The good, bad and ugly of managing criticism online


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Tips for managing criticism online

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  • Step 1: Monitor

    Two goals: Risk management, Research / Preparation for social media campaign

    Be aware – What if someone was saying something bad about you or your team and you just didn’t know it?

    Monitoring is also a critical step to preparing for effective engagement

    You wouldn’t just walk into a cocktail party full of people you didn’t know and start talking to thin air while plugging your ears. That’s the equivalent of opening a social media account and filling it with messages without reading or responding to the messages of others first
  • I could spend all our time together giving advice on how to engage in social networks and online communities, but that’s not what this presentation is about. So, I’ll give you a few quick tips…

    Outline your goals for engagement (name recognition, expert positioning, relationships cultivation, referrals, clients, development)

    Take it one network / community at a time

    Take advantage of the tools available online to help

    Be patient and expect some frustration at the beginning

    Listen first, engage second

    Be yourself, mixing personal and professional as comfortable and appropriate
  • Before we start, a little advice:

    It’s not as bad as it feels, I promise.

    As in “real life” negative comments online often say more about the commentor than the commented
  • Review categories

    Conducting this evaluation yourself can be difficult. I recommend getting someone else involved to ensure you’re not be overly sensitive nor looking through rose-colored glasses.
  • My general recommendations, with respect to each category, include:

    Straight problems: Acknowledge them and explain what’s being done to address them or add context for the reader (i.e., I know it seems odd that we do that, here’s why…); Where you uncover and solve an issue raised online, shout that from the rooftops

    Constructive criticism: Thank the commenter and let them know you’ll consider their suggestion; Be wary of engaging in online debates related to suggestions (it’s difficult not to come off as looking defensive), but consider offering one-on-one interactions where merited by the situation (i.e., direct messages, or heck, even pick up a phone); if a new process is adopted as a result, consider promoting that online as well

    Merited Attack: Acknowledge, empathize and inform about what you’re doing to address the issue

    In responding:

    Always stay positive – Even (in fact, especially) when responding to negative criticism. It’s crucial to remain positive and professional to protect your reputation. If you allow yourself to be drawn into the negativity, you will lose the fight not only with the negative commenter, but more importantly, with everyone else listening to the conversation. That includes attempts at humor, irony or sarcasm, which will only incite further negativity and rarely come across as intended online.
  • For trollers / Spammers / Just plain bitter…

    Ignore – Though it can be hard to swallow, it’s almost always the best strategy. Comments in this category often say more about the commentor than you.

    Also, in some cases, the community will come to your defense and it’s unnecessary for you to descend into the fray.

    If necessary, you can consider an indirect response. For example, when someone is repeatedly posting inaccurate information, you could re-post the accurate information to the network, but not in the string with the commenter and without referring to them at all. This avoids acknowledging the irrational comments directly, but does provide accurate information for those who may need it.

    In the most severe cases, you should consider requesting the removal of comments. Many social networks have policies against allowing abusive exchanges on their networks or information that could be perceived as defamatory or libel. If you feel comments are veering into this category, consider contacting administrators to have it removed.
  • A note about comment management

    If it’s your own network, you can moderate comments and prevent some from being viewed by the network.
    For abusive, inappropriate comments, “reject” away.
    For critical, non-supportive comments, however, I encourage you to allow them and respond to them publicly.

    Case study: Apple’s forums censored posts about the iPhone4’s issues with antennas and reception. The result was that consumers took their complaints to more public forums. The lesson – If you don’t let issues be heard “inside the house,” they’ll be taken “outdoors.”

    Networks that are “too rosy” are easy to spot. As a result, they lose credibility and generally don’t attract a lot of visitors, which means they likely won’t achieve your goals for hosting them in the first place.


    Yes, you can sue people for online comments. However, it’s very difficult to win, will cost you a lot of money and will do nothing to address the real issue, which is what everyone else on that network thinks of you.

    It can also turn a non-issue into a BIG issue, like it did for a realty company in Chicago who sued a tenant with 20 followers on Twitter for this Tweet: “Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s OK.”

    After Horizon filed suit for defamation, the situation attracted global attention from the Associated Press, Chicago Tribune and other major news outlets. News of the situation also now dominates search engine results for the company. So, not only are you unlikely to win, you could drag your own reputation through the mud in attempting to do so.
  • This is the most important step in this process.
    When you engage online, you want to say something meaningful and valuable to your audience.
    When you do that, you open yourself up to criticism and you will receive it.
    Don’t let that scare you away.
    Your clients and contacts don’t expect to search you online and find nothing but “Stacy is awesome!” comments all over the place. In fact, as a consumer, I want someone I believe will be a tough negotiator and a savvy business person, so a little conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
    What consumers do expect is to see is evidence that when you’re challenged, you respond in an informed, positive, professional manner. That’s a professional they want to work with.
  • The good, bad and ugly of managing criticism online

    1. 1. …of managing criticism online Starring: Stacy Armijo, Pierpont Communications
    2. 2. Five Steps to Managing Criticism 1. Monitor 2. Engage 3. Evaluate 4. Respond, or not 5. Repeat
    3. 3. Step #1: Monitor • Be aware • Prepare to engage
    4. 4. Step #2: Engage • Outline your goals for engagement • Add one network / community at a time • Take advantage of online tools to help • Be patient, expect some initial frustration • Listen first, engage second. • Be yourself, mixing personal and professional
    5. 5. Step #3: Evaluate
    6. 6. Categories • Straight Problems – Valid issue with a product or service. • Constructive Criticism – Complaint comes with a suggestion; often from your most loyal customers • Merited Attack – Though the method is an attack, the issue in question is valid. • Trolling/Spam/Just Plain Bitter – Just angry; includes spammers who use negative comments about you to promote a competitor.
    7. 7. Step #4: Respond • Straight problems = Acknowledge, explain, promote • Constructive criticism = Thank, consider, inform • Merited attack = Acknowledge, empathize, inform In all cases • Always stay positive • Remember your audience (hint, not the commenter) • Avoid humor, irony or sarcasm
    8. 8. …Or not • For comments in the “trolling / spammers / just plain bitter” category, the appropriate response in almost all cases is…nothing. • Purely negative comments say more about the commentor than the commented • Let the community defend you • Respond indirectly if absolutely necessary • In extreme cases, involved network admins
    9. 9. If you’re thinking of “going nuclear”
    10. 10. Step #5: Repeat