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To respond or not to respond to social media

Considering that more than 80% of social media posts that reference a brand or company are going to be negative in tone, you cannot afford to ‘put your head in the sand’ and ignore what is going on digitally. For the same reason, you should never ignore the positive posts that get out there as these are significant opportunities to take advantage of as a brand.

Social and digital media should be given the same amount of priority a business once gave letters to the editor of newspapers and talkback callers on radio. A flippant letter to the editor or an outraged talkback caller can quickly become the story of the day so companies have always dealt with this kind of negative press appropriately. Social media commentary has the potential to be more damaging in this sharing community we live in today because it is easily distributed and often anonymous.

Negative social media posts have the ability to go viral very quickly, particularly if the post is sexist, morally questionable, vilifying or threatens a minority. Very few posts will get the energy required to get to viral stage because of the abundance of outrage you need for that to happen. All businesses large and small need to address every post on its merits. There is the issue of trolls who are persistent naysayers and critics of all things on social media, but they also need to be addressed accordingly.

The very nature of digital outrage can be turned around if you react with the right response. Don’t lie, respect your audience and take on board what they are saying. If someone has bothered to write something about you then this is an opportunity to learn and turn this attitude around. Negative social media posts cannot be turned around if you dismiss and ignore. In fact, a wonderful opportunity will have been lost if you refuse to listen to what your audience is saying. The ability for a company to deal with a negative response says more about them than what it says when dealing with positive commentary.

Top 5 tips on dealing with negative social media

  1. Refer to your social media strategy plan. If you don’t have one, get one.
  2. Listen to your detractors. Do not ignore, dismiss, or think that this will just go away.
  3. Respond appropriately to the cause of the outrage with empathy. Don’t add more fuel to the fire with an immediate, ill-thought out response.
  4. Communicate honestly and quickly to the complainant online and offline.
  5. Execute an individual action plan, aligned with your social media strategy plan, that will resolve the problem.

In today’s digital sharing world, you have to be appropriately responsive to negative feedback and celebrate the positive comments. Jay Baer, the world’s best digital marketer and author of Hug your Haters says “we can learn a lot from the negative commentary but praise teaches us nothing.” That may be so, but positive feedback sure does give us the road map to understanding how we can create and develop more promoters and advocators out there on social media.

Dealing with negative social media content is sometimes easier than dealing with positive commentary, because most companies are prepared and expecting the negative. But what if people are being nice, applauding or praising you for your actions? It does happen now and then and engaging with this sort of feedback can be a very rewarding experience for any business.

Some will tell you to remain magnanimous and just let the warm and fuzzy social media posts flow through. But that is a missed opportunity for any brand or company. If you have a positive agent out there in the social media world, celebrate and acknowledge their feedback. Get to know and understand what has driven them to provide such a positive response and see if this can be replicated across your other media platforms.

Top 5 tips on dealing with positive social media

  1. Share any genuine and authentic post far and wide on as many digital platforms as possible.
  2. Make contact with that person, engage them and thank them privately for the commentary.
  3. Get to know your positive promoter. What motivates them to post a positive post?
  4. Reward their positive post with relevant products or services if the post warrants this.
  5. Share this positive feedback with staff, management, suppliers and clients via your own platforms of communication.


Business and industry need to understand what motivates a person to post a positive comment on a social media platform as much as they need to get to the root of the problem with a negative post. If you listen closely, you will better understand your critics and your biggest fans. This kind of intelligence and research is the foundation for any company to understand how they can build a stronger brand online.

Nicholas Hayes is the Managing Director of Media Stable and co-host of communications podcast Brand Newsroom.

More information on this topic: Nic Hayes and Sarah Mitchell interview digital marketer and author of Hug Your Haters Jay Baer as their guest on communications podcast Brand Newsroom.


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