Moderating negative comments takes a one-on-one approach

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negative comments

There’s no science in responding (or not responding) to negative comments. Each one should be examined on a case-by-case basis.

Most social media community managers have dealt with this at one time or another: not-so-flattering comments about your organization or brand (I know I have).

This week, Justin has given us sample negative comments to respond to and explain how we would moderate them and why. In my responses, I will demonstrate the approaches I have used on-the-job at one time or another.

To a fast food chain:

“I am disgusted about the state of your store on 1467 Justin Kings Way. The counter was smeared in what looked like grease and the tables were full of trash and remains of meals. It makes me wonder what the state of your kitchen is?!!! Gross.”

My response/action: “Hello, I apologize that you found that location of our store in such a state. I can assure you that what you described is not in line with our standards of cleanliness. Could you please email me at amanda@fastfoodcompany.com so that I may collect more details about your visit to that location? Thank you!”

The rationale behind my response: Luckily when I worked in fast food, I didn’t have to worry about social media! All we had to deal with were telephone complaints! I want this customer (and others) to know we are listening and we do not shy away from criticism. However, I didn’t want to fully blame the store location for a dirty store without gathering more information from the manager of this location (the store may not have been dirty and the customer could just be making it all up). Bottom line, we need more information to fix a potential problem, which is why I wanted to get the customer off social media and get them talking to me one-on-one.

To a mainstream news network (let us assume the reporting was balanced, with equal time to both sides):

“Your reporting on the Middle East is biased in the extreme. You gave almost all your air time to spokespeople for the Israelis last night and there was no right to reply for the Palestinians. The conflict upsets me so much and your reporting of it, saddens me even more and makes me f**king furious.”

My response/action: “Thank you for your feedback. We will pass this along to our news managers. If you have any further questions/comments, feel free to email us at news@newsnetwork.com.” (Assuming this comment appeared on the news network’s Facebook wall, I would hide the comment after I responded to it, as I do not want to leave a comment containing profanity to remain on the news organization’s wall.)

The rationale behind my response: Since we are assuming for this exercise’s sake that the reporting is balanced, this is obviously the opinion of someone who doesn’t see it that way and probably has a personal stake in the conflict. I don’t want this person to think I am just hiding his or her comment, so that is why I would want to respond first and then tell them to send further comment to our general email address. If this person chose to email us, our management team could deal with this person and talk to them one-on-one about their concerns.

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Social media & website comments: Everything in moderation

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comment moderation

Expletives: Something you probably want to keep from showing up on your social media pages or website.

Depending upon the venue, whether it’s a social media channel or a website, comment moderation can be quite a different animal.

On social media sites, an entity like a brand or a news organization is like a tenant renting an apartment — they can make the space their own, but they are just “renting it” from that social media entity and the users.

This is why Justin said in this week’s lecture that we should take “a light touch” to comment moderation on social sites such as Facebook and I would have to say I agree. However, some moderation has to be involved as people will still see your brand’s Facebook page belonging to your brand and not really see the distinction that your brand is simply using Facebook.

A great feature of Facebook’s that I have utilized in my professional career is the ability to “hide comments.” Facebook’s swear word filter usually does a great job of not allowing those profanity-laced comments to show up, but sometimes they do. If I see a comment containing profanity, racist or sexual language, I will hide the comment. It will no longer show up on our page, but the user whose comment was hidden doesn’t know their comment is hidden.

This is the BIG distinction between Facebook and Twitter: You can’t hide Tweets if they have inappropriate language. The only way Tweets can go bye-bye is if the user who created the Tweet deletes it. All you can do is respond to the Tweet and hope that person with the question or concern “retweets” or “favorites” your Tweet.

On your business’ website, however, it’s a different story. People have to play by your rules because to use your site, they probably had to agree to your business’ terms and conditions. So if someone posts something that your entity deems to be against its terms and conditions, you can remove it.

Whether on social media or your website, however, sometimes you’re going to run into a sticky ethical wicket where you’re not quite sure how to respond — perhaps the commenter says something libelous or asks a question that you’re not sure how to answer.

Like Justin said, this is when you should move it up the chain to your manager and ask them how to handle it and I totally agree with this point as well. Some comments have an easy, clear-cut response and some do not. Two heads are better than one and it is better when that other head is your manager. This way, everyone knows what is going on and can head off potential issues before they become larger issues.

How would I handle ‘United Breaks Guitars’

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Let me just start by saying: If a customer is so far at their wit’s end in dealing with your company’s customer service that it inspires them to write a whole song, you’re doing something very, very wrong.

The job of customer service is to keep a customer satisfied with the company and its product, which will prompt that customer to share their satisfaction with their friends and family and then continue on with their life. Not write a song, much less three, like Dave Carroll did about United Airlines breaking his guitar. Here’s the first song that started it all:


So, I’m going to pretend that the United Airlines customer service team put has Carroll through the wringer for a year, leading him to write this song (not so difficult to imagine!). Let’s also pretend that I’m an online reputation manager for United in 2009, when the video was first posted, and it hasn’t gotten 14 million page views over the past (nearly) five years yet.

First, I would comment on the YouTube video and say something like this: “Dave, I apologize that you have been going through this ordeal in trying to get your guitar fixed. Please email me at amanda@united.com so that I may get this issue fixed for you once and for all.” This YouTube comment will not only show Dave that we are listening, but other potential customers as well. We want to gain Dave’s trust back and keep the trust of our other customers.

To be sure Dave saw my message, I would track down his contact information (which can easily be found by going to the website he lists at the beginning of his video) and essentially reiterate the overall message in the YouTube comment: that we are sorry, that we are listening and that we are ready and willing to fix the problem. Once I got a hold of him, I would get to the heart of what he REALLY wants. He’s past the point of wanting compensation at this point, especially because Taylor Guitars gave him some new axes. What he really wants is an apology, and a promise that our policies will change for current and future customers.

A great way to convey our response to Dave and our commitment to our other customers would be to make a YouTube video of our own, perhaps a song. Asking Dave to work with us on creating a song would be a great way of fostering good will with Dave and restoring our customers’ faith in us. We would work to make Dave a brand evangelist of ours instead of the opposite.

It all comes down to taking care of customers correctly the first time, and a social media reputation manager can help in doing that by sounding the first alarm. After all, in hindsight, wouldn’t United much rather have paid $1,200 in flight vouchers to Dave and just have that bad publicity never happen?

British Airways, learn from KLM and have a 24/7 social media hub

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Desperate times call for desperate measures and apparently, that’s how Hasan Syed felt after British Airways lost he and his father’s luggage.

He bought a series of sponsored tweets in September 2013 (not really THAT long ago) so everyone could see his frustration with the airline:

Sponsored, for lots to see on Twitter.

Sponsored, for lots to see on Twitter.

In lecture this week, Justin asked us, ethically, what is the right thing for British Airways to do in response to this situation? I would venture to say that their customer service department shouldn’t have let the situation percolate to the point that Syed felt compelled to blast out a complaint Tweet.

But it happened, there’s no taking it back, or BA’s super-delayed response, which the company said was because the BA Twitter account is only manned from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. GMT. (BA, maybe you should invest in a social media hub like KLM!) Their next step was the right move (reaching out to Syed to solve the issue privately, off of social media). However, BA showed its continued social media ineptitude in the process. Check out this exchange between Syed and BA:

british airways syed

Ouch! Does BA know how to check if someone is following them?

Justin also asked us how British Airways should pacify Syed: complain to Twitter (no), grovel (no) or offer him compensation? You would think this last one would be the way to go, but Syed Tweeted just a day after his promoted tweets that he was “not interested in compensation.” I think that’s about right; I think that a man who spends $1,000 on promoting Tweets doesn’t really want money; he just wants his luggage back. And if he can’t get that, at least some competence on the part of the company in trying to locate the luggage.

If British Airways complained about the situation on Twitter, it would just make them look bad to Syed and all their other customers. And groveling to Syed would just make the airline look even more pathetic to Syed and all their other customers.

Turning the question on its head, was Syed ethical in his decision to put BA on blast like that? Granted, BA was probably not too pleased with the way it made them look, but Syed did what he felt he had to do. It all comes down to that age-old saying “the customer is always right.”

However, it would be interesting to know the ins and outs of Syed’s customer service situation with BA. Syed says he didn’t invent #complaintvertising, yet he puts other companies, like Square, on blast on Twitter. So why didn’t he take out ads against them. Like I said, it would be interesting to see/hear the private exchanges between Syed and BA to see if his actions were legit, or if he’s just a chronic complainer. What do you think?

Honey Maid’s social media voice is ‘wholesome’ and full of ‘love’

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honey maid 1991

What Honey Maid probably looked like when I was a kid.

When I was very young, probably about three or four, my Papa (my mom’s dad) would make me “Graham Crackers and Milk.” That’s literally all it was — just graham crackers, placed in a bowl with milk poured over them — and it was, and still is, delicious. Papa didn’t use just any graham crackers, he used Honey Maid graham crackers. A fact that was burned into the back of my brain for some reason, but one that I didn’t really think much of — until recently.

About three months ago, Honey Maid released its “This is Wholesome” commercial, which features a gay couple and their family, a tattooed dad and his family and an African-American family with a military veteran dad. Most commenters on Facebook and Twitter who had vitriol to spew focused it on the two dads and their two boys featured in the commercial. (Watch it below.)


I’m not going to talk about the content of the negative comments. That is another discussion for a non-social media strategy-focused blog. However, I would like to analyze what Honey Maid did with those negative comments.

Most social media/community editors and managers out there would agree with me in saying that when negative comments comments come rolling in on the social media page you’re managing, it can be very discouraging. When most folks are composing these negative comments directed to a brand/business page, they are probably not thinking that another human being is reading their comments. I’ve noticed on a lot of brand pages, negative comments are either responded to one by one or not at all.

Honey Maid could have done that, and it would have been fine. But they took their response to negative comments a step further and created another piece of viral content in the process. A month after the “This is Wholesome” commercial release, two artists commissioned by the graham cracker giant used the negative comments, buttressed by the positive comments, in a pretty neat art project. I’m sure you’ve seen it by now, but if you haven’t, take a look.


As the social media frenzy over the #ThisIsWholesome campaign and Honey Maid’s subsequent “Love” response was happening two months ago, I was taken back to my first experience with Honey Maid as a kid.  My organic nostalgia sprung up as a result of the way Honey Maid first listened, then responded, on social media. The one-two punch of “This is Wholesome” and “Love” made me realize how long this brand has been a part of my life and it wasn’t because they were self-promotion-y about it. They created a moment.

This is an important lesson for all of us who are trying to manage a social community, that sometimes it’s OK to take a beat and really think about how to respond properly. We don’t want to ignore people, but we also want to respond constructively and Honey Maid did that, literally and figuratively.

KLM: Taking it to the social media house

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I don’t think I’ve seen a company put its money where its mouth is and actually deliver on social until this week’s lecture about KLM (a.k.a. Royal Dutch Airlines) and its Twitter account.

On the KLM Twitter cover photo, the company offers a pretty big and bold promise:

klm twitter promise

Wow, that’s a pretty quick response! Wish all vendors were that quick (or responded at all) on social media.

My first thought was, “how can they do that?” but I’m pretty sure I know the answer: They put resources into it. Resources in this case equal people because I don’t think we’ve created robots or software that are THAT good at social listening — yet. One of our reading assignments this week is to read about KLM’s social media strategy, so I’ll be excited to dive into that and learn more of the intricacies of how they actually are able to be on social for their customers 24/7/365.

This week’s lesson, “Relationships and the Human Voice,” puts a lot of emphasis on treating our customers like human beings, in essence, treating social relationships like real-life relationships. Isn’t part of being in a relationship being there for the other person pretty much any time they need you? In lecture, Justin used the example of starting a conversation with someone and then just walking away — you wouldn’t do that in real life, would you? I’ll take that one step further: If a customer was standing at your counter with a question, concern, complaint, or wanting to buy something, would you ignore them or take care of them? You would take care of them because your livelihood depends on it. So why are so many businesses leaving potential customers unattended at the social media counter?

I realize not every company can afford to allocate resources into having a social media army ready to respond to anyone within 18 minutes. But guess what? They should still respond as soon as possible. Don’t leave a customer hanging out to dry if they really need help or have a question, or even worse, if they are pissed off. Social media responding and listening needs to be a lot more important to a lot more companies than it currently is.

Amazon Help, Brewers’ Caitlyn Moyer have my social media trust

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When I reach out to brands or well-known individuals on Twitter or other social media, I don’t usually expect a response. Partly because I know that the brand or individual is probably is getting inundated with tweets and wall posts and it is unlikely they will see mine, and partly because I don’t want to get my hopes up. So when I do get a response, I am pleasantly surprised.

Amazon Help
This past weekend, I got one such response from Amazon’s customer service account, @AmazonHelp. I didn’t even tweet that account; I tweeted the main @Amazon account. But Amazon was doing some social listening and responded to my fun tweet:

amazon responds to me on twitter louis c.k.

I wasn’t making a complaint, I was simply making a fun observation and Amazon was agile enough to be fun as well. The fact that they are initialing their tweets is pretty cool, showing that there is an actual person and not a “robot” on the other end. However, if I go to the account, I can’t figure out who “CW” is, so they may want to address that.

Amazon has not just gained my trust through social — they have done that by delivering the products I’ve ordered correctly and on time. However, they do promote goodwill about their product (in this case, Amazon Instant Video) by responding to my tweets in such a fun manner. So essentially, their social efforts supplement and support their positive brand image, which will keep me patronizing their business (as if I could resist Amazon!)

Caitlyn Moyer (Milwaukee Brewers)
Another source I greatly trust, Caitlyn Moyer (@cmoyer), follows Steve Rayson’s social media trust formula to a tee. In case you forgot/don’t know it, it’s Trust = Authority x Helpfulness x Intimacy / Self-Promotion.

Me in my Brewers baby bib.

Me in my Brewers baby bib.

Moyer is the Milwaukee Brewers’ director of new media. The Brewers and I go way, way back (see photo to the left).

Since I am geographically far away from my team (as I moved from my home state of Wisconsin to Florida several years ago), I rely on social media to follow how my team is doing, what’s going on with the players and what’s new at Miller Park (the team’s stadium).

When I’ve tweeted the team account, @Brewers, with a question or comment, I would periodically get a response from Caitlyn’s account (Helpfulness). I not only trust her because of her role with the team (Authority), but because of the great content she and and John Steinmiller (@jstein1981) produce on their “John & Cait … Plus 9” blog (Intimacy). (Notice the lack of self-promotion?)

Caitlyn’s responses to my questions cement my relationship with the team so that I may continue on as a loyal brand evangelist.

Here’s an example of a recent exchange between me and Caitlyn. I included her in my comment because I thought if the Brewers’ account didn’t see my response, she probably would:

caitlyn moyer brewers

Caitlyn Moyer of the Brewers responds to my question — pretty darn quick too!

I am grateful for the sources I feel I can trust on social media. The world is so big and it’s great that social media bridges that gap. Not everyone out there is fake on social media and it is possible to develop a trusted relationship without meeting someone in person.

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