Should You Dignify Rude Comments With a Response? Probably

When posting content online, be it on a website, social media, or blog, you open yourself up to criticism from commenters. Here’s some advice on how to handle the good, the bad, and the ugly of online comments.

It happens. Despite your best intentions to be accurate, thorough, and inclusive, someone leaves a critical comment on an article you posted on your website, a Facebook post, or some other piece of online content.

It may be a relatively harmless remark, or it may be downright rude. So, how do you handle inconsiderate commenters, especially when they divert the focus away from the actual subject of your content?

Earlier this week, I wrote about a study that found political journalists who interacted with commenters on Facebook decreased the chances for uncivil comments by 15 percent. The study also found that posing a few questions within a post decreased the chances of rude comments by 9 percent.

I like to respond to all comments in some way, whether it is a like, a favorite, or a few positive words of thanks.

To get a better idea of how associations could apply these findings to their online comment monitoring, I talked with Martha Jack, director and head consultant at eConverse Social Media Consulting, Inc., who had great insight into managing online discourse.

More from Jack:

Associations Now: Should an organization respond to comments or appoint a specific person within the association to respond?

Jack: The decision to respond as either the organization or as an employee representing the association is a really personal one for each association. It depends on the tone you want to set, your resources, the size of your association, among other things. The upside is that users feel like they are connecting with an individual, the downside is that that one person becomes the face of the association. What happens when they leave their job?

There can be hybrid models where a group of people represents the company but on a personal level—Blackberry does this, along with a lot of organizations dealing with many customer service issues.

I often have it as part of a social media plan that there may be times when it makes sense for a certain individual—maybe the CEO, maybe someone involved in advocacy—to respond personally so that members know that a certain high-profile individual is informed of and is dealing with a situation.

In some cases, I really do think it is best for the association to stay out of it. A great scenario is if you can have the patience not to immediately react to a negative comment because you know you have such supportive members that they will jump in on your behalf.

I like to respond to all comments in some way, whether it is a like, a favorite, or a few positive words of thanks. If anything, it lets not only the commenter but also your lurkers know that someone is listening and paying attention.

In your experience, are there topics or areas an association should avoid posting about because they are likely to incite negative comments?

Associations know their industry, its politics, and players and will know if a post is likely to illicit negative comments and create controversy. Personally, I think that a post can be written on just about any subject in such a way to generate discussion and not draw a lot of negativity.

Would you ever recommend taking down an uncivil comment?

Removing a negative comment is a tricky business. Obviously, if it goes against the code of conduct you have established for your social media presence—yes, Facebook, etc. have their own code of conduct, but you can draft and post your own as well—or include swearing, hate speech, or libelous claims, it’s a pretty easy decision to take it down.

I think it also depends on who the poster is. So, you may need to do some quick sleuthing to identify who they are and what their role is in your industry. Also, the amount of attention the post has received and the length of time it has been up will affect the decision to delete a post.

Do you have any other tips for associations for determining how they should handle comments on social media or on any of their online content?

  • You need a plan in place before you are in the middle of dealing with a situation. Involve all stakeholders and decide key things like chain of command, timing, and the overall tone of your social media presence.
  • Make sure the person at the first line of defense is someone you trust. They will likely be the person who is first alerted to any online trouble and will ultimately make the decision about how it is dealt with in those crucial first minutes and hours.
  • Know your audience. Whenever I’m dealing with a negative comment online my first question is “who is this person?”  You may not know them, but others in your organization may have dealt with them. You want to know things like how well-known they are in the industry, are they known for causing trouble, are they the type of person who is never going to be made happy, before you decide how to proceed.

Have a comment about comments? Let us know below.


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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