respond with care. Treat your reply as an opportunity to promote your business and your customer service.

JP Morgan Twitter Fail
The only exception to this is DO remove inappropriate comments (ie racist, derogatory or pornographic).

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2. Personally respond.

Don’t use auto response! Otherwise you might end up repeating American Airlines‘ mistake of responding with “thanks for your support” to an accusation of being “the largest, sh—iest airline in the world”. Or Domino’s, who appear used to being insulted judging by their auto responder:

Dominos Pizza Facebook fail

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3. Use TEARS to structure your response: Timely, Emotion, Action, Reassurance, Scale.

jimmy johns
The EARS method was introduced to me several years ago by the rather brilliant media skills trainer Chris Kelly. Designed for dealing with media enquiries, this way of responding has become my mantra and, with my addition of ‘T’ for ‘timely’, works just as well for social media posts. Adapt the language you use to your brand and your customers – social media messaging tends to be less formal.

Social media has changed the way we communicate with our friends and brands. We expect a reply quickly. I’m talking within hours, and the less hours the better. The longer you leave your response, the angrier the customer will get and the more people will pick up on the issue and spread the negative word.

If you can’t respond with a solution immediately, acknowledge the post and tell the poster you will get back to them shortly. Then, obviously make sure you do get back to them. For example, ‘Hi, this is Becca and I’m looking into this now. I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. If you have any questions in the meantime, contact me directly at…’.

Start your response with an emotion – whether that’s sadness, apologetic, pleased or any other human feeling. Look at it from the customer’s point of view and, if it’s your fault, say sorry. For example ‘Sorry to hear about your experience’, ‘We’re sad to learn about this through Facebook’, ‘We’re pleased you’ve brought this to our attention’.

Now tell them what you’re going to do, have already done or even what the customer needs to do to rectify the situation. Don’t just apologise, give them a solution. Make the problem right. For example KLM Facebook‘I am going to investigate what went wrong and get back to you ASAP’, ‘I’ve looked into this and the problem seems to be… We will replace the product’, ‘please message me with full details of the problem so I can investigate’. If you are promising to investigate, follow up on that with your solution.

Sometimes it might be appropriate to ask them to (publicly) explain why they have posted their comment. If you need further information from them, invite them to privately message you on the platform they’ve posted the comment, or contact you by email. If the conversation does go private, make sure you follow up the original public post with the outcome.

Reassure the customer and others that you’re dealing with the problem and/or you are great with customer care. For example ‘We’re learning from our mistake’, ‘We’ll use your comments to improve’, ‘This is not a problem we’ve come across before and we are extremely concerned’, ‘Our customers are everything to us’.

Back up your reassurance by letting people know this is an isolated incident and most customers are happy ones. Give some figures if you can. But don’t make them the problem customer. For example ‘We’ve sold 100,000 of these products and this is the first time we have experienced a problem, though that’s one more than we’d both like’, ‘99% of our customers are extremely happy with our service and we want to make sure you are too’, ‘This is the first time we have ever had a negative post on Twitter’.

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4. Be positive!

Do not, under any circumstances, be tempted to attack the poster. Don’t make the same mistake as the now epic Amy’s Bakery Company Facebook Meltdown (who’ve, incidentally, now disabled reviews but have left their Facebook page – complete with comments  – live). Or, closer to home, Somerset-based The Shed cafe’s Facebook attack following a three start review (they’ve also disabled reviews on their Facebook page). Instead, defend and, if appropriate, apologise.

Amy’s Baking Company Bakery Facebook MeltdownThe Shed Cafe attacks customer on Facebook

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5. If appropriate for your brand, use humour.

Humour isn’t right for all brands or all comments so use with caution. But some of the best brand responses on social media do use humour. Sometimes so effectively, they generate fantastic news coverage.

tesco twitter party


Tesco Mobile on FacebookThis was in response to a customer complaint to Tesco Mobile. For the full, hilarious conversation, see This Is The Best Twitter Conversation You Will Read Today.

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6. Don’t dig yourself into a deeper hole.

Keep calm and dignified. Remember, the majority of people you interact with on social media are positive and they might even help defend your brand. If you are stuck though, call a PR professional for help before the situation gets out of hand.

hostel reviews
Dubbed ‘Real-Life Basil Fawlty’, this hostel owner gets stuck in by insulting customers

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7. Thank the praisers!

Thankfully it’s not all negative. Don’t forget about your happy customers. Respond to positive comments with the same thought and care as you would the negative.

Respond to positive comments


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