Content Marketing

It’s Okay to Decline a Negative Comment

NegativeWhen I speak, as I did today, to an audience of business people curious about blogging, this is a statement that often turns a light bulb in their heads.

Yes. You can moderate comments. Yes. It’s okay to decline a negative comment. I recommend to all businesses to moderate comments. I also encourage those same businesses, though, to analyze the opportunity and risk associated with a negative comment. If it’s a constructive criticism that’s actionable or has been resolved by your company, it opens an awesome opportunity for you to show transparency and prove that you’re not only listening, but acting on your visitors’ criticisms.

It’s ironic that we all sit around telling people how open and transparent we wish businesses and our employers are… but when we’re in a position to be transparent, we often give it second thoughts. I believe there’s a scale to comments and user-generated content that needs to be closely monitored and analyzed:

  1. Mean Comments

    Some visitors will be downright mean, sarcastic, cynical and/or degrading. I’d encourage your business to respond to these people directly to defuse the situation and let them know that you simply won’t allow content like that on your site. I don’t think anyone would blame a business for declining a comment that has potential to do their business harm. It’s not about transparency at that point, it’s about protecting your business so your employees can continue in their livelihoods.

    That said, don’t ever decline the comment and move on like nothing happened. If a person had the audacity to insult you on your own website, they’ll have the audacity to insult you on their website, too. The opportunity for a business is to talk the person ‘off the ledge’. Even if you can’t rectify the situation, doing your best to defuse it is in your best interest.

  2. Critical Comments

    Some visitors will be critical of your opinion, product or service. This is a gray area where you can choose to decline the comment and let them know, or better – you can deal with the criticism publicly and look like a hero. You could also allow the comment to sit… many times people feel glad that they vented and move on. Other times, you’ll be surprised at the number of readers who will come to your defense!

    If it’s valuable criticism, perhaps you can have a conversation with the person that goes like this…

    Doug, I received your comment in my moderation queue and it really was great feedback. I’d rather not share this out on the site – I hope you understand – but your opinion means a lot to us and we’d like to get you on our customer advisory board. Would this be something you’re interested in?

    There are rewards and consequences for hiding negativity. Though you think you’re insulating your blog from negativity, you risk losing credibility with your readers – especially if they find out you’re consistently avoiding the negativity. I think it’s a careful balance but you’ll always come out on top when you can resolve the issue, or honestly explain your way through it.

  3. Positive Comments

    Positive comments will always be the majority of your comments…. trust me! It’s amazing how pleasant people are on the web. In the ‘young days’ of the web, the term used for writing a terrible email to another person was called ‘flaming’. I’ve not heard as much about folks being ‘flamed’ but I’m sure it still happens.

    The problem with ‘flaming’ is that your outburst in anger and negativity has a permanent place on the net. The Internet never seems to forget… someone, somewhere will be able to dig up your dirty comments. I’m sure I’ve left my share of negative comments out there, but these days I’m more in tune with maintaining a healthy reputation online. I believe most (sane) people are cognizant of their online reputation nowadays and will do their best to protect it.

    Case in point is John Chow’s unveiling of a maniacal, though shallow, plot of a blogger to use comments to dishonestly push business in his direction. John did a great job of investigating and proving the dishonesty of the blogger in question. John’s naming of his post is perfect… this blogger destroyed his own reputation. John just reported it!

Personally, I’ve run into bloggers who’ve flamed me on some of my posts. The reaction was amazing, most people didn’t pay attention to my criticism of them… they responded with disgust to the negativity of the ‘flamer’. On the other side of the coin, I’ve had a blogger (who’s quite well known) who skipped on his debt to me for a product I developed for him. He also avoided the collections agency I put on him.

I won’t ‘out’ him on my blog even though it’s very tempting. I simply believe that people will then look at me as a bully. I have faith that he’ll get what’s coming to him some day. The blogosphere tends to be a tight-knit network of friends and colleagues who cheer one another on. The ‘haters’ seem to be on the fringe, and the ‘flamers’ close behind.

Don’t put a lot of thought on the negativity on the web… the risks associated with your transparency are far outweighed by the benefits of networking and building authority and a reputation. And never forget that it’s okay to decline a negative comment.

9 Comments

  1. 1

    Good post, Doug. This is definitely a gray area that a lot of people don’t understand. The overall goal, of course, is to be smart (easier said than done, I know). Just because you *can* moderate comments and avoid negative ones doesn’t mean you should go wild and try to present an overly rosy picture of your organization, your products or your brand.

    In fact, addressing critical comments can be far more powerful than only showing off glowing remarks. It’s more realistic and it demonstrates strength and caring.

  2. 2

    Doug

    I’m not sure blocking out the#2 type, the critical comment is a good idea. Especially by saying that you don’t want to “share it out to the site – I hope you understand.”

    Frankly, no I don’t understand.

    And the invitation of join a Customer Advisory Board — what is that? A makeshift term that means nothing? What could be at most a monthly email asking one question? Or is it an actual Board that someone qualifies being on as a result of one negative comment? I would suspect that many would end up believing that such a ‘selection’ is just a way to delete a comment and be done with it.

    If an organization is going to delete an honest, well-written critical comment that is not “mean”, they should let that comment stand. Otherwise it is defacto censorship in this era of transparency.

    • 3

      Hi Jonathan, I think we’re on par with each other, perhaps I didn’t explain myself well enough. I’m definitely talking about business blogs and not general blogs. On a corporate blog I believe each critical comment needs to be properly evaluated to decide whether or not there is merit to publishing the comment.

      A comment such as, “I love your application but did you know that you can bypass your password process by doing x, y and z?”. It’s a constructive comment, and helpful, but hardly one you would want to post for the masses because it puts your business at risk.

      A customer advisory board is typically a group of ‘trusted’ customers who you call on regularly to evaluate your products and service to give advice. If you have someone who is critical of your company and leaves you constructive messages on your site, you should probably recruit them in this capacity.

      Whether or not you post the comment is up to you – I agree with you that, more often than not, publishing negative criticism CAN pay off in the long run if your business has faith in itself to resolve the issue.

      Thanks for adding to this conversation!

      • 4

        Hi Douglas

        I can’t say that I disagree with you, especially given your example, but I’m skeptical (not of your argument) of companies of that seemingly seem overjoyed to place people in some sort of advisory capacity as a means to shoo them away. I’ve been involved in politics and I see many overcontrol-the-message mentality to the point that it’s disappointing.

        That being said, disparaging comments should come with some sort of explanation. “Your product sucks” doesn’t work.

  3. 5

    I think you get to the heart of the “tranparency” issue in blogging. The same thing goes for moderating what your employees say in corporate blogs.

    I think there are two kinds of “transparency” that happen because of active corporate blogging:
    1. Genuine conversations with your customers.
    2. Personalized PR when you make a mistake.

    The first one is a real benefit of the rise of blogging. It’s easier to get feedback directly from your users, perhaps because people feel more comfortable writing something on their blog that they might not feel comfortable telling you on the phone or in your own feedback mechanisms. And if you can respond directly in comments or on your own blog, everybody wins.

    The second is the one that seems to be mistaken for actual transparency. If you admit “hey, we did make a mistake in that last release of our product” after everyone has already accused you of screwing something up, how is that really transparent? The main advantage seems to be that people take it easier on you because it’s an actual person writing the blog, not a faceless PR department. “We made a mistake. We’re only humans. We’re not evil. We tried. We’ll do better next time.”

    • 6

      It’s an excellent point! The opportunity in having a corporate blog is to lead the conversation and not react to it. I work with one vendor who had 2 outages lately and not a word of it was in their blog.

      I stopped reading their blog(s). It was clear that they didn’t want to be open and honest with me, they wanted to try to hide the issue. The optimal time for them to post would have been during the outage to let people know they were on top of it. Instead, they’ve lost all credibility with me.

  4. 7

    Doug – Great, great post. I sincerely believe that honesty, negativity, sincerity, etc. is poised to be one of the next explosive topics for individuals and corporations alike on the web.

    Based on my own experience, I’ve begun to work with people on the topic of managing their own “online reputations” or online “personal brands,” which is a part of this whole phenomenon. Reputation management is nothing new, but we are in an age of so much less control and the search engines mean that content – whether true or untrue – can literally last forever. Google’s algorithm, in particular, tends to reward popularity, not credibility which can obviously pose a problem for anyone who is public enough to draw attention and commentary.

    My message is always the same: control your own destiny on the web. Create your own digital personality, your own content. And – in the case of your post allowing people to NOT post comments that are clearly not meant honestly or authentically – I’d say that our messages fit together perfectly.

    Thanks for the post.

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