Sometimes negative responses are inevitable: You write a blog post based on your extensive research, and hit publish, thinking that it’s going to be exactly what your audience wants to read. And at first, the responses are positive, mostly kudos and thanks and a few thoughtful questions that spark discussion.
But then it happens. You get a nasty or rude comment. Having been brought up to believe that if you don’t have anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all, you ignore the comment and focus on the positive ones. It keeps eating at you though, and you lose sleep wondering if you should respond, and what you should say.
Negative Responses Happen
As any content producer will tell you, negative comments are part of the territory when it comes to posting your work online. It’s impossible to please everyone, and there will always be those who don’t like your writing style, disagree with your ideas, or have additional or different information about the topic. There are also those who enjoy causing trouble online, and make negative, insulting, or inflammatory comments simply for the purpose of getting a reaction from others.
While it would be great if everyone who saw your content loved it, that’s unrealistic. Accepting the reality of negative feedback is only the first part of the battle, though. How you respond to less-than-positive comments can affect your brand and influence how your audience views your work and engages with you and your content in the future.
Developing a Comment Policy
The first step to handling negative comments on your content is to develop a commenting policy. Clearly outline your expectations for comments, i.e., they are welcome, but they must not be spam, inflammatory, etc. You can set your own parameters as far as what is acceptable in terms of language or content, just make it clear and clarify the consequences of noncompliance. Let readers know what you will not tolerate (hate speech, for instance) and how you will respond. Reassure readers that you will only delete comments when the content is not in line with the rules, and that you will provide a warning.
Keep in mind that social media sites have their own policies regarding acceptable content, and your readers may do some of the work for you and report inappropriate or harassing comments for you. Otherwise, follow the same policy of not deleting comments and responding as much as possible.
Evaluating the Comment
Most experts agree that you should try to respond to as many comments as possible as a way to build engagement — and that includes the negative responses.
However, when you see criticism on your content, it’s easy to get defensive and want to respond as such. Before you say what you really want to say, though, evaluate the comment to determine what the person is actually saying. Are they making a valid point? Is it simply a disagreement? Are they looking for resolution to a problem? Or are they just being combative?
What To Do
In the case of a legitimate issue (you misstated some facts, made a number of proofreading errors, for example) the best course of action is to own up to your mistake, thank the commenter for their concern, and make corrections as best you can. Be polite and positive, and move on. This is especially important if you receive an especially aggressive comment, where it seems like the person leaving negative comments is just picking a fight. If there is a legitimate concern, address it, ignoring the rest of the message.
In the case of a disagreement or difference of opinion, acknowledge the point of view of the commenter, and reiterate your points. You aren’t trying to win an argument, just make your point. If the conversation begins to get heated, or other commenters are getting involved and adding fuel to the fire, offer to take the conversation offline or onto email, to settle the dispute.
When a person is unhappy and looking for resolution, it’s usually best to acknowledge the issue and ask the person to contact you privately so you can resolve the issue. Many companies, such as JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, and Time Warner Cable use this strategy effectively to handle negative responses on social media. Sometimes, you won’t hear from the reader, but if you do, you can resolve their issue privately and avoid unnecessarily involving others.
If someone is clearly looking to be argumentative, you have two options. One, you can ignore them, or two, you can respond positively by simply thanking them for their comment and apologizing for not meeting their expectations. If you can, responding with humor can be an effective way to shut down the troll.
Should You Moderate?
Many bloggers opt to moderate comments in an attempt to keep the trolls from overtaking their comments. Comment moderation is an effective way to limit spam, but it needs to be used sparingly or you risk being accused of censorship. Again, setting expectations and parameters for comments can help prevent unhappy commenters, and keep the comments constructive.
All content producers receive negative comments eventually. Don’t let them get you down, or ruin your day. Use the comments to help improve your content, and open the lines of communication with your audience — and never, ever, feed the trolls.