How to Master Responding to Negative Comments on Social Media

For most organisations, unfortunately tackling negative comments, feedback, and complaints on social media is while unpleasant, just a reality of the job. It’s highly unlikely that any brand can consistently garner only positive interactions, and it could be argued – why should they?

While it’s human nature to prefer positive feedback over negative, organisations can learn and develop when they know what they’re doing wrong or falling down on. It’s just a case of understanding how best to approach negative comments on social media to achieve better outcomes for both your customer and your organisation!

To share tips, tactics, and social media customer service tools on this we invited social media guru and recently crowned Freelance Social Media Marketer of the year Hel Reynolds onto the latest SoCrowd webinar. It was a fantastic session with lots of great questions raised and in today’s blog we wanted to share our key takeaways!

But before we dive in, we did something a little different on this webinar and before we started we put a question to the audience. That question was: Who is responsible for handling customer complaints or enquiries on social media in your organisation today? Of course, there’s no right or wrong answer but it’s very interesting to see where social media sits and compare these results to your own organisation. The results were as follows:

  • Customer Service Team — 32%
  • Marketing/Comms/Social Media Team — 36%
  • Both Teams — 25%
  • Another Team — 7%
  • Don‚Äôt know — 0%

Now that we know which teams are most likely managing social media customer service, let’s get into what constitutes a negative comment.

What do we mean by ‘negative comments’?

Negative comments don’t only have to be direct complaints about a product or service that you provide. While lots of them might be, we’re also looking at how to tackle general negativity around your brand that could include damaging comments and trolling.

Negative comments are big opportunities to build trust in your brand 

As we mentioned at the start of this blog, one thing that’s often forgotten when managing negative interactions is that it’s actually a massive opportunity to learn and overcome fear of social media. Like Hel, we’ve worked with lots of organisations who restrict their use of social media due to concerns about inciting negative feedback.

Unfortunately, brands are learning that even if you create no content on social media, customers will still talk about you and raise complaints or negativity, the only difference being that you’re not reaping the rewards of social media too!

Once you overcome that fear and recognise that a) it’s normal and part of being a brand in the public eye, and b) while they start off negative, they don’t necessarily have to stay that way and you can turn it around, you’re free to use social media in a bold and positive way!

As Hel reminds us, social media is about building relationships, not transactional interactions and it’s impossible to have real relationships with people without having the occasional disagreement or tension.

The role of the Comms and Marketing Manager is not to stop negative comments because it’s impossible, instead it’s about focusing on building long-term strong relationships, and that might mean going through some less positive points on the way!

No organisation is perfect

To remind us of this fact, Hel talked us through an experience she had with a brand: The AA. Hel broke down on the way to Bristol and called the AA, they took hours to arrive and the agent on the phone was really rude. Having had a horrible experience, she turned to Twitter to contact the brand.

Naturally, this situation tarnished Hel’s impression of the organisation, and her tweets will have impacted on her followers’ perceptions of the AA too. But that doesn’t mean the AA is an awful organisation, they’re just not perfect and like most brands, sometimes make mistakes. That being said, it’s hard to shake negative feelings about a brand once you’ve been in that position. 


The AA did send Hel a letter to apologise and have publicly addressed the situation on Twitter. But it doesn’t mean all is instantly rectified. Research shows that it takes 12 positive experiences to repair the damage caused by a single unresolved negative interaction.

Why negative comments need to be treated differently on social media

When we start to look at how to respond to these interactions, there are a few things to bear in mind that might influence your approach that differ from traditional customer service channels.

  1. We can’t use body language — a comforting touch, facial expressions, and eye contact are all ways that we physically show empathy and concern. But if you’re not able to show these gestures from behind your computer or mobile phone screen then how can you convey the same emotion. When messages are all you have, your tone of voice has to do the heavy lifting. It’s key to write in such a way that it’s clear you are sorry, and you can empathise with the customer. To do that Hel advises being as human as possible by using your name and focusing on emotions. No one wants to talk to a robot as American Air found when switching bots for real people…helen2
  1. Social media is a spectator sport — while that means you have a chance to win over your customers and their friends at the same time, it also means that if it does go wrong, you’ve influenced a much wider audience. With that in mind, make sure that if you resolve a question in a direct message or offline then go back to the original comment and close it off by saying something like — ‘great to have sorted this with you via DM’. Remember that it’s not just the opinions of your customer you have to think about, but the rest of their audience too!
  1. Wider accessibility — since 2012 more of us have access the internet by phone than on a static device. Before the birth of the smartphone society you had to feel really strongly about an experience to sit down and write a letter to complain, but now it’s so easy it’s inevitable that you’ll get more engagement, both good and bad. The important thing to remember is that it doesn’t have to be a drama, just take it in your stride!

Tools and Tactics for Managing Negative Comments on Social Media

While these factors can make it difficult to tackle negativity on your social media accounts, there are a few things that can help.

Create Community Guidelines

Clear community rules will help you to prevent extreme cases of negativity and to manage expectations. The innocent page is a great example. It’s a simple and low-key set of guidelines covering the basics stating ‘no swearing, no defamation, and no hate, but otherwise we don’t like deleting comments so we’ll only do it if we have to’. Their tone of voice is calm, clear, and friendly, and it’s not a statement to challenge or aggressively police. Do you have community guidelines in place for your social media accounts?


Don’t forget to ask questions!

Hel used the phrase ‘garbage in, garbage out’ to illustrate the point that if you don’t take enough information in then the solution you provide won’t be up to scratch. To provide a good response you need to know the ins and outs of what happened. Ask open questions such as ‘tell me more about what you’re thinking? What kind of activities did you take part in? What else do we need to do to make this a success?’ This shows you care and are interested but also helps you deal with the problem at the root.

Similarly, closed questions can help to ensure resolution, try asking questions like ‘if we send someone out to you tomorrow, will this help with the problem? This is what we’ll do, are we agreed this is the right course of action?’ If you don’t check this then how do you know if it’s definitely solved? So don’t forget the power of effective questioning when you’re managing a negative situation!

Identifying different types of social media interactions 

Another tip that can help is to make sure you’ve correctly identified the type of interaction. A complaint and attack might sound similar, but a complaint is service, or experience focused, and you’ll start by saying sorry and accepting the problem. Whereas an attack is a more fundamental disagreement and you might not be so quick to take responsibility and say sorry without understanding what it is they find offensive.

This flow chart from Hel’s blog is an excellent resource to help you spot each of these interactions and manage them effectively!


Checklist of questions to ask yourself before you respond

Finally, Hel shared this great list of questions that you can ask yourself before you start responding to negative comments on social media. These questions help to ensure that you’re tackling the problem in the right way, you’ve taken all factors into account, and that it’s the best solution for your customer and your organisation!

  • Is the comment a query, an attack, or a complaint?
  • Can you see it from their point of view?
  • Is this person having a hard time?
  • What’s my tone of voice?
  • Have I asked the right questions?
  • Is this post influencing many other people?
  • What would you like as your org’s online legacy?
  • Have you resolved it where it originated?

Once again thanks to those who joined the webinar live, we hope you enjoyed the session! As always we love hearing your thoughts and feedback so please do get in touch @SoCrowd!