Written on January 31st, 2012 by tasha
In our on-going series on social media policies, I’m turning my attention to a policy for handling negative comments. This seems to be the number one fear, after HIPAA, that I hear from leadership. If you have a policy in place, it will help everyone to feel more prepared should someone say something disparaging about your business.
Let’s start with a few acknowledgements:
- People may be saying bad things about your business on the Web already, you just don’t know about it. This is not as likely for elder care providers as it is for Comcast, AT&T or Microsoft, but still… Have you done a Google search lately? You may be surprised. To borrow a line from the Godfather, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Better to have people post negatives about you where you can easily find them (on your own Web presence) and respond than to have negative comments floating out there on the Internet with no redress at all.
- When you do a public presentation, you risk someone publicly saying something negative. Part of live interaction with the public is taking the risk that you may have to deal with an uncomfortable bit of criticism. No one would say you shouldn’t do presentations, or shouldn’t be interviewed on a radio call-in show. Why run away from social media for this reason? The solution is to be prepared with a reasonable way to respond.
- In elder care, the overwhelming amount of comments are positive. I have taught workshops where some of the early adopters of social media were in attendance. After several YEARS of blogging and doing Facebook, one said that she literally had 300 positive comments before anyone posted a negative comment. I’ll take those odds!
- You do have the ability to delete negative comments. While it is not in the spirit of the open dialogue and engagement inherent in social media, it is always your prerogative to get rid of a posting that you think is completely off-base or inappropriate.
What are the comments you can/should just delete?
Some people are just grouchy. They like to pick fights. (Called “Internet Trolls”.) They may be offensive or abusive. They may use profanity. (Called “Ragers.”) They may have forgotten to take their meds for a few days… You meet all kinds.
Publishing an inclusion/deletion policy helps. Some items you might decide to categorically delete would include comments that are:
- Abusive, unlawful, threatening, harassing, embarrassing or hateful (racist, sexist, ageist…)
- Obscene or offensive, using profane language
- Defamatory or libelous
- Infringements on the copyrights of others
- Advertisements or solicitations for business (aka spam)
- Impersonations of someone else
- Off-topic to the discussion
- Of a private, medical nature (although this is not negative per se, think HIPAA)
You not only have the ability to delete these posts, you can also block them from posting again. (You may wish to do this for the more obstreperous ones. Deleting a comment can anger a poster and inspire them to comment again and again. If they are irrational, this is even more likely.)
Comments that have a rational tone to them should be kept and responded to. Not only because the individual deserves a reply, but also because your Fans will want to know what you have to say. If they see you have deleted a rational albeit negative comment, you will lose credibility in the Internet crowd. Kremlin-esque policies are frowned upon on the Web, especially in social media.
Monitor frequently (once a day at least). If someone does put a negative comment up, you want to begin putting your policy/response in motion as soon as possible. For platforms such as Facebook, you can have comments forwarded to your email so you can immediately see (or as often as you check email) who has said what.
A blog is the “safest” social media platform as you can set it so all comments have to go through an approval process before they are posted publicly. If your leadership team is especially squeamish about negative comments, start with a blog rather than Facebook. The greater control on this platform will ease anxieties. It also allows you to hold “borderline posts” until you have a reply ready to release right after you “publish” the negative comment.
A difference of opinion is a good thing. Community engagement is a primary goal of social media and by its nature implies a certain amount of debate. While a lovefest is lovely (all positive comments), if people care enough to challenge something you have said or done, part of building community and building relationships is to respect their opinions and participate in the conversation.
The Air Force, of all agencies, has an infographic for its comment response policy. It provides a handy flowchart that might help you decide how to respond.
Some people suggest leaving non-abusive but obviously irrational posts alone. Your Fans will likely recognize the person as off-base and discount their comments. Or one of your Fans may even step in and come to your defense.
I tend to think this is more relevant advice for larger companies with very large Fan bases (in the thousands range) as the number of Fans who actually post on a business page tends to be less than 2%. If you have 100 or fewer Fans (the average small business has 65), the chances of one of them defending your honor gets pretty slim. Don’t forget, our client base tends to be of a generation that is not as active in terms of posting comments. They may even feel that you are being treated unfairly, but that doesn’t mean they will jump in on your behalf.
It’s not a good idea to let negative comments linger unaddressed. Depending on the intensity of the comment, if your Fan base has not stepped forward within half a day, it would be good for you to reply. The more balanced and rational the comment, even if it is misguided, the more quickly it deserves a response. To that end:
- Take a deep breathe. Count to 10. Don’t take it personally.
- Resist the temptation to defend your company or yourself. Defensiveness is considered poor “Netiquette.” Take your cue from the editorial replies in the “Letters to the Editor” section of the local paper, or a suggestion bulletin board at a local store. The “goal,” if you will, is to demonstrate your openness and responsiveness.
- Gather the facts. Connect with anyone who had contact with this individual. Recheck your sources if it’s a disagreement about an article.
- Respond politely and concisely. This is a public conversation, but other readers will not wade through paragraphs of text. You want your Fans to see that you are responsive. If you can’t do justice in a paragraph, summarize your response and then post a link to a FAQ page or some other venue where those who are interested can read further details.
- Have a negative comments committee in place. It’s difficult for one person to retain perspective. Optimally, you would have several people who are on tap to quickly vet a response before it gets posted. Having several sets of eyes review the response is the best way to be sure that it accurately reflects your company tone.
What if there is truth in the comment?
- Thank the commenter and apologize. There is a very strong ethic of transparency and honest relationship-building on social media. In this culture, defensive smoke-and-mirrors is worse than any error you could have committed. Be humble. Admit your humanity. Work with integrity to address the issue.
- Describe what you will do to prevent a recurrence in the future. If there is a policy problem, an internal communication glitch, something that can be changed systemically, great! Let the person, and your audience, know about your intended changes. It’s not only the right thing to do, but it also demonstrates to all your followers that you listen and respond.
- Do what you can to publicly address the problem now (within bounds of privacy). Certainly if there was an inaccuracy in one of your posts, rectify it right away.
- Offer contact information, if appropriate, to help resolve private issues offline. Posting a name and phone number is the best way to show your eagerness to address the situation and make things right. One hospice workshop attendee said they invited the commenter to talk with them offline so they could rectify the situation. When they had, the hospice then asked the commenter to post about that experience. It worked out well for everyone.
If you would like to see sample Comments Policies, check out the policies of other health care organizations (e.g., Mayo Clinic, Kaiser Permanente) that are shared on the Social Media Governance website.
How have you handled negative comments?
Leave a Reply