April Net2 Think Tank Round-up: Handling Negative Online Feedback

Claire Sale's picture

Receiving feedback from your community is a great way to get them engaged with your mission. Whether it's about a specific task or a larger ideology, feedback allows us to learn and adapt to what our audiences want, need, and think. And, with the increased use of social media and collaborative technologies, we're able to give and receive feedback in real-time often with the choice to be completely anonymous. But what happens when the feedback is negative, hateful or just plain untrue?

Earlier this month, we asked you to share your tactics for handling negative feedback within your online community. Below, we've compiled all of the community responses for this month's Net2 Think Tank!

Topic: How do you respond to negative feedback?  What are the best tactics for responding to negative, hateful, or incorrect feedback in a productive and transparent way?


While this month's Net2 Think Tank is now closed, you're always welcome to add your feedback on the subject. Feel free to add your ideas in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

A brief story

One contributor to this Think Tank shared a brief story about the frustrating reality of online feedback:

In our case which seems to be a politically motivated smear campaign there has been no effective way of dealing with it. Google blogspot who host most of the commentary will permit [negative comments to be posted] anonymously yet remove any attempt to identify the source as 'publication of private information'

In one way the sheer volume of negative commentary helped, in that it helped raise the profile of a human rights issue [we were covering], yet the campaign had been effective in harming our business by deterring customers.

It took 5 years before the story of the orphanage in Torez surfaced as an article with photographic evidence, in the Sunday Times. Now we can declare our progress.

- Jeff Mowatt

With this story in mind, this Think Tank Round-up offers several tactics for community managers to consider adopting:

Learn from the feedback

  • "listen, evaluate, and figure out what you can do better (whether it's the task, or the response)" - Shawna Spencer
  • "First, thank them for their input. Second, consider the input validity. Third, try to do better if input is deemed valid" - Kenneth Larson
  • "Negative Feedback is the BEST type to get. Positive says nothing, you're doing ok or at least not "Drifting" too far. NEGATIVE Feedback points to TRUE trouble spots, and tells you that "Course Correction is Necessary". - Dan Sobel
  • "Negative feedback is GOLD!  Here is someone telling you their objections....but there are just objections for you to overcome. Great book that helped me learn how to do this well on my feet: "How to be a rainmaker by Jeffrey Fox". Also the "Solution Focus" method is great for taking objections and negativity and turning into a communication opportunity." - Paul Nazareth

Assume the best

  • "Turn the negative into a positive. Research has shown that responding to negative inquiries actually helps organizations improve their reputation. If you give the person complaining a little friendly attention, you can re-build bridges and even inspire glowing recommendations from them. Your best advocate can be the person you treated well despite their criticism." - Jessica Sadoway
  • "Sometimes negative feedback is provided in a moment of pique and is expressed in error, but in many (probably most) instances, it contains useful information. After I identify that useful content, my response (if one is warranted) can be constructive. Sometimes my response can be practical, fixing a problem which the feedback highlighted (perhaps followed by a comment acknowledging the person who provided the feedback). Sometimes my response is no more than a comment addressing the issues raised in the feedback." - Eric Kline
  • "Respond to criticism with a nonjudgemental mind and examine the person's opinion in the content of their cultural, religious, political, tradition, country's beliefs that might be influencing their reactions." - Cleopatra Fitzgerald
  • Consider it a plus that someone would take the time to communicate their genuine thoughts to you.  Be polite and professional in your prompt reply. Focus the conversation on the issue not the emotion. - David Parfitt

Don't delete negative comments

  • "Let it stand - respond to it the best way you can - allow audience to judge!" - Ryan Crowe
  • "I always advise to keep the negative comments posted, unedited and respond to the credible and valid concerns.  After the response, of course deliver a solution otherwise it's just lip service. " - Richard Sailing

Be helpful and human

  • "It's all about trying to solve the issue, instead of following CSR script. But then it [requires] qualified staff [which leads to increased] costs" - Lukasz Mlodyszewski
  • Be both helpful and useful and understand others are watching how you resolve the situation. Conflict is sure to happen. How it is resolved determines how others view you and your company. So be honest, be upbeat, find the real issue, and resolve it. All out in the open with a professional and caring attitude. - David Parfitt
  • "Respond with positivity and politeness regardless of how unreasonable the feedback is. I saw a talk from a fellow software developer who talked about receiving some rude abrupt feedback from a user.  He responded quickly to the user as polite and as helpfully as he could make it.  The user was shocked that there was a human response and care had been taken in the response.  The user had expected the company to be a faceless corporation who would ignore his rant but the situation quickly became a normal civilised support conversation!" - Tony Short

Do not feed the trolls

The following exerpt was shared by Wild Woman Fundraising's Mazarine Treyz as part of a longer response on the NetSquared blog:

If they send more than 3 insulting messages, if they start threatening you, your company, or just basically harrassing you with various kinds of written abuse or horrible pictures, time to get medieval on their handle!

Don't try to reason with the troll. They are taking advantage of the fact that they will never meet you, and so can say anything they want to you. The advent of the internet has really not helped with common courtesy, unfortunately. So you want to get your community members to sign a little statement saying, "I will not post blatantly self-promotional things, I will not troll or flame or spam people or be obnoxious in any way (As defined by the community manager) or I will be blocked and banned."

What you can do for this sort of negativity

Once you have identified a troll (which will be a very very small percentage of your users, you can instruct other community members "not to feed the troll".  Then, like the three fates, you can measure out their time with your community, and then you can cut and block them from communicating. You can block people easily in Twitter, and you can also ban their IP address from accessing your website. This might inconvenience a few other community members, so check with your IT person to see if there are a lot of people on that IP address accessing the site.


Thank you to all of our contributors this month! While this month's Net2 Think Tank is now closed, you're always welcome to add your feedback on the subject. Feel free to add your ideas in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

About Net2 Think Tank:

Net2 Think Tank is a monthly blogging/social networking event open to anyone and is a great way to participate in an exchange of ideas.  We post a question or topic to the NetSquared community and participants submit responses either on their own blogs, the NetSquared Community Blog, or using social media.  Tag your post with "net2thinktank" and email a link to us to be included. At the end of the month, the entries get pulled together in the Net2 Think Tank Round-Up.