Negative feedbackNo one likes to be criticised.

However, receiving negative feedback is an inevitable element of online activity. Now, learning how to accept criticism is no easy feat, but what we can offer you is some advice on how to deal with it online.

Your mother was right when she said you cannot please everyone, but what matters most is not what they say but how you respond. So we have enlisted the help of the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) to help you soothe those confounding commenters and get you back on track.

Develop a process and policy

You should treat complaints handling with the same diligence and care as you would any other aspect of your business. This means creating a policy or procedure for responding to both good and bad feedback.

According to CMI: “You want documentation that states who handles what type of feedback, and who is accountable for generating the response and continuing the engagement with the individual.” Determine response times, designate team members and stick to the script. By having a procedure in place you will be able to convey a consistent voice to your audience and make the whole process smoother.

Set parameters for your commenters

Just as you need a plan in place for responding, there should be a system in place before your audience can press submit. By establishing boundaries, you can make it clear to your audience what is not acceptable and will keep your comments section a friendly and inclusive space.

So set up some house rules or a code of conduct. We suggest that comments must add to the conversation and be written with a degree of mutual respect. Disagreements may occur, but they must not be abusive, contain profanities or otherwise make your other audience members feel uncomfortable. Also, make it clear that spam will be deleted or blocked.

Classify negative feedback

Now, having systems in place does not mean negative comments will disappear. The comments themselves do not matter too much, as it is how you handle them that will make you memorable. The key is mastering your response.

No two comments or commenters are the same, so set up a system to classify the common types and work out a plan to respond to each. Using the model developed by Simply Measured, there are four categories:

  • Bluster: Blusters are confused and chaotic comments that come from an often times frustrated and ineloquent commenter. The lack of clarity does not reflect a lack of direction though, you just need to dig a little deeper to root out the problem.
  • Pressing: These are comments you need to respond quickly to as they are usually indications of a more serious problem. It could encompass a factual error, loading problems, issues with readability, sign ups or broken links. Either way, act fast.
  • Disgruntled: Disgruntled commenters tend to get a little meaner. They are angry and will usually tell you at length and in great detail about exactly what. You may not be able to reason with them, either.
  • Constructive: This is the most desired type of all negative feedback because it is constructive, often helpfully pinpointing the problem – whether you have missed a point or contradicted yourself – and listing where the changes need to be made.

Respond

Now you are ready to respond. A good response will include three core attributes:

  1. Thank them for taking the time to contact you
  2. Apologise for the inconvenience (if applicable)
  3. A solution to (or at least an acknowledgement of) the problem

Industry leaders say that it is vital to respond to every message, but realistically this is not always possible. Respond to as many as you can (around 90%) but always respond to negative feedback. Try not to delete the comments unless it is absolutely necessary as it may reflect just as badly on you.

You should respond and help as much as you can, but equally, it is important to realise when a situation is beyond repair.

Moreover, with the boom in internet culture comes the occasional Troll. Instead of hiding under a dusty old bridge, these modern day trolls lurk in comment sections and love nothing more than to annoy. If the commenter is deliberately antagonising you or your audience or simply not contributing anything of value, you are absolutely and fully allowed to leave that conversation.

Don’t take it personally

It is easier said than done, we know – your blog, business or platform is your baby and a criticism of it feels like censure on yourself. Allow yourself some time and space before responding if need be. Elsa is right, you have to let it go.

Listen to concerns, rectify the situation, apologise when necessary and offer alternatives or solutions. Always thank them for their time and comments (even if you do not agree with them!).

As Sartre said, “freedom is what we do with what is done to us”. So remember, every comment is an excellent opportunity for engagement, regardless of what the content actually is. Perfect your response and as CMI notes “the better your response, the more respect you’ll gain from the community overall”.

Ben Hollom

August 4, 2016