5 Tips for Handling Negative Social Media Comments on Facebook in Real-Time

If you’ve never had a negative event blow up on Facebook, your turn is probably coming. What are you going to do when a comment, post, picture, or news item goes viral in the wrong way? Here are five tips that will help you navigate the critical first 48 hours.

Make sure you have a posting policy visible. Some brands have their posting policy on a special “tab” visible in their apps section and some in the “About” section under Description or Mission. Just make sure it defines elements that are unacceptable and may cause a post or poster to be hidden, deleted, or blocked. Here is a good general example:

 Posting Policy:Thank you for liking the official ______________ page. We’re glad you’re here.

We are committed to creating a community that encourages self-expression and mirrors the values of _________ including respect for the rights, dignity, and property of others. We ask all fans to do their part to help us achieve the goal. In doing that, we ask you not to post content that:

-is threatening, abusive, obscene, indecent, or objectionable.
-is deceptive, false, or misleading
-violates the intellectual property rights of other people
-is illegal
-references a third party website or is self-promoting spam
-is inappropriate, offensive, or hateful

We reserve the right to remove any content or block users that violate our community guidelines, or that we determine are otherwise offensive to our community. All content must also comply with Facebook’s policies as well.

We would be sorry to see you go, but if you change your mind and no longer want to like our page, please feel free to “unlike” our page.

2. Filter the public posts and comments for the crisis at hand with the Manage Permissions tab. Facebook has a function under the edit page/manage permissions tab where you can flag keywords as spam. These can be added and subtracted at any time. You can start with a basic group of words that might flag hate speech and move on from there throughout the event. Make sure you don’t include words that are part of normal conversation like “hate”. You can always hide unacceptable posts when they show up, or change filter keywords at any time. Just remember the filter is not retroactive—it won’t filter posts already made.

Also, set your profanity blocklist to “strong.” This will automatically filter any posts with profane or obscene comments. After setting all the limitations, I also monitor the unfiltered feed through my dashboard in Sprout Social as well. This gives me a good take on how the total sentiment is running on the issue because it includes all the posts Facebook has filtered out as well as deleted posts and posters. Remember, don’t delete negative posts that are civil. Let the conversation run its course. It will hurt, but you will heal.

3.Be selective about liking positive posts.In a crisis, we are just facilitating a conversation on our Facebook page. You want to be careful about joining that conversation. Depending on how quickly the comments are coming, I try and like no more than 10-15% of the comments and only those that are truly supportive of the company and don’t mention the crisis at hand.

4.Be selective about deleting, hiding, and blocking. As a crisis consultant, I believe that there are conversations that need to take place, people that need to vent. You have to coach yourself to sit on your hands sometimes. You can’t delete posts because you don’t like them. Posts that violate your posting policy can be hidden. That way, the person that posted and their friends can still see the post, but your fans cannot. Posters that are consistently attacking an issue or ranting can be banned. Be very selective about banning. I like to use the rule of civility here. If a ranting poster sneaks through the filter cracks and is persistent, I would recommend blocking them. If you keep the civil negative posts on the page, people will get the idea that you are not stifling the conversation, but facilitating it in a civil tone.

5.  Let the people vent.If you have messed up, you need to take your medicine. Warn the leadership ahead of time that this is going to hurt. It’s hard to see people talk negatively about your brand, but you need to let them talk in a civil manner. Try to de-personalize the situation and remember they’re not talking about you personally. Note: if the event does revolve around you, hire someone else to monitor the conversations.  Let your filters do the work and if something slips through that violates your posting policy, revert to number four above. It really helps to have a triage response plan that defines ahead of time what and who you will engage. Whatever you do, don’t engage a mad negative poster online. In your posting policy, invite everyone to contact you offline where you will be glad to continue any conversation. Answer valid questions, don’t engage ranting commenters.

If you let the conversation flow naturally and in a civil manner, it will die an organic death. Hopefully, you have cultivated enough brand advocates on your Facebook page to help turn the sentiment. Whatever you do, remain emotionally detached by having a plan. If you don’t have a crisis communications plan, get one put together now.

Did I miss anything? If you have a good tip to add or a story to tell, please post it in the comments below.