...and here’s how you can tackle them instead.
I’ve been sat on this topic for a little while now (well err no, sorry, “sat” sounds far too calm and reasonable whereas the reality is 3am solo vortex rants in my mind) because in an industry full of noise and oftentimes preachy sounding content-for-the-sake-of-content advice, I didn’t want to add to either of those things.
But I also don’t want to be a hypocrite.
I care about the state of Social Media marketing because:
1. I get paid to (most of the time)
2. I respect the power of these platforms. The power to share ideas, to push for better standards and to hold brands accountable in a way we’ve never been able to do before and...
3. Unlike most traditional forms of marketing, social marketing is driven by communities of people. And I generally give a shit about people.
So, in light of pushing for better, adding to the more helpful part of the noise and my general social mantra #SharingIsCaring…
You work for a brand and you delete negative comments? We need to talk.
THE BIG FAT DISCLAIMER
Comments that are abusive, spam or break any other community guidelines should never be tolerated and are SO deserving of the delete button. Smash it.
Each of the main social channels have their own guidelines that are useful to have at hand:
Also, depending on your specific audience, the topics being discussed, the age of your audience and other factors you may have additional lines to be drawn. Your followers need to feel safe and welcomed. End of. Harmful, abusive or triggering comments need to be handled appropriately. I'll touch upon the importance of setting these boundaries later.
Y’all know the negative comments I’m talking about here though. I mean the criticisms, the anger, the complaints, the ones that make your brand look bad and the ones that make you feel bad. The ones that could potentially go viral and turn bad to bad-er, to shitstorm in three, two one…*collective butt sweats of all social media managers combined*.
Yup, those ones.
The negativity fear is real
I get it. It feels like everyone is doing it and well, truth be told, a lot of brands are.
For most companies I have worked with it has been a “hot topic” or often times quickly becomes one when crisis mode sets in on your first, inevitable, flurry of negativity on your social media channels. This includes companies who set filters on their channels so that even the possibility of receiving a negative comment, a comment about a competitor or anything in between won’t even make it to their page or content.
The fear is real folks.
A recent perfect example of this fear came to light when a Times Square billboard from Flat Tummy (yes, that is actually the name of the company) started trending on social media for all the wrong reasons. Well, all the right reasons...but not for them.
No, it wasn’t because of their eye-rolling cliche stock images or cringy use of the phrase #SuckIt (Oh Lord). Turns out marketing appetite suppressants like this amidst a growing #bodypositivity movement online is gunna lead to a bad time m’kay. Influencers across all major platforms sent a storm their way:
Then, upon facing the consequences of totally not reading the room, the company decided to stop reading the room AT ALL.
It became apparent very quickly that they were deleting all negative comments on their Instagram content. Bringing a whole new level of meaning to #SuckIt.
Why deleting comments is a no-go
Flat Tummy, like lots of other brands poorly named or otherwise, are trying to approach Social Marketing like older, traditional forms of marketing; a one-way megaphone of their messaging. A digital ad platform like a newspaper or billboard where they shout about their products all day until people buy them.
This is not how you do Social Marketing and this ain't gonna fly for long.
Social Media platforms are, first and foremost, communities. Communities of people. People who can, and want to, interact with and respond to content.
That’s what makes them so great and so powerful, for consumers and brands alike.
Our role as Social Media marketers isn’t just about spreading the word. It’s about building inviting, engaging and useful channels where communities can thrive. Enough for them to want to spread the word for and with us.
Unsurprisingly ignoring people, disregarding feedback and setting off the bullshit alarms in your channels won’t exactly harbour that empowered, trusting community vibe.
What you risk when you delete negative comments
Brand perception: No one is perfect, but good leaders are ones who acknowledge where they are lacking, listen to feedback and show how they are going to improve. Treat your brand like a thought leader to be truly trusted and respected.
Getting left behind the pack: Just like with Social Media customer service, the brands who were slow to react and embrace expectations end up suffering as a consequence. When people demand something on your channel, you respond or you end up losing them completely.
More separation from your audience (target or otherwise): We have the ultimate gift of communication and, thus, information about our audiences online. In our pursuit to avoid negativity all we really do is miss on an opportunity to improve and grow. We metaphorically put a hand in the face of consumers and say “We’d rather not hear it”. Do that enough and people stop coming to you at all.
Job dissatisfaction: What would you rather: Building genuine interactions with people, helping people, resolving issues and potentially creating new ambassadors OR being the bodyguard filter of negativity all day.
What you can gain when embracing the negative comments
You learn: You have strangers all over the world ready to give you feedback FOR FREE. Why would you not take that?
Convert the haters: Some of the strongest brand ambassadors come from those who feel valued, heard and had their questions and issues resolved. An ignored negative comment will always stay negative.
De-escalate and manage a potential PR crisis: You can’t always control the narrative but you can fix it. With the right people, procedures and training in place you can take a potential crisis situation and turn it around early on. Sweeping things under the carpet can only land you in more hot water later on.
A positive response can give you much more credit than the potential damage of a negative story.
How to embrace negative comments on Social Media
Have clear internal and external expectations and guidelines on what you will tolerate on your channels and what you won’t. If certain words, phrases and topics are not accepted then you should clearly signpost this with your reasoning.
Read, track and evaluate negative comments carefully. Sometimes this means looking beyond their provocative use of swear words and insults to really understand what the message is. It’s often worth it.
Respond, don’t react.
Don’t be tempted to jump in and defend yourself or your company. Take a moment, breathe, let go of any potential emotional reaction. Look at what they are asking of you and respond to that.
But do definitely respond
Most reasonable people aren’t expecting a miracle cure of all their issues. They want to be valued and heard. This is the basis of how you respond to them. Let them know they are heard.
Also, when you respond to one negative comment you are potentially avoiding receiving more of the same question or issue. If I see a company has answered my question already then I don’t need to barrage them with more.
Overwhelmed with comments?
Even if you have a team of people on hand and trained to respond to social media interactions (just a daydream for many of us) sometimes the storm is too big and you cannot possibly reply to everyone.
THAT IS OK.
Prioritise the top ranked or most prominently visible comments (remember, people want to see your response and this is how you’ll do it) and the most critical issues.
In a crisis, timeliness is important but don’t be afraid to come back to repeat question comments later in the week. Check up on them, ask them if their issue is now resolved. Be a bro.
The BIG takeaway for negative comments on Social Media
Negativity will happen on your channels and that’s OK.
Unclench those worrisome butt cheeks. It’s OK.
You and your company are not perfect, no one is expecting you to be and, as mentioned earlier, the best leaders are those who openly acknowledge where they lack and commit to being better.
Most of all be honest and be kind.
To yourselves, your teams and your communities.
I’ve worked in customer service roles and mental health support (the overlap is extreme, you wouldn’t believe) for 13 years and knowing your boundaries while putting kindness at the core of every interaction you have is honestly the best start of your strategy.
And it works.
Probably across most other areas of life as well.
And to the brands who think they’re above this or it’s a waste of time and resources…you get what you put out there and the proof will be in the pudding down the line.