Strategies for Combating Negativity on Social Media, A Better Approach to Positive Community Development

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Putting your community in the social media limelight brings the risk of receiving occasional negative comments. You might be thinking, “Won’t negative comments turn other potential customers away?”

The answer, according to David Burton, county engagement specialist with University of Missouri Extension, is “not necessarily.”

“Negative feedback also provides an excellent opportunity to showcase your customer service or response. Resolving negative issues can result in three times more positive exposure for a business or a community,” said Burton.

When negativity inevitably appears, Burton suggests equipping yourself with tactics for handling the negativity. If it involves a community, like a city government or the school district, then a team needs to be in place to address it.

“The days of complaining about social media and hoping it is just a fad are over. Social media is here to stay, so we should instead find ways to use it positively,” said Burton.

Burton offers seven basic tips that can help provide direction.

1. Respond Publicly as Quickly as Possible

“When you receive a negative comment on pages or in posts, and the comment warrants engagement, respond to it publicly. This does not just make a difference to the person who made the comment – it ensures others in your community will see that you are proactive in handling customer complaints,” said Burton.

2. Take the Conversation Somewhere Private

“Taking the conversation to a private message or phone call shows the person in question that you value what they have to say and that you are committed to providing a solution. However, it also means hiding more potential negativity from post readers,” said Burton.

3. Be Understanding, Not Snippy

“A lot of the time, unhappy customers just want to know they are being heard. Have empathy and listen. It is one of the quickest ways to put out a fire before it is started,” said Burton.

The standing of a local government is maintained through polite and respectful responses to all online comments. A response to a specific comment is likely to be read by other members of the public. This can be an opportunity to demonstrate the professionalism and ethics of the local government.

4. Offer a Valuable Solution

“No matter what you say to a distraught customer, it will not make a bit of difference if you do not showcase any follow-through,” said Burton.

5. Know When Not to Engage

It is important to know how to turn a negative comment into a positive experience. Unfortunately, “trolling” can happen on your brand page or posts. These comments may be aggressive or derogatory. Instead of engaging with the people making these comments, focus more on making sure your community knows what is being done to address or fix the situation.

“If you are sure their claims are without merit, the best long-term strategy may be to ignore them. However, since social media is a highly visible, public forum, commenting once to the effect that what they are saying is inaccurate and unfair will at least give other viewers the true picture,” said Burton.

6. Talk the talk and walk the walk

“It is good to acknowledge a problem, but if you don’t follow up with concrete actions, you’re going to end up back where you started and potentially upset your customer even more. Once you’ve got a conversation going with the customer out of the spotlight, make sure you understand the problem and outline what the next steps will be to fix it,” said Burton.

7. Avoid excessive censorship

“There is a careful balance to be struck between freedom of speech and censorship. Excessive deletion of posts will reflect poorly on the local government and can cause the community to disengage or become angered. Local governments should have a policy on the type of posts or comments that should be removed, and apply it consistently,” said Burton.

For more information, community development specialists with MU Extension help people create communities of the future by tapping into local strengths and university resources. The Community Development Program works collaboratively with communities to foster economic development, leadership development, community decision making, community emergency preparedness, and inclusive communities.

Contact any of these MU Extension community development specialists working in southwest Missouri: Pam Duitsman in Christian County, (417) 581-3558; David Burton in Greene County, (417) 881-8909 or Maria E. Rodriguez-Alcal in Jasper County at (417) 358-2158.