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Viral Rage

How to handle negative comments on social media

You receive a notification that someone has left a message on your business’ social media page. When you visit your page to take a look, your heart sinks. The person is angry-he is upset about poor customer service and is telling his followers and your followers. Worse yet, you notice that his comment seems to have taken a life of its own. Followers are sharing the post with their friends and commenting as if the poor service happened to them.

Social media complaints spread like wildfire

This type of anger is common on social media, according to Ryan C. Martin, chair of the psychology department at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. An avid social media user, Martin has studied angry social media comments and why people take to social media to complain. He discussed his research with a Northeast Wisconsin Public Relations Society of America audience earlier this year.

What he found may surprise you:

  • First, he says, complaining on social media relaxes many people. He found that 46 percent of Twitter® users tweet as a way to deal with anger, providing them with a sense of relief.[1] And, more than one-third of those people admit they want the person or business they are complaining about to see the post.
  • Second, anger is a highly viral emotion. Studies done both in China and the United States show that anger on social media spreads quickly.[2] Posts tend to set off a chain reaction of sharing that significantly widens the audience. Researchers found only posts that trigger awe are shared more.

This chain reaction, Martin says, validates the post author’s feelings. ‘Social media reinforces us in ways other forms of communication don’t,’ he said.

How to handle social media complaints

So, what should you do when your business is the target of a nasty social media complaint? We have 5 tips to help stop the spread of social media anger:

  1. Determine whether the complainer has valid points or is what many people call a ‘troll.’ [3] Trolls are those who frequently complain on social media about a variety of people and businesses. Trolls are best left alone.
  2. Take time to respond – but not too much time. Firing off an immediate response generally means you are responding to emotion with emotion. Instead, take at least an hour to formulate a response. While developing your post, keep these things in mind:
  • Put yourself in his or her shoes. Understand why the person is upset. ‘Listen’ to what the post is really saying.
  • Address the person by name.
  • Be honest.
  • Acknowledge valid points.
  • Apologize if you feel it’s necessary. If you’re going to apologize, truly apologize. Saying something like, ‘We’re sorry we did not meet your expectations,’ is not an apology.
  • Above all, be conversational. A response full of formality will sound insincere and could make the complainant even angrier.
  • If you feel more comfortable taking the conversation offline, ask. A post that says, ‘I’d like to talk with you further about your experience. Please email or call me (insert contact information)’ is an acceptable response.
  • Finally, do not delete negative comments. Acknowledging-rather than hiding-complaints does more to improve your business’ reputation.

Dealing with negative comments on social media is never easy. By following these tips, you can feel more confident that you’ve handled a tough situation with finesse.


[1] Liebert Pub

[2] What Emotion Goes Viral the Fastest?

[3] How to Handle Negative Feedback in Social Media Like a Pro

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