7 ways to respond to online comments or negative posts

A timely, genuine, and respectful approach will defuse the situation and win you support


As Public Information Officers (PIOs) and leaders of our EMS agencies, it can be hard to know when you should respond to an online comment or when to simply to ignore the comment and not engage with the writer.

One way to decide is to use the U.S. Air Force Blog Assessment chart. Created for U.S. Air Force spokespeople, the chart advises when and how to respond to, or when to ignore, blog post and article comments.

There are also a lot of other online guides about how or when to respond to comments or complaints made through your department's social media channels. The most important thing to remember is that your job is to promote your organization in a positive light. You’re there to defuse a negative situation, not to make it worse through your actions – or  lack of actions. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

1. Don’t delete negative comments

Removing comments only makes the person who posted the comment more upset, and may enrage other people who noticed, and possibly agreed, with the original comment.

2. Ignore the instigators

If the comment is clearly an attack solely designed to pick a fight, ignore it. Most readers will see the bully or troll for what he or she is and will appreciate that you’re focused on responding to legitimate comments. The bully will get bored and look for another person or organization that is willing to engage in a back-and-forth war of words.

3. Block when warranted

If someone posts racist, derogatory or pornographic comments about your company or staff, that commenter should be blocked so that they can’t comment on future posts.

4. Keep calm

Any response you give will be read by the poster and other readers/followers, potentially including the media. Always reply with positive, helpful, and level-headed responses.

5. Respond quickly

The faster your response, the more people will perceive that you genuinely want to do what’s right to fix any concerns. We’re talking within an hour when possible, not days. The longer it takes you to respond, the less engaged and interested you will seem.

6. Respond publically, then privately to negative comments

Within public view, acknowledge the comment and then try to take the conversation off-line. A simple message such as, “Thanks for bringing this to our attention. Would you email me directly so that I can learn more?” does the trick. After you resolve the problem off-line, return to public view and say something like “Thanks for connecting with me off-line. Hopefully we were successful in resolving your concerns.”6. Acknowledge positive comments

A simple thank you for a compliment or stating that you’ll pass the comment on to co-workers goes a long way towards encouraging more positive comments in the future.

7. Keep a copy

Occasionally social media discussions become part of legal disagreements. If you think a legal issue or accusation may arise, alert your legal counsel immediately, take a screen shot and save a copy of incendiary remarks before the person can delete or modify their posts or comments.

If someone knocked on the door of the building or called your office to complain, you’d try to understand and fix their problem. When someone posts their problem on your organization's social media channels, you still need to hear and address the problem. Only now there are lots of people watching to see how you respond to and resolve the problem. Approach the solution in a way that makes you look genuine and honest, and it’ll win you more customers and support.

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