How Should Companies Handle Negative Comments?

A number of organizations have yet to dive headfirst into social media applications for the dread of the negative or offensive feedback that could result.  The fear seems centered on the fact that there is an ease of use within these social applications where anyone can (and will!) say anything about anyone.

To give these fears credit, I have seen a number of ignorant responders in the social media world be it blogs, Facebook, Twitter or even message boards.  There is always going to be that one person who has to come in and say ridiculous things with no apparent foundation for an argument.

HOWEVER, allowing the apprehension to consume a corporation just because of a few immature kids is completely counter-productive.  The list of arguments for a company to utilize social media far exceeds the length of its counter.

In addition, I would argue that, with the exception of the occasional “troll,” negative comments are great to have for any company.  From a PR standpoint, it allows the company to host a two-way discussion directly with their stakeholders.

In a post on Socialnomics titled, “Negative Feedback is Not Bad,” Eric Qualman says that although “there will be negative feedback no matter how good your company or product is,” there are definitely some great things that come from any form of customer feedback:

“a) free information about potential product/service deficiencies

b) gives them a chance to correct the problem

c) it’s an opportunity to shine with the customer in a public forum by listening & responding

d) creates a seamless path to have an ongoing conversation with the customer”

This is Public Relations at its best.

Even though it is not always fun, companies need to “get out there” and stop being a faceless entity.  Some of the best twitter accounts I have run into are of businesses that actually respond, react and discuss with their followers like Rula Bula here in Tempe.

So what should you do if you get offensive comments?  It WILL happen, but as PR practitioners shouldn’t we host discussions with our companies or clients about how to respond to over-the-top comments that aren’t disgruntled stakeholders, but 14-year-olds trying to cause a scene?  Will your readers, listeners, followers get angry and say you’re over-censoring?  Of course not, nobody finds any merit or worth in those types of comments.

Jennifer Mattern at the Naked PR Blog listed a few suggestions as to when it might be OK for a company to remove comments in her post, “Derogatory Customer Feedback Online: Should Your Company Delete It?

“1. Does the poster want an actual, and personal, solution to the problem or are they bitching just to bitch?

2. Is the language inappropriate for your site (or profile)?

3. Is it libelous?

4. Is it really a derogatory comment?”

So, is it ever okay to delete a user’s comments?  Or is that taking away first amendment rights?  Are there further additions you would add in an argument about how negative comments (the non-offensive kind) are actually a good thing for companies?  Or do you think companies should just stay away from social media altogether?

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11 Responses to How Should Companies Handle Negative Comments?

  1. bgansar says:

    You raise some good points about how adding social media to a company can be really quite scary because you do not know what the repercussions may be. I had an internship with a company where we decided to make Facebook profiles for each member (in this case it was a basketball team)-BAD IDEA> before we knew it men and women from all over the world were writing comments to them that were quite inappropriate. What we figured out was that it was better to have a Facebook Fan Page rather than individual profiles. So, my point is that people should be weary of using social media, but do not run from it-just figure out how it would work best for your organization.

  2. glindsay says:

    I think that’s a great point, Brittany. It’s not a complete aversion to all things Social Media, but rather making sure the correct format is in place to leverage the best response and set up the platform to lead constructive stakeholder discussions.

  3. wwillis says:

    I think this goes right back to the idea that we can’t make everybody love us. There’s always going to be that one person who hates us for absolutely no reason at all. For a company, this is compounded greatly, but having apprehension about negative feedback is counter-intuitive. PR is all about communication, and allowing for feedback to happen. I also really enjoyed reading Jennifer’s post and her suggestions for when it is okay to remove a post. I do think in those certain instances that it is okay to delete a quote, especially when the said comment is libelous or contains inappropriate language.

  4. astrazzara says:

    I think people should post any qualms they have with a company, and then this way the company can correct the problem. Companies need feedback from its consumers because it can continually improve a consumer’s experience. While companies should keep their eyes and ears open sometimes they may miss something, just like us companies are not mind-readers. I do not think, however, anything should be allowed on a social media account. What about people who just complain because they can? Do you let one rotten apple spoil the bunch? Companies should ask itself those four questions and even if it is negative but a legitimate complaint it should stay posted.

  5. glindsay says:

    Whitney,I agree not everyone is going to love us, but we can sure try to get them to :-). However, I do agree that sometimes it will be difficult for us to always determine exactly why someone doesn’t like a product or service. Maybe they work for the competition and are trying to make you look bad? Maybe they’re a disgruntled employee, or recently fired person? What if we can’t determine what the real issue is behind a negative comment despite our best efforts to host a discussion with the negative comment poster? Is it then okay to delete a comment?

  6. glindsay says:

    Ashley, I agree! What better way to get direct feedback from our stakeholders then when it is free? This is NOT a perfect world and every company has its faults. Why not utilize these social media applications as a means to host (intelligent) discussions about our products, whether it be responding to negative or positive feedback? It’s a great way for us to see our products or services in a different light, and correct problems when they arise as opposed to just ignoring them entirely.

  7. ekozak says:

    First of all, I believe the only reason people are “trolls” on social media is because they have the opportunity to be anonymous. Very rarely do you see purely inflammatory comments that are from a commenter who uses his or her real name. When using social media sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, many people use their real names and are more likely to leave comments that give true feedback for the company (whether it is positive or negative).

    However, comments on blogs or online sites that do not require registration might draw inflammatory responses because a real name is not necessary to provide comments. One way to combat this might to be to require registration in order to comment on posts for company blogs. This would also help because if the commenter provides negative feedback, the company has an open channel of communication to address the situation.

    Overall, I believe more positive results can come from a social media presence than from having no presence at all.

  8. glindsay says:

    While I agree that anonymity is a very large contributor, I think we should be careful to label it as the “only reason” people are tolls on social media. It definitely makes it easier on many sites (like for users to say things that are ridiculous, but I have seen MANY examples of these trolls on different websites where registration is required like forums, MySpace and Facebook. This is why I think organizations should host conversations to make sure they are all on the same page with how to respond to these posters, and realize that, while registration helps, it is not the sole answer to stopping the problem.

  9. n_applegate says:

    I agree that companies need to step up to the plate and begin utilizing the social media platforms that allow consumers to give their feedback about the product, strategies and tactics of the organization. Whether the feedback be negative or positive, it will help the organization to overcome obstacles they may have.

    If businesses are afraid of social networking because of the feedback they may receive that business may fall behind in today’s technological advances.

    Social media is a perfect way for businesses to communicate not only between other business but to share information with consumers. The consumers are mainly the people leaving the feedback so whether the feedback is negative or positive it will help the company to move to the next steps for enhancing the product or advertising it.

  10. mkuhl says:

    I myself have struggled with handling negative publicity. It is tricky territory when that happens, because you want your company to accept their own mistakes but at the same time, not make it seem like your company is untrustworthy.

    I like the quote in your blog about how regardless, there will always be some type of negative feedback about your client/product no matter how good it is. This reminds me of the phrase, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Although, of course, as PR students we know there is.

  11. cgharai says:

    These are some great points. Social networking, and giving a company/product a negative connotation is made so much simpler by the invent of the Internet.

    I think its also important to recognize how_should_your_company_handle.html e a few other tricks-of-the-trade. Like Matt Collier, ( at I feel its important to also recognize some other overlooked techniques to handle a negative comment left on a social platform :

    – 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.

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