““Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” – Yoda, Star Wars

(Pardon my geekiness for a minute…I always hear Yoda’s voice in my head when I am talking about social media angst.)

We can’t talk listening and engagement without addressing one of the biggest fears – negative comments. The worst nightmare for anyone managing a blog or community response is when (not if) negativity will strike. Do not let this fear paralyze you from not engaging the non-ego boosting commentary.

Control, control, you must learn control

Here is some tough love. I know you have heard everyone say you have no control of what happens in social media. That is not entirely true. You cannot control what others will say about your organization, but you can control your actions. Do not use the myriad of social media channels and conversations as an excuse to ignore the negativity. If you ignore, the ant hill may become a mountain before you can blink. I am not trying to use this as a scare tactic to get you to jump into social media conversations; welcome to the new reality of business-customer relationships.

Responding to a negative comment by thanking the person for their feedback or requesting more details and context offline can greatly change the tone and direction of an unfavorable comment that could quickly spiral out of control. YOU control the response. If you respond with hostility or act defensive, be prepared for your actions to be mirrored and replicated. Keep your cool.

Ignore or engage?

Olivia Hayes of Ignite Social Media, shares how to handle negative comments. I strongly agree with Hayes that “A few negative comments are not going to be the undoing of your company, and in fact, can be a strong opportunity to prove yourself.” This list of tips is great, but I would also add:

  • Thank the responder - especially if the comment resides on your site, blog or community space. People no longer have to take their feedback to the organization…they can and are having the conversations elsewhere. Look at the situation from their perspective. If they took the time to comment about your company, they care. Care about the relationship you have and could have with them in the future if you just thanked them for their feedback and let them know they have been heard. Then, if possible, go one step further and act on their feedback. That will really speak volumes.
  • Request additional feedback – don’t close the gates once they open. This is a brilliant opportunity for you to gather further insights into the context of the issue and if the issue is isolated versus widespread. Do not just say you have an open forum, demonstrate that you do.

You were chosen to guide your company through the social media frontier or perhaps you are just following your own natural curiosity to learn more about social media, but one thing we have in common is that we have passion for what we do and the organization we represent. It is easy to let the adverse commentary offend or hit a bit too close to home that we become defensive. I ask you, again, keep your cool and take some time to reflect before response. In fact, if you don’t take the advice from me, take it from Jason Alba who wrote a guest post on this very topic on Chris Brogan’s blog.

May the force be with you

There are some battles you will never win. Over time, you will discover there are those commenters that are just in the space to stir the pot and are not seeking resolution or relationship. It will take time to identify these folks. They are few and far between in the larger scope of your community, but they do exist. Do not lock horns and engage in a battle of personalities. Address the issues and move on.

Do not forget that you are not alone in the social media space. In lieu of taking a defensive stance or addressing every issue, experiment by allowing your supporters to take up the flag and address the commenter or unreasonable negativity. These evangelists are a force to be reckoned with. Of course, this does not mean you can ignore and not engage all negative comments, but be aware that there are people who have got your back.

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Do not allow fear to strike down your social media initiatives. Fear can fester and lead to a much less desirable environment than one where you control your actions and gain valuable feedback from your community. Look at negative comments as an opportunity to learn more, tell your story and build long lasting relationships.

Additional Resources

Take a peek at the new Radian6 site and The Engaged Brand. Every month, we are tackling a new topic area in and around social media, complete with articles, podcasts, webinars, whitepapers, videos…all to help you get a handle on industry best practices. This month we are focusing on the foundations of listening and engagement. We have a lot of stuff to share with you! Snack on the items on the newly designed site and keep checking back here for more on listening and engagement from the Radian6 team and featured guest bloggers.