How to Handle Negative Social Media Comments

Katie Hayward
August 28, 2018

Negative social media comments are a fact of life, especially for folks in agriculture.

Because every organization is different in terms of industry, audience, staff size, bandwidth and social media objectives, it’s impossible to outline a general strategy for negative comments. However, here are some pieces of the puzzle you should consider.

Negative Comments in Ag

From PETA members to diehard non-GMO activists, critics of agriculture are numerous and frequently vocal. Social media has amplified a lot of misinformation, so it’s understandable that some ag organizations are reluctant to get involved in social media. That said, social media is also a great place to advocate for ag and to correct inaccuracies.

Why might consumers react negatively in the first place?

  • They don’t understand agriculture
  • They’re frightened
  • In that state of mind, they’re easily led
  • They find the facts overwhelming
  • And they don’t know who to trust
  • Their reactions are intensified by conspiracy theories, activist propaganda and “fake news”

Before You Respond

Remember Your Goals

  • You aren’t trying to win an argument or persuade an individual. Stay focused on maintaining a safe and constructive environment. Your page is a place where constructive criticism may exist; however, correcting misinformation is appropriate.
  • People are watching to see how you respond. Take care to not become emotional or defensive—only state the facts.
  • You want to look like the most sensible and trusted person in the room. Keep your cool and know your stuff.

Not Everything Requires a Response

  • Define your response level. Some companies don’t respond to any comments, positive or negative (we don’t generally recommend that). Some respond to every comment. Some only respond to correct misinformation or redirect customer service issues. Deciding your level of involvement in responding depends on many factors and varies across organizations. Do you have the bandwidth to monitor and respond to everything? Do you have too many people commenting to address them all? Do you get many questions or concerns via social media?
  • Define what is acceptable and what is not. People have a right to their opinions, but a code of conduct is applicable even to social media. Decide what is appropriate behavior for your page and know when you’re going to put your foot down.
  • Accept that not everyone will agree with you—and that’s okay. Remember, the goal isn’t to win. Someone can have (and understand) all of the facts and still disagree with you. There should be room for disagreement and constructive conversations on your page, provided nothing turns hostile or inappropriate.

Be Prepared

Assign Staff to Handle Negative Comments

Choose staff members who:

  • Understand your brand’s values and voice
  • Have demonstrated the ability to remain calm, strategic and positive in stressful situations
  • Know when to ask for advice from others
  • Are available to respond quickly

Plan Your Response

Prepare (or have a PR expert assist in preparing) these must-have documents:

  • A scenario chart
  • Pre-written responses
  • Response flow-chart

Preparing for negative social media comments ahead of time can feel like a chore and leave you questioning your decision to use social media. Partnering with an experienced agency and good PR team can make the prep work easy and bring peace of mind to your company’s social media team and management.

If you’d like to discuss your organization’s response plans, drop us a line at hello@paulsen.ag to get in touch with one of our strategy/social media/PR gurus.

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