Dealing With Negative Comments That Are True

One of the “risks” of having a company blog or company social media operation of any kind is that someone will come on your blog, your Facebook page, or whatever, and just trash you.

Most of the advice on dealing with negativity is to “address it”.

For example, here’s a post from MarketingProfsDaily on handling negative blog/site comments:

If you see negative comments on a blog/site, especially those based on inaccurate information, you need to address those comments. (Emphasis in original)

And the post continues with some good general suggestions:

As I told Allison, as soon as she joined the conversation and encouraged interaction, the tone of the dialogue changed from people throwing negative comments AT the company, to the commenters talking WITH Allison. And then Allison later blogged about the article on HA’s own blog.

What can you learn from how Allison handled this situation?

1 – If someone is leaving negative comments about your company, respond.

2 – Be thankful and polite. Nothing escalates a negative comment into a full-bore flamewar faster than an ‘Oh yeah?!?’ reply from the company.

3 – If commenters are jumping to the wrong conclusion about your company, kindly correct them with the proper information.

4 – Thank them for their feedback, and encourage them to provide more. Leave your email address so they can contact you off the blog, if they choose.

If you are thankful and respectful toward commenters, even those that are attacking your company, the end result will almost always be a positive experience. Allison’s experience isn’t the exception, it’s the norm.

Now, I think this is solid advice… but note that the underlying theme is that the criticism leveled at the company is erroneous.  The commenters are jumping to wrong conclusions.  They don’t have the facts.  They’re mistaken.

But what if they’re not?  What if they’re right?

There’s plenty of good advice out there.  I think this one from Ogilvy360 is particularly nice.  In part, they recommend:

  • Address The Issue. Acknowledge the comment, and admit when you are wrong.  Your readers will respond better and respect you more if you can admit mistakes.  Everyone can make a typo, forget to say something important or just be plain wrong.

But frankly, courtesy and saying thank you isn’t always appropriate either. Sometimes, the commenter is just a prick, adding nothing to the conversation.  Or he just has an axe to grind or something.  What then?

I personally like this handy chart I recently found (via Twitter, I believe, but the h/t goes to Web Strategist).  It’s from an organization that knows a thing or two about “handling conflict”: The United States Air Force.

Go to DEFCON-1! DEFCON-1 people!

Go to DEFCON-1! DEFCON-1 people!

In particular, I like this advice about dealing with “RAGER”:

“RAGER”

Is the post a rant, rage, joke, ridicule or satirical in nature? –>

MONITOR ONLY

Avoid responding to specific posts, monitor the site for relevant information and comments.

Now, when the USAF says “monitor the site”, I’m pretty sure they don’t mean with this or this.  But then, you never know, do you?

On a more serious note, I think the ideal of transparency cuts in multiple ways here, when the criticism is correct, is based on truth, and is neither a Troll nor a Rager who can be ignored.

My first thought is that your company really shouldn’t be doing things it is afraid to defend in a public forum.  Bribing elected officials with special “Friends of the CEO” type of deals?  Not only don’t talk about it, but seriously, don’t do it in the first place.  Adding cheap fillers into baby food?  Blog flames should be the least of your concerns.

Do not defend the indefensible.  If asked to defend the indefensible, quit the job.  You can find other jobs; you can never get back your credibility, and “I was just doing my job” is a poor excuse.

Second, if you are being criticized for something true that you do feel comfortable defending, then by all means, defend away.  Don’t do the “ignore it and it’ll go away” thing.  That leads to disaster.  Be polite, but be firm.  You feel you’re in the right — why be defensive?  Keep an open mind, sure, but defend yourself.

Third, be transparent as to your thinking.  You’re not necessarily looking for agreement from the negative commenter; you’re looking to explain your decision/article/whatever.  I find disagreement and debate tremendously useful, as long as both sides are disclosing their reasoning.  I can evaluate for myself which side I agree with, but end up with respect for both sides for being transparent in their analysis.

When you realize you were wrong, or when you realize you were mistaken, just admit it.  Blogging/communications isn’t a competition with winners and losers.  It’s a discussion.

I know this is a big topic, with a lot of different angles.  But the rules of thumb seem to be:

  • If they’re mistaken, correct them.
  • If they’re trolls or ragers, ignore them (and ban them).
  • If they’re right, and you’re up to no good, then cut it the hell out. Then apologize.
  • If they’re right, and you’re up to good, then by all means, defend away.  Be direct, be firm, but be polite.
  • Explain your reasoning in disagreement.  Let your audience make up their own mind; even in disagreement, they’ll respect you.

What have I left out?

-rsh

  • http://www.sueadler.com/ Sue Adler

    Another great post Rob. I’m saving this one.

  • http://www.sueadler.com Sue Adler

    Another great post Rob. I’m saving this one.

  • http://www.leadingre.com/ Pam O’Connor

    Very timely info, Rob. I just heard a speaker on Web 2.0 who made the excellent point that the conversation about you is going on with or without you. At least in the blogging world, it’s not behind our backs and we get the chance to set the record straight, defend or acknowledge and correct.

  • http://www.leadingre.com Pam O’Connor

    Very timely info, Rob. I just heard a speaker on Web 2.0 who made the excellent point that the conversation about you is going on with or without you. At least in the blogging world, it’s not behind our backs and we get the chance to set the record straight, defend or acknowledge and correct.