How Should You Respond To Negative Comments On Social Media?

This excellent question was raised in one of our recent webinars and it’s definitely an important point to consider in your social media marketing strategy.

So, what should you do with negative comments on social media? Ignore them? Apologise? Argue with the poster?

Your response depends completely on the nature of the comments and the specific situation. The context will, of course, be something only you and your institution can really understand, but before we go through our tips…

First things first, should you reply to criticism?

In a word: Yes.

It’s impossible to evade criticism nowadays; there are simply too many review sites for you to keep anything quiet. Word-of-mouth recommendations mean so much more than they used to pre-internet because one harsh comment can spread around the globe instantly.

If someone criticises your institution, it’s important to respond and to respond constructively. Not only is this good customer service, but it also reassures anyone who stumbles on these comments that you do care and that you actively try to resolve negative situations.

In addition, leaving criticism without a reply merely serves to reinforce their statement.

How should you respond to criticism?

Again, this is totally dependent on the situation. There are a number of different options.

You can:

  • Reply publicly
  • Reply privately
  • Be serious
  • Use humour

Publicly vs. privately

Replying ‘privately’ doesn’t mean completely privately, it just means carrying out most of the conversation through direct messages rather than on public posts. It’s a brilliant tool for people who are abusive, or for sensitive matters.

To take this route, reply publicly that you’re sorry for their experience and that you’ve sent them a private message so you can resolve the situation.

For smaller issues and, hopefully, less irate people, replying publicly is a great way to show what a helpful institution you are. If a situation seems like it can be resolved easily and it doesn’t look like it will escalate, doing so in the public sphere can also be a good way to promote your customer service skills.

The other major occasion in which you should reply publicly is if the person has made unfounded allegations against your institution. You don’t want to leave those kinds of comments hanging around without a rebuttal.

In these situations, you can either converse entirely in public, or you can offer a rebuttal of their allegations and ask if they’d like to speak privately to resolve the matter. Use your judgment to work out which method would work best.

Serious vs. humorous

Humour can be a perfect way to show the lighter side of your institution. Be careful though, as it’s only appropriate in certain situations and you have to be sure your use of humor will go down well.

Analyse the tone of voice in the criticism that’s been made and decide if it’s a person who might respond well to humor or if it’s the kind of comment to which the rest of your audience would appreciate a humorous comment.

If in doubt, stick with a serious response; it’s difficult to go wrong with that.

Just make sure that you’re never abusive, even if the person posting is. Always keep the high-ground, as responding emotionally or aggressively will make your institution look childish and petty, and that’s surely not the image you’re trying to cultivate.

Take a look at this example from a US restaurant:

Facebook post

The comment is awful, but the response is even worse. Regardless of whether her allegations were unfounded, being rude just makes you look petty and childish. One negative comment wouldn’t necessarily stop people visiting this establishment, but that response certainly might.

Deleting comments

Never, ever delete negative comments.

It’s unlikely to make the person go away, and it may just incentivize them to post more. Negative social media contact isn’t something you can erase.

If you’re unsure about this point, take a look at Applebee’s recent Facebook meltdown, in which a situation was made significantly worse when it tried to disguise and erase criticisms posted to the restaurant chain’s page.

Some guides recommend asking posters to remove their comments after you’ve solved the situation. Generally speaking, however, there’s no real harm in leaving resolved issues on your profile, if anything this shows your willingness to rectify problems.

If you do decide to go down that route, make sure you’ve fully resolved the problem first – no one is going to remove a complaint which hasn’t been dealt with.

Should you take a moral stance?

Whilst this is your decision, universities are often perceived as embodying certain principles in society and, by extension, they ought to be seen defending those principles.

Having the appearance of an institution which is willing to take a stance is good for prospective applicants. After all, the very best universities challenge their students and thrive on open debate and discussion.

Of course, taking a moral stance can split your audience, but it can also create a much stronger following.

American Airlines is a good example of this. Last year they were questioned by a customer as to why they’d changed their profile picture to a rainbow flag. They replied that it was in support of Pride Month, leading to the customer articulating his dissatisfaction with that decision.

This was their response:

American Airlines tweet

The company’s response is perfect, choosing not to argue without detracting from its moral cause. American Airlines is sorry he’s disappointed, but that’s it.

But once again, whether you do this or not depends on the values of you and your institution. It’s worth working out a set of guidelines for your social media staff, so you can present a common image.

Not everything will be tagged

The thing about social media is that you can’t necessarily wait for someone to contact you, quite often customers won’t use your @handle in tweets or post comments directly onto your Facebook page.

It’s therefore advisable to check searches for your university periodically and respond to any feedback accordingly, even if it isn’t actively directed at you.

When it comes to negative comments, this approach shows that you’re willing to foster a conversation and actively seek to solve issues. With positive comments, it offers a great way to interact with happy customers and build up a better image for your brand.

Hopefully, these examples will have given you a good base in how to respond to negative criticism online. Always bear in mind that social media is a two-way form of communication and not just another outlet for your promotional materials and content. To maintain a successful presence, you need to make sure you’re part of the conversation.

For more tips on reaching prospective students, check out our blog post on social media marketing in higher education.


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