The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

5 things to do when people say bad things online

Earlier this week, I posted on getting people to say nice things about your organization online.

But what if they say bad things?

I’ll be very honest with you. My first reaction when this happens to me is to be angry, hurt, defensive and resentful. In that order. This happens to me all the time! I’ve had people email me to say they feel a post I did was ‘below par’ for my usual blogging and that they were disappointed that day’s content wasn’t to their liking. I’ve had people post horrible comments about my organization which were ill-informed. I’ve had people say an analogy I used was egregious because it referenced American television, which was unfair to Americans who don’t watch television. All were valid complaints to some degree (if I have to be honest) but that fact didn’t change my initial reaction, which was something along the lines of, “Seriously?!?!” Or “How dare you?!” The important thing is to have this type of reaction remain an internal, secret and initial emotion. Be as outraged as you like inside. Then take many deep breaths and handle it like an adult in public. Which means giving yourself a few moments of fury before moving on and handling things well. Never respond publicly online when you’re in the “Seriously?!?!” or “How dare you?!” mode. Ever. Walk away, jog around the block, vent to your favorite colleague. Then suck it up and deal.

How do you deal with the negative?

1. Listen for it. Be sure you monitor what people are saying about your organization online. Keep tabs via Google Alerts if nothing else.

2. When you find something negative, assess who is saying it and who is listening. Is this one crazy person with no audience? You might want to just watch and wait. Or is it someone who talks to people in your audience? Even one noisy person can be a problem if she has or can rapidly build a following with people who matter to you. I generally err on the side of judging someone worth responding to rather than ignoring negative remarks.

3. Act fast on the site where it started. If you need to respond, do it now (as soon as you finish being annoyed inside), in the venue where the situation started. Things move at lightning speed on Web 2.0, and you don’t want something to spiral out of control before you get in a response. It’s OK if you don’t have all the answers or every piece of needed information — just be transparent about it. “I’m really concerned with this and am looking into it” is better than radio silence. “I’m concerned our staff said that to you and am finding out what happened so I can give you the response you deserve” is better than nothing. But do that on Twitter if the negative comment was a Tweet. No need to issue a press release over a Facebook comment. Respond on Facebook.

4. Be honest, transparent, friendly and nondefensive. This is key. If there is misinformation out there, correct it in a helpful, noncombative way. My organization’s own crisis communications plan (hope you have one, too) sets out the following principles if we’ve made a mistake:

Be sincerely apologetic if we’ve done wrong.
Take responsibility.
Err on the side of open, frequent communication.
Be absolutely honest.
Ensure what we say is accurate — if we’re not sure, say we’re not sure.
Do all we can to fix problems and mitigate harm.
Say what we’re doing to ensure it doesn’t happen again. This one is especially important.

5. Remember, it is a conversation. This isn’t a monologue by the critic or by you. Nor is it a war. It’s a conversation. When you respond, be open to reactions, and answer questions. You can’t post one response and call it a day; you need to keep tabs on the situation and participate in the ongoing conversation.

The bottom line? Breathe deeply until you find yourself able to type the words, “I’m so glad you took the time to tell me how you feel.” Then respond, graciously, from there. Assume responsibility broadly and be generous. When you do that in public, with everyone watching, you gain so much. People always appreciate those who care – and take the high road. Slinging mud back feels good for a few seconds, but it causes years of damage. Especially online, where your hot-headed response will never die.

As long as the person isn’t a troll, he or she deserves to feel heard, acknowledged and understood. There’s probably a good reason for their perspective. Most sane people are genuinely nice when you make that effort to grasp their side. I’ve found some of my biggest fans were initially critics. By taking the high road with them, I won them over and learned something from them in the process. It’s painful for me as perfectionist, but well worth the excruciating process. I’m a bigger and better person for listening to the bad along with the good. I hated being slammed, but each time I got knocked to the pavement, it taught me something that mattered.

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About This Blog

Carrie Saracini
Content Marketing Manager

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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