Handling Negative Criticism Online

As a successful company, you’ll always run into people who will criticize you or will have had a bad experience with your products or services. It’s just a fact of being successful and running a large business that can’t be helped. The problem is that, today, a handful of people can ruin your reputation or dissuade potential customers from doing business with you through just a few strokes of the keyboard. The Internet is great because it levels the playing field for everyone, which is fantastic when someone is telling the truth. But it’s horrible when a person with limited mental faculties, or a former employee with an axe to grind, can get on a handful of web discussion boards and badmouth your company with outright lies.

The trouble is, how do you keep your cool and respond to such individuals without coming off as a jerk or harming your reputation further? In terms of reputation management, here are a few things to keep in mind when attempting to respond to criticism online.

1) Be Extremely Nice

Your first reaction as a company head or representative may be to use a few choice words, attack the author’s inaccuracies (and grammar), and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are right and they are wrong. But that is the wrong way to approach your reputation management.

Most readers of this type of discussion thread can tell when someone is either crazy or has a grudge. And they’ll be able to tell when that author makes the issue personal instead of professional. Usually, the original poster will look like a jerk to begin with, so you don’t need to make it any more obvious. If you reply to such comments, be as nice as you can. Thank them for their feedback, compliment them on their astute observations, and let everyone else who reads the discussion thread know that you are not the monster you may have been made out to be.

2) Admit Fault and Apologize

Along with being nice, good reputation management is about admitting fault when there is fault to admit. Even when you haven’t done anything wrong, you can apologize for the author’s bad experience. Of course, you probably won’t be acquainted with the situation personally, but apologize for anything that might have happened and offer your regrets. Then offer a solution to the author’s problem. If they had a bad experience, tell them how you’re working to improve your customer service or give them a channel by which they can talk to someone about their situation. Even if they don’t take your offer, other visitors to the board will see that you are aware of any problems and are working to fix them. Which is always a plus in reputation management.

3) Ignore it

Sometimes it’s worse to respond to outlandish criticism than to simply let it go. Responding may goad the author to respond in kind with even worse criticism, and may invite other bad-mouthers into the conversation to lend their opinion. Remember, most visitors to these types of threads can tell when someone is just ranting and when they are offering a sincere product or service review. Many times a bad-review author can be their own worst enemy. So in most cases it’s simply best to let their words speak for themselves.

Keep in mind, the worse thing you can do is jump into the conversation and play your negative-reviewer’s game by making personal attacks and getting emotionally invested in the argument. Show the rest of the thread readers that you won’t stoop to that level by apologizing and being extremely nice. And, when in doubt, it’s probably best to avoid responding at all and carrying on the argument further.