How do you manage negative postings on Facebook? Columnist Chris Silver Smith discusses some tools and methods to help you alleviate the situation and win the battle against negativity.
Whether your business has felt the brunt of a major online reputation issue or not, it’s not unusual for all organizations to face some negativity on social media. And when it’s on Facebook, the impact feels more intense, since it can show up very visibly alongside your brand’s presence.
Here are a handful of tactics for managing Facebook haters, if or when they may show up.
The “light touch” philosophy for dealing with negativity
Now, there are a variety of philosophies among social media marketing experts as to how to address negativity. It’s my philosophy that in many instances, a “light touch” is to be preferred — all social media are perceived similarly to a public forum, and in most cases, your audience will not react positively to your shutting people down.
But I’m also writing here with the experience of managing a lot of clients who have highly active online reputation issues, ranging from unfortunate mistakes or embarrassing disclosures to people fighting against defamatory attacks. In some situations, I’ve found it may be advisable to snip off postings from those who are merely intent upon beating up an individual or an organization.
Even so, I counsel caution: For a number of my clients facing serious online reputation issues, I’ve repeatedly found that providing social media platforms can serve as something of a lightning rod, providing a place for people to communicate with you and about you. Without it, they might find some other outlet that’s outside of your control for beating up on you. (People often use the term “lightning rod” in this context as something that’s undesirable — but keep in mind that lightning rods actually keep buildings from being burned down.)
Allowing customers to voice some irritation or disapproval for something via your Facebook page may help you avoid their setting up a blog or a RipOff Report that’s going to follow your name forever online.
There are no universals
There’s likely no universal right or wrong answer as to whether a company should allow all postings from consumers to be published unmoderated and visible to everyone versus managing postings with tight controls. Depending on the style of the company involved and the type of issue, there is a scale between loosely managed and tightly controlled.
Responding adeptly to negative postings can also turn lemons into lemonade. The corporate world frequently forgets that it’s actually okay to be human and to communicate in a humane way with people — and doing so will win over people more than cold, sterile communications.
Responding generously to valid complaints will make you look good to consumers, and being gentle and professional in dealing with crazy or unreasonable comments can also be a win. This is an area where you may want to be willing to lose some small battles in order to win the overall war.
If someone is upset with you or needs some customer care to get their issue handled, the best move is to respond to them by asking them to message you privately — provide instructions to message you directly on Facebook, or offer a phone number or email address. Moving the conversation out of the public forum is the best move to make.
But sometimes, irate or malicious individuals will not be diverted.
When you’re faced with too much negativity, and when it’s becoming too distracting from the work and promotions of your business, it may be time to forcibly snip it off from public view.
Facebook has exceedingly good management tools for handling things, and there are some tricks you can use that I’ve discovered over time, so here are a handful of options you may not be aware of.
Hide bad comments
This is the most common tool you may need to use. Note: There are differences between personal pages/accounts on Facebook and business/organization/brand pages on Facebook. I’ll mainly be speaking about managing business pages in these tactics, but on personal pages, “Delete” is the option for comments.
To do this, view the comment that someone added on one of your Facebook posts, then mouse over their comment, and an “X” will appear in the upper right of their comment. Click on that “X,” and you’ll see the option to delete the comment. For business/organization pages, when you mouse over the comment and click on the “X,” it will give you the option to “Hide” it.
This is actually brilliant! Hiding the comment makes it disappear for the public when they’re viewing your pages, while it’s still showing up for the user who added it, as well as for their Facebook friends.
I think this is wonderful, since they’ll continue to think they’ve gotten away with their snarky comment, while it’s evaporated for everyone else. This reduces some of the conflict, helping to diffuse the situation, and the hater may lose interest at the lack of attention and wander off.
Delete bad comments
Once you’ve clicked to “Hide” a negative comment, you can still opt to utterly delete it. The “Delete” option link will appear under the comment area.
But, as I described above, the “Hide” option is pretty brilliant, so I see a lot more benefit from it than from complete deletion.
Ban the bad guy
Has a persistent troll been posting bad stuff on your page and raining on your parade? As part of my personal online strategy, I’m mostly an “open linker,” willing to connect with any and all people who’d like to connect with my social profiles.
But even I have had to defriend individuals who were not discerning in the content they posted to my page or tagged me with. Not everyone can be trusted to play nice, so you may have to ban someone.
Once you “Hide” a negative comment from someone, the “Ban” user option link also appears under the hidden comment. Click that to completely ban the user from your page.
Alternatively, you may go under the “Settings” for your page, and in the left sidebar, select “People and Other Pages.” Facebook will display the list of people who Like your page, along with a settings icon to the right of each person listed. Click the settings icon for your hater, and then select “Ban From Page.”
Ban specific keywords in visitors’ comments from your page
This may be the best hidden feature for managing negative postings and stuff. Facebook allows you to add keywords that should not be allowed in postings.
So let’s say that Acme Company is facing an embarrassing lawsuit, and a few pesky haters keep trying to mention it in comments — the Acme Company managers can go in and add a handful of keywords that are common to the haters’ comments, like: “lawsuit, court case, sued, suing, law suit, legal proceedings, class action.”
Once the keywords are added, then any comment that includes one of the banned keywords will get automatically hidden, so no one viewing the page will be aware it was added at all (except for the person who posted it and their friends — to them, it’ll still be there).
By default, profanities are already suppressed on business Facebook pages, so you don’t need to worry about those unless you turn off the Profanity Filter for some reason.
Oh, and just a few warnings about the keyword filter. People obsessed with beating up on you may still notice their comments aren’t appearing for others, and they can get creative in spellings and communicating the things you tried to keep from showing up.
So try to add in alternative spellings of banned words, and if someone’s gotten creative with their spelling to bypass the filtration, just ban them.
Moderate/suspend all visitors’ posts to your page
If you’ve got an ongoing issue with sporadic-to-intense frequency of negative postings submitted to your page, it may be advisable to set your page so that visitors’ posts must be reviewed and approved by you prior to being published. In this way, only the positive stuff is going to be visible.
This is accomplished on the Settings page under “Visitor Posts.” You can set whether you’ll allow any photos/videos to be posted, and you can choose to “Review posts by other people before they are published to the Page.”
In some cases, it may be advisable to disallow everyone from publicly posting onto your page, and that’s also an option — for instance, the Monsanto Company has done this with their Facebook page.
Consider carefully before disallowing all postings, however, or you may be throwing out the good with the bad. Note: In the confusing world of Facebook lingo, visitor comments are *not* considered “posts,” even though people post them. Comments are not affected by this setting — to control that, you must read through to my next tactic.
Moderate/review all comments before approving what’s published to your Facebook page
Surprise! This much-needed and much-requested feature for pages has not been provided by Facebook. Unbelievable, right?
It seems that Facebook staff are perhaps a bit unrealistically idealistic about how the business world operates, so they apparently think that all comments should de facto publish onto companies’ pages willy-nilly, despite the fact that this creates chaos and unmanageable situations for many businesses.
I think that some businesses have deleted or taken their Facebook pages offline because of issues around this, while yet others have declared Facebook bankruptcy by opting to ignore their Facebook pages entirely.
But don’t despair! I’ve come up with something of a hack that can provide this functionality for the majority of cases.
I created a special keyword list you can just paste into the “Page Moderation” keyword filter list. This list is based upon the top 1,525 English words, allowing the vast majority of all comments to get automatically hidden until you review and approve them.
The list contains words like “the,” “of,” “to,” “and,” “a,” “in,” “is,” “it,” “you,” “that” and many more — in fact, I’d bet that hardly any comment would not contain one of these words.
Hopefully, Facebook will eventually come around to providing this much-needed functionality. But if not, and if enough page managers start adding my bulky words list to their settings, perhaps it’ll finally get their attention when the whole system slows down due to extra banned-keyword processing.
Warning: Consider carefully before taking this option, because you could be committing yourself to a lot more work than you are prepared to handle. If you’re a small business with relatively few people writing comments on your posts on an infrequent basis, you may need to adjust your page’s notifications settings to ensure you’re alerted so that you can review and approve all new comments in a timely manner.
If your page receives a lot more visitor comments, and frequently, you may not want more notifications, but you’ll need to log in to the page on a daily basis to respond to items. Using this method as a means to totally suspend all comments from ever being posted is a bad idea, because people who write the comments will eventually notice. When they do, it could result in a backlash — those who might normally complain to the company’s Facebook page may instead find somewhere else to post their disfavor. If that happens, it will be out of your hands and outside of your ability to control or influence it.
Revoke local business reviews from your page
Customer reviews tend to be a hot-button topic for online business reputation, so it’s no surprise that this can cause issues on Facebook, just as it does on Yelp, in online directories and other review websites. Unfortunately, the solution for this involves deleting your map/local information from your page.
This is accomplished by going under the About tab for your page and clicking the “Page Info” link in the left sidebar. Once there, scroll down to your Address and click to edit — you’ll need to delete the Street Address part at minimum.
Once you’ve done that, refresh the page and click to edit the address again — you’ll see warning text in a yellow box beginning “Your mailing address is currently incomplete…” The last sentence is “You can also remove this Place to turn off check-ins for your Page.”
Click on the “remove this Place” link in that sentence and then click to turn off check-ins — this will disable the reviews/ratings from showing on your Facebook page.
Note: This should be considered an option of last resort, because there are some negative consequences. First, there are a number of other means of dealing with negative reviews that you could and should use before reaching this point.
Second, this may impair your local search engine optimization signals a little — it might reduce some of your ranking ability for people searching locally for your business when the address citation and map elements evaporate from your Facebook page.
If you have positive written reviews on Facebook, those are also thrown out with the bathwater, so to speak, perhaps reducing some of the keyword relevancy involved with the review text. So seriously consider addressing the reviews issues via all of the other techniques before going for the option of last resort.
Disable Tagging Ability on your page
Tagging is a major irritation for personal pages, as well as business pages on Facebook. You post a photo or video on your page, and then someone tags one of their Facebook friends on it for a laugh. This can be fixed directly on the Settings page.
Report a hater to Facebook, get them banned from the service
In the majority of cases, you’ll use the other options for hiding/deleting comments and posts or just banning a user from your page. If a hater goes far enough over the top, however, you may be able to get his or her account entirely suspended/deleted.
If their speech has strayed over into being abusive or bullying, you may be able to get Facebook to take action against them, and this can be useful if it makes it harder for them to attack you online. To go this route, start with Facebook’s Safety Tools & Resources page.
Use a shill account or hire an outsider to respond to haters’ comments
This is definitely an odd solution that’s apparently occurred in some cases spontaneously. One of the best-known examples was when Mike Meelgard set up a fake Facebook account last year to pretend to be Target’s customer care personnel, and then posted snarky comment responses to people who expressed criticism of the company’s decision to change store signage to be gender-neutral for children’s bedding.
Target didn’t hire Meelgard to do this — he did it spontaneously — but the hilarity that ensued went viral, and it likely gave voice to opinions that the company’s executives held, albeit with a bluntness that corporate professionals would not express. Here’s an example:
Meelgard later did the same sort of shenanigans when Frito-Lay announced the release of LGBT-celebratory rainbow-colored Doritos.
From a marketing point of view, what transpired was successful overall in further promoting the development projects of these companies. A number of customers were likely insulted by the responses, and it’s generally bad for consumers to become confused about who is or who isn’t an official representative of a company.
But a greater number of people were likely amused, entertained and further won over by the responses. The satirical interactions helped to drive news about the projects much farther than if only the typical antiseptic corporate responses had been posted.
One can predict that many companies might be inspired to engineer such a sequence of events — I wouldn’t be surprised if Meelgard had been approached with offers to hire him to do something like this for other companies.
Note: Suggesting this tactic is mostly tongue-and-cheek on my part, because there would be considerable risks to any company that attempted to do this sort of thing — for instance, having the deal become revealed could result in negative press, recriminations and more.
In the vast majority of cases, “returning fire” by responding to negativity with more negativity will only damage a brand and may further extend negative public interactions instead of defusing the situation. But there are instances when someone posts comments that are so beyond reasonableness or reality that it’s actually better to respond snarkily or aggressively.
Social media managers must plan ahead for this to some degree — even in instances where one can get away with returning fire, reflect carefully on whether your words will still seem to be part of the corporate image for which your company wants to be known.
Most businesses simply cannot do humor effectively, and in most instances, when a company tries to bite back against haters, the effort may fall flat. So this tactic isn’t to be taken lightly.
Temporarily unpublish your Facebook page
I would call this almost the “nuclear option,” because it’s like you’ve deleted your page. (Actually, I guess deleting your page entirely really is the “nuclear option.”)
If you’ve got a mob of haters actively attacking you on Facebook, and it’s too much to handle, then you can use this to render the page completely invisible. But, with all the other options above, I’d argue you don’t really have to do this.
Set the page so comments are moderated and tagging is disallowed, and there’s not much that anyone can do to tarnish you there. If you do feel you can’t handle a large volume of interactions, just turn off the page temporarily until whatever furor has died down, then bring it back when things have quieted down and returned to normal.
Bonus Tip: Be careful about advertising on Facebook. Negative comments can get added to your Facebook ads, just as with page postings, and these can impair your ad’s performance.
Currently, I don’t believe there are any Facebook administrative tools that help control or manage the visitor comments other than going in and hiding ones that you feel shouldn’t be visible there. If people are posting comments to your ads, don’t ignore it and just keep paying — you may want to review and hide negative comments rapidly to keep the ads’ performance positive or start up a whole new ad to replace the one with detracting comments.
I hope these tactics will come in handy if you have to handle haters on your Facebook page. Having people expressing displeasure or disagreeing with what you’re communicating can be stressful and can feel a little overwhelming.
But having some tools and methods at your disposal for addressing such situations can help to alleviate them and get things back to a normal, productive and constructive environment.
Chris Smith is President of Argent Media, and serves on advisory boards for Universal Business Listing and FindLaw. Follow him @si1very on Twitter and see more of his writing on reputation management on Search Engine Land.