Techniques for Handling Negatives

In our previous post, Dealing With Negatives, we continued our series with a look at how to deal with negative comments. In this post, we examine some specific techniques for what to do when monitoring for negative comments.

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Techniques for Handling Negatives

If Nestlé had truly understood social media, the outcome might have been different. We recommend a few techniques for dealing with negatives below. However, we have different advice for dealing with the chronic negative poster, called a troll. We will cover this subject in the next post.

Monitor for Negatives

If your enterprise does nothing else with social media, you need to start monitoring for negatives. People are talking about you. You’ll never know what they’re saying unless you listen. We’ve got a whole section on monitoring in our book, “Be A Person.”

Forgive Negative Behavior

People are more likely to post when angry, and often a negative post is out of character for a community member. Consider ignoring the random negative post completely. In fact, our advice is, when in doubt, do nothing. An ill-considered response can set off an echo chamber of negative responses. If the negative behavior is persistent, but doesn’t rise to the level of troll behavior — a repetitive, mindless, attention-getting pattern — you may want to address it. But in general, the best course of action is often to ignore the behavior.

Engage and Clarify

People can seem more negative online due to the lack of visual cues. If you feel you must respond to a post, try starting out with a clarifying question. This not only ensures you understand the intent of the poster, engaging with them may get them to moderate their negativity.

Here’s a personal example. I responded to a tweet about a software package called Ektron:

@PROsocialmedia  re Ektron > Joomla — IMHO Ektron’s a toy and severely limited. We use Tridion and couldn’t be happ[ier]. And I like Joomla 2

Relatively soon after, within less than two hours, a guy from Ektron responded. He didn’t say, “You’re a jerk; we’re great.” He said, “I’d like to know more about your experience with our product.”

Now I was stuck. I hadn’t actually used the product, although I had evaluated it as part of a purchasing decision my organization was making. My brother had, however, sold and implemented the product, and that’s where I got the “toy” part of my post from. So, @ektronmatt had nicely called me out, and was interested in hearing what I had to say.

Great move. I felt I had to explain:

@ektronmatt  Most of my info is from my brother’s experience as a VAR. You guys had a serious MS-related bug that went unfixed for some time.

By engaging me, ektronmatt got me to be more specific about my post. In the meantime, a typo in my first post — “couldn’t be happy” instead of “couldn’t be happier” — attracted the attention of supporters of a competitive product, Tridion, the one we had actually selected. They retweeted — repeated to their followers — my post and said they assumed I meant “happier.”

Now I felt I needed to clarify that matter as well:

@puf  Heh! You’re right — happier, not happy. Praise, not a dig. In defense of Ektron, I have no direct experience. My brother was a VAR.

But I was still bugged about passing on a secondhand opinion — something that I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about if @ektronmatt had not engaged me. So I emailed my brother and asked him what he thought of Ektron’s latest release. He said it was very much better. Now I felt really bad at having made a snarky comment with old, secondhand information. Once again, this is all due to a single question @ektronmatt asked me, which took him all of 30 seconds to post.

@ektronmatt  re Ektron opinion — I asked my brother and he actually likes your new release; said the improvements look good. So, good on ya.

And that’s one way you can turn around negatives. Don’t attack. Clarify and probe. It won’t always turn out as positively as this incident did, but if you try to censor, quash, or attack negative posts, you’ll never have this kind of outcome.

Delete/Ban Only as a Last Resort

It’s hard to give you any hard and fast rules about when it’s OK to delete an offending post, or, for that matter, kick a member out of your community. All we can say is, this is really the last resort.

If you must take this type of action, we suggest you discuss the matter with your community. Try to enlist support for the action — and be sure your community governance rules have spelled out your ability to take the action beforehand.

We suggest starting by merely deleting an offending post. Document your action to the community. If a pattern of behavior requires another deletion, do that in the open, too. Show a pattern of behavior that supports the ultimate step: banning the individual from posting, or removing them from the community. This last step is best reserved only for trolls, which we discuss in the next post.

When managing a community, always remember what founding father Benjamin Franklin said, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”

Techniques for Handling Negatives is the 67th in a series of excerpts from our book, Be a Person: the Social Operating Manual for Enterprises (itself part of a series for different audiences). We’re just past page 211. At this rate it’ll be a long time before we get through all 430 pages, but luckily, if you’re impatient, the book is available in paper form at and you can save $5 using Coupon Code 62YTRFCV

See the previous posts What is Social Media?Social Sites DefinedWhy Social Media? How is Social Media Relevant to Business? First Steps Toward a Social Media Strategy, and Decide What Your Business Will Do About Social Computing, pt. 1

Next up: Dealing with Trolls