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Should brands try to respond to negative social comments?

2 min read


SmartPulse — our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Social Media — tracks feedback from leading marketers about social media practices and issues.

This week, we asked: Do you respond to negative social media comments?

  • Yes: 51.13%
  • No: 48.87%

An eagle-eyed reader responded to last week’s poll question to point out that there’s an important distinction to be made between responding to negative social media comments and negative reviews of products or services. I couldn’t agree more — the two may seem similar at first glace, but they have very different response protocols.

When someone mentions you on a review site, they’re creating a much more permanent representation of their experience with your brand. These reviews are lasting, easy to find and something customers will seek out when they’re considering buying from you. Social comments are much more ephemeral, but in some ways can be more damaging, as they are more likely to influence the closer personal connections of the person leaving the comment and also have a higher potential for going viral.

In both cases, I’d recommend responding if you think the person making the complaint is a legitimate customer with a legitimate complaint — as opposed to an Internet troll who only wishes to be controversial for attention’s sake. However, the way you respond should fit the format. Because social comments are often ephemeral, I’d recommend reaching out to the customer via a non-social channel, such as e-mail. This allows you to make the customer feel special, while getting the complaint out of the public eye. With reviews on sites such as Yelp, it’s important that your response be durable. The best way to do this is to persuade the original reviewer to change their mind about your brand and offer a new review. Failing that, try rallying your existing fans to bury the bad review with positive comments.

In both cases, however, there’s one thing you never want to do: Get into a personal argument with a fan in a public arena. You, as a brand, can never win an argument against a customer. At best, you look like a bully in the eyes of everyone watching. At worst, you can come off as totally unhinged. If the complainer isn’t reasonable, you need to find a way to get their argument out of the spotlight, without stooping to their level.