“Resigned cat”​ by Phillip Fayers https://www.flickr.com/photos/phillipfayers/5940629332/

tl;dr: Getting negative comments? Look at your metrics before you go and delete a post

Let me tell you two stories. They are similar setups but have different outcomes.

I once spent many weeks pitching and prepping Company A, a small B2B computer company to do a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) event. Their brilliant engineers would answer questions about the ins and outs of complex networking, their careers, or whether they’d prefer to fight one horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses.

When the AMA started, within minutes, trollish comments began. And within minutes, my client pulled the plug on the entire thing. This wasn’t unexpected, in fact quite the opposite. We had planned for this and even had answers ready to some of them. Alas, cold feet.

Years later (Reddit’s anti-corporate reputation is so legendary that it was, in fact, years before I could convince anyone to do an AMA) I had a new client, Company B, ready and willing to run an AMA. The event began, a few trollish comments rolled in, but within minutes genuine comments started streaming in, too. In fact, this one particular AMA became so popular that it was briefly one of the most popular ones on Reddit. My client was answering questions for eight hours, happily.

Company A had zero tolerance for shenanigans and paid the price. They wasted a lot of time (theirs and mine) and money (theirs) because they couldn’t stomach seeing negative sentiment about their brand.

Nine times out of ten, if you’re getting criticism and it feels uncomfortable, just go look at your metrics. That’s where the story is.

Company B tolerated the comments because they knew how to recognize the difference between trollish comments and an outright Internet torches and pitchforks event. And the clicks generated from that event were fantastic. It was a great success.

Back to the point: negative comments happen

If your brand posts on social media, you’re going to get negative comments of some sort. Typical examples include:

The Troll. A person who shares unsavory photos or cusses a lot just trying to get a reaction or derail a conversation. And, if I may digress, the image below has no copyright note because I took it. Meet the Fremont Troll!

Image copyright ME, I took this, mwahahaha (The Fremont Troll)

The Beefer. A person who has beef with your brand because you, or one of your products or services, damaged them in some way. They may even refer to things that happened years ago. They might use harsh language, but their goal isn’t to derail conversation — it’s to damage your business.

The Transaction. This is a person who is annoyed that you or your product failed them somehow and is looking for help and next steps. They aren’t angry, they’re just looking for a remedy.

The Crusader. Crusaders are people who seek to right wrongs that your brand either may or may not be guilty of, such as damaging the climate or not working hard enough to combat racism or support equal rights. You may actually have transgressed or you might not, but the Crusader hopes their soap box will get your customers asking potentially uncomfortable questions.

So, what’s a brand to do if they get negative comments?

What, indeed, is a brand to do?

In short: If the person is being civil, and you can help, then by all means attempt to help them. Refer them to customer support. If the person is justifiably angry, but being civil, help them.

If they are a crusader questioning why you aren’t doing more, doing anything, and so on, about their cause — why, if you do have something tangible to show them related to their cause, and if you believe it to be a strong gesture you’re proud of, educate them! Win them over with your proactive ways. And, if you don’t have an example, or you are guilty…don’t say anything. Don’t reply.

It’s okay. Really. I’ve been following this protocol for well over a decade and a half, now.

There’s no need to respond to trolls, ever. There’s no win condition there. And when it comes to beefers — if you think you can change their minds or win them over in some way, these people could easily transform from vocal critics to vocal champions. If you have something for them, take the conversation offline and see what you can do.

The one thing brands must never do

If your social post is attracting criticism, don’t delete it. Don’t. If you invested time and effort to create something, and you spent time thinking through the consequences (I wrote about that very topic here, go read!) and other scenarios of publishing, your post should have an opportunity to do its job. And you know what? Nine times out of ten, if you’re getting criticism and it feels uncomfortable, just go look at your metrics. That’s where the story is. You’d be surprised how often a post is seemingly bombing and yet drawing clicks or conversions like mad.

If a stakeholder or manager or executive requests that a post be deleted, do it. It honestly doesn’t matter if the metrics are going gangbusters. Once someone critical to you or your work makes a decision like that, there’s no win to be had pushing back. And there will be plenty of posts to make in the future, don’t you worry.

Okay that’s it, thanks for reading and don’t forget to smash that like button or whatever.

A digital marketer