3 ways to respond to negative commenters online

Is someone attacking your company or client—or you? Follow this advice to help alleviate the problem.


You’re a jerk. An idiot. A poser. A moron. A dumbass.

If you’ve blogged long enough, you’ve probably been assaulted by a few readers who disagree with your conclusions. And that can lead to a few challenges for bloggers who want to allow a free exchange of ideas, but also insist upon a civil discourse.

Recently, readers of my blog were curious about this topic

Mary Denihan noticed this challenge and asked the following question regarding managing a website’s comments section. Mary wrote:

“It almost seems like [negative comments] have overtaken some sites. Which in turn, seems to inhibit other folks with positive opinions to not comment. Do you have any advice on how to avoid your site to be overtaken by negative comments?”

Reader Leigh Ann Otte was also curious, writing:

“I would guess (hope?) most people recognize what’s going on and don’t listen to them. But it is a good question: What do you do if the negativity is directed to you? Ignore it? Respond once to everyone? Try to cut it off early by responding to the first few right away?”

Great questions, Mary and Leigh Ann. Here are three ways you might consider approaching this issue:

1. Ban belligerent jerks

There’s no rule that says bloggers have to approve every comment someone leaves. For my blog, I created a comments policy titled “No Jerks Allowed.” It reads, in part:

“I’m done posting ad hominem attacks, off-topic comments, comments that refer to elected officials (or others) in pejorative terms, comments that are unnecessarily antagonistic, comments that don’t relate to the topic of the article, and other comments that come across with more hostility than substance.

“There is no shortage of websites and news channels that profit from hostile and angry debate. No matter how many times I’m accused of censorship, I’m not going to allow this blog to join their ranks.”

2. Respond, but speak past the commenter

If I decide to post a negative comment from a reader (because it makes a valid point, even if it’s a bit nasty), I try to be mindful that the entire audience may hold a rude response against me. If I treat the person with respect (in some cases, more than they deserve), readers are more likely to be impressed with the tone of my reply—even if they, too, disagree with my view.

Therefore, I try to remember that the writer of that letter is not my target audience. Sure, my response is addressed to the commenter, but my communication is really intended for the rest of the blog’s readers.

3. Or speak to the commenter

If the commenter posts something negative, but it appears to be reasonable, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I often find that the tone of a reader’s first comment may be negative, but that if I respond to the person respectfully, his or her follow-up comment is milder—or even appreciative.

That approach is backed up by a 2011 Harris Interactive study, which found that unhappy customers quickly forgave companies that responded to them. Thirty-three percent of customers who left a negative review on a shopping website ended up posting a positive review after receiving a response, while another 34 percent deleted the original review.

Brad Phillips is the president of Phillips Media Relations, which specializes in media and presentation training. He blogs at Mr. Media Training, where a version of this story first appeared. He tweets @MrMediaTraining.

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