How to Deal with Negativity Online

By Melonie Dodaro

Protecting your reputation online is more important than ever. Unhappy customers used to share their negative experiences only with a few friends and family members.

Today, unhappy customers can go to social media and share their feedback with hundreds, thousands or even millions perfect strangers!

Social media reputation management must be at the forefront of your digital strategy.

If your brand has an online presence, chances are it will get negative comments at some point.

And while most brands shy away from any online negativity, often deleting or justifying negative reviews or comments, most miss the growth opportunity this type of feedback provides.

Some negative reviews are a one-time issue or garbage left by trolls. But sometimes, those negative experiences are linked to larger issues you need to address. Without those negative reviews to alert you, you could end up losing clients, without ever realizing there was a problem. Negative reviews also provide the opportunity to turn unhappy customers into brand advocates.

Customers who leave negative reviews are seeking resolutions to their problems, but they also want to be heard and empathized with. If you can provide the outcome they desire, you will likely transform their impression of you or your brand from negative to positive.

In some cases, the way you handle their complaints can turn those customers into brand advocates.

Brand Advocates

Brand advocates are those customers who uplift your brand image through word of mouth marketing by: creating and sharing content for your brand; referring new customers; leaving positive reviews about your service or product; and defending your brand against negative talk.

Although you want to avoid getting negative reviews in the first place, don’t panic when you get one.

Keep Bad Reviews

While it might seem as if deleting bad reviews is the easy solution to the problem, it is not. Many platforms now allow only the reviewer to remove the post. An affected brand can petition the platform to remove the post, but in most cases, the platform will remove the post only if it violates its policies, which vary from platform to platform.

Most platforms will remove posts that: include hate speech of any nature; include personal information on employees or the owner; is a conflict of interest; and are not specifically about the reviewer’s experience with the brand. Even if you could delete the review, I would advise you not to remove any valid negative reviews.

You are better off acknowledging your customer’s complaint and taking the appropriate steps to rectify the situation. People will be watching how you respond.


It is important to respond quickly and publicly to any negative online reviews or comments you receive. To do this, you need to know when reviews about you or your company appear online. That means you need to have a social media listening strategy to alert you when a review pops up.

As soon as you see a bad review, you can decide how to proceed. If the review was left by an Internet troll and it violates the platform’s policies, you can apply to have it removed.

If you received a valid negative review, you need to respond publicly as soon as you can. Before replying, determine whether the customer just needed to vent or if there was an actual issue that needs to be rectified.

Start by showing empathy, letting the upset customer know you understand how they feel. Show them there is a compassionate, understanding person behind your brand. If you don’t fully understand the issue or need more clarification, ask for it. This helps to show you really do want to understand the issue and make it right.


Yes, apologize – even if you are not at fault for what made them upset. You can be apologetic for the way they feel, which can be expressed as I’m sorry you feel [EMOTION] about [TOPIC].

Note that your apology must be genuine. Your customers will spot a fake apology immediately, which will only make things worse. Also ensure you remain polite and professional, no matter how you actually feel.

In some situations, you will want to acknowledge the issue and apologize to the customer and then request an offline conversation, where you can address the issue properly. This is important to do if the customer continues ranting or if the issue requires an offline resolution.

But by first acknowledging the negative review publicly, you demonstrate to your prospects that you are listening and responding when a customer has a problem.


Once you fully understand the reason for the negative review, take the necessary steps to resolve the issue positively for your customer.

Sometimes, you can accomplish that with an acknowledgement of the issue and a sincere apology. Other times, the issue will require a more involved solution, such as the replacement of a product or an improvement in customer processes.

This can be a particular difficult issue for larger companies, especially those with little communication between departments. It can be very challenging if the person responsible for social listening and responding has no training or power to deal with customer issues directly.

That’s why it’s important to create a plan outlining the process of dealing with issues when they arise and who’s responsible for dealing with what. Also make sure the people responsible for monitoring and responding to reviews and comments on social media are properly trained and empowered to act in real time to solve customers’ issues.

Follow up

Following up with customers after you apologize and resolve their issues is a great way to make them feel cared for, reinforcing your commitment to their satisfaction.

That personal attention to their problems and caring about their satisfaction is what will often turn those unhappy customers into brand advocates.

In some cases, these customers will remove their negative reviews and/or replace them with positive ones. If they don’t, you can reach out to them to ask whether they would consider removing the review.

Even if they don’t remove the negative review, your response in a timely and helpful manner will demonstrate to the reader that your brand works to resolve issues for their customers.

Keep a record of all the negative reviews and comments your brand gets on social media as part of your social media reputation management plan. Many negative reviews will be about one-time-only problems, but at times the review will be tied to a larger issue.

By keeping track of and analyzing all the complaints, you can identify a recurring issue your brand needs to review and then address.

Another great benefit of negative reviews is you can use them to create content. If, for example, many of your customers have trouble understanding how to use your product, you could create a blog post or video, walking them through the steps of using the product optimally. You can then share a link to this content when you run into a negative review or social media comment related to the issue.

As well as creating content related to the specific problems of your customers, you can also create content related to more general issues and complaints about your brand, topic and industry. Your social media reputation management strategy must focus on valuing relationships

The simple fact is accidents happen. Your customers just want to know that when they do, you’ll be there to help them resolve the issues. If you show your customers you value them, they will be far more likely to reach out to you when they have a problem instead of leaving you a scathing review.

When you do get a negative review, remember to be calm and polite. You can’t fight fire with fire – your brand will always lose that battle. By responding in an empathetic, caring way and working to resolve the issue, your brand will show its integrity and increase the overall satisfaction of your customers.

Melonie Dodaro is founder of Top Dog Social Media that helps brands and businesses, use social media marketing and social selling to boost visibility, attract new customers and increase revenue. Dodaro is also the author of ‘The LinkedIn Code’ and the recently-released ‘LinkedIn Unlocked’. To learn more visit

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