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5 Ways to Handle Complainers, Trolls and other Social Media Blunders

I work with healthcare organizations that are cautiously starting to embrace social media and blogging. I say cautiously because their biggest fear when it comes to social media is the potential for complaints, criticism and negative comments that might hurt their brand’s reputation.

I tell them that negativity didn’t start with social media. Naysayers and complainers will always be there whether or not you use social media.

Don't be afraid of complainers and trolls

Don’t be afraid of complainers and trolls

So the question is why should you miss out on leveraging some of most effective marketing tools just because of what someone else might do. Isn’t it better to prepare yourself for the inevitable so that in the end you can avoid a social media crisis?

Fear of Social Media

I had the pleasure of listening to Douglas Karr speak on this very topic at Social Media Marketing World in San Diego last week. His conclusion is that there is such an exaggerated fear of social media that creativity has almost been choked to death in some industries (no specifics were mentioned but we know who we are.) Unfortunately fear pays. Hence lawyers.

So to put things in perspective, here is what a true social media crisis looks like:

  • It impacts clients, prospects and your reputation
  • It has momentum and is growing
  • It has no immediate remedy

If the comment or blunder in question does not have this kind of impact on your organization then stop making a big deal of it – it is not the end of the world!

Here are five ways to handle complainers, trolls and blunders.

#1. Starve the trolls

There are people who enjoy reading and writing negative things on the social web. They love the attention and you can’t control that. Don’t respond unless it is a true crisis (see above). I love Jeff Bullas’ advice on handling negative comments and trolls:

“Trolls are a type of public spam that is usually illicit and unrelated to your business. Their language is strong and emotive and it is designed to get you to react. If you respond they win.”

#2. Stay on your own turf

Don’t go to someone else’s page or blog community to respond to a troll who has attacked your brand. Trolls like other trolls and they have a following. If you look for them they will gang up against you and tear you up.

Avoid responding at all on someone else’s territory. If it’s something public that’s getting a lot of bad press, take the conversation to your own blog and defend yourself there.  You don’t even have to name names. You could say something like, “There are reports out there that blah, blah, blah…”. Naming names only makes you look as bad as they are.

#3. Recruit your fans

You’ve heard the saying, “The wind doesn’t bend small trees.”

Very often social media criticism is the price you pay for being a successful brand. It means you’ve accomplished a lot of good things and made a lot of friends. But it also means that someone is jealous, or you’ve ruffled some feathers and made some enemies.

Let your friends and fans know what’s going on (if it’s worth the mention) and you’ll see how quickly they will come to your defense. When a brand is built on the premise of helping people with their problems, those whom you’ve helped will rally around you and defend you when you’re in need. It’s the rule of reciprocity.

#4. Defend yourself

Sure there are times when you should walk away. But there are also times when you should fight back. Whenever the reputation of your brand is at risk, you must fight back.

To do that you should have a quick and agile defense mechanism to protect your brand. That means hiring someone (i.e. a community manager) who understands how to respond to legitimate complaints, starve out the trolls and protect your brand. Remember it is not the attorney’s job to respond to a crisis – it is PR’s job. Lawyers approve the plan not the response.

 #5. Avoid Anonymity

If you’ve made a blunder then don’t try to hide, sweep your mistake under the rug, or remain anonymous. Instead empower your staff and quickly solve the problem to avoid a crisis. Here’s what you should do:

  • Acknowledge the problem
  • Apologize for the mistake
  • Assert your willingness to make things right
  • Assess the situation
  • Act to rectify the damage caused
  • Abdicate – when all’s been done that can be done step aside and move on.

Every situation will be different. And you can’t control what other people do. But you do need to keep things in perspective and know when something is a true crisis and when it is not. If you learn how to handle negative situations correctly then your customers will be happy and they’ll love you even more.

Your turn: How do you handle trolls, complainers and negative comments?

Image credit: iStockphoto


  1. You said you work with healthcare organizations, so I want to touch on one of your suggestions in case healthcare folks read this… You included “apologize for the mistake.” I would caution healthcare organizations to admit any “mistakes” on a public forum. There are ways to acknowledge someone’s interpretation or feelings without opening yourself up to potential legal problems. Humility will go a long way, but so will admitting a mistake.

    • predsicker says:

      Thanks for your feedback Kathi. I agree that admitting to mistakes can be tricky for healthcare organizations. That’s why I mentioned how lawyers can get involved in crafting the plan (not the response) for such situations. However PR has always been in charge of a brand’s reputation – even before social media emerged – and I believe they’re the ones who understand best how to handle these situations.


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