How Businesses Should Respond to Negative Social Media Posts

May 19, 2023    •    5 min read

There is no question that businesses – whether large or small – benefit from social media engagement. With over 70% of adults in the United States using Facebook, nearly 50% using Instagram, and an astounding 83% using YouTube, the importance and prevalence of social media to the populace is indisputable. These figures gain even more importance to businesses when considering that 66% of all Facebook users review a local business page at least once a week and that, for the majority of young people (ages 16-24 years old), social media is their primary source of brand research.

This confirms the need for businesses to have a solid social media management strategy – especially one that includes best practices on how to respond to negative reviews or comments. Here are some points to consider as you analyze response strategies as part of your business reputation management.

Benefits of Social Media Engagement

By creating and maintaining a social media presence for your business, you can increase traffic to your business’s website, generate leads for new business, increase exposure and awareness, provide valuable and timely updates about your business, engage with your customers and the public, and promote causes or initiatives important to your business and community. 

Whether you’re creating a Facebook Business Page, an Instagram account, or a Twitter account, leveraging the power of social media can help you grow your business and show the public what makes you unique and sets you apart from your competitors.

The Negative Side of Social Media Attention

However, social media attention is not always positive. Regardless of whether you avail yourself of the benefits social media has to offer, anyone with a complaint to air and an internet connection can seriously impact your business’s reputation through the publication of negative content about you or your employees on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or even TikTok. Even if you have not, for example, claimed your Facebook business page or created an Instagram for your company, anyone can do this and claim themselves as the “official” account or owner. If this is done with ill intent, there’s a possibility for customers to assume the negative content is coming from your business, and in turn, harm your online reputation.

While the unfavorable content may be the customer’s honest (and legally protected) opinion about your services or products, these attacks can come in the form of posts sharing false information about you, your business, or your employees. These posts can be published by unscrupulous competitors, disgruntled ex-employees, or individuals who have a problem with you or your employees for entirely personal reasons.

Based upon Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs’ experience, statements published to social media will be believed by the public (or at least a significant portion thereof), regardless of whether the statements made are true. Even if you immediately issue a well-thought out and appropriate response, there will still be some people who believe the initial, negative comment. If the poster has a large social media presence and their posts or comments are “liked”, shared, or spread in another fashion – either on the primary platform or to other Internet locations – your business is placed at a serious disadvantage.

Person leaving a 5 star review on mobile device

Addressing Negative Social Media Content

Both how you respond to negative content and how quickly you can address it have a significant impact on the overall outcome for your business’s reputation. Striking a balance between acting as quickly as possible and doing so in a thoughtful, productive manner can often be a challenge.

We understand that many business owners want to immediately respond to negative social media content with a post of their own, especially when the statements made are false and/or published by someone with a conflict of interest, such as a former employee or competitor. This is a natural and understandable reaction: someone is trying to hurt your business and you want to make that harm stop before more people believe the false and damaging statements. However, it’s critical to have a thoughtful action plan to address this in a professional way.

How to Respond to a Bad Review or Comment

When faced with this taxing situation, many business owners lose sight of the fact that (more often than not) a public response accusing the poster of, for example, lying or “defamation,” will not help you achieve your ultimate goal of removing the negative post, nor will it create a positive impression about your business to the general public.

First, if someone publishes false statements about your business to social media – whether they’re a customer, client, or third party with ulterior motives – calling them a “liar” is not an effective strategy to compel them to remove the post. Either they already know the content they put on the Internet was false and decided to publish it anyway or, less frequently, they have published the false statements under a mistaken belief that what they are saying is, in fact, true. In the former case, the person is unlikely to care, as they have achieved their goal of harming you. In the latter case, a response publicly accusing them of lying – and thereby questioning their integrity – is unlikely to induce them to take an action that would benefit you.

Second, when preparing a response, it’s critical to remember that the audience is not just the person who published the post or review, but, rather, the public at large, including your current and prospective clients and customers. The public does not know the origin of your dispute, or if the poster is lying. They have no means of assessing who is “right.”

However, what the public does know is how you have decided to conduct yourself in the face of dispute. If potential customers see a post accusing (who may appear to be) an actual customer of lying, those potential customers may very well decide that this is not the type of business with which they want to engage. We have found this to be particularly true for service-based businesses, where customer service is of paramount importance.

Special Considerations for Professionals

It must be noted that the issue of publishing a response to an unfavorable social media post or comment becomes even more perilous if you are a professional bound by ethical rules related to confidentiality, such as a medical professional or an attorney. An improper response may land you in trouble with your licensing board and have even greater ramifications for your future than the reputational harm caused by the post.

If you’re a professional faced with a negative social media post, make sure you consult the relevant ethical rules for your practice and jurisdiction before issuing a response. 

Best Practices for Responding to Negative Social Media Content

Ultimately, if you feel compelled to publish a response to a negative post or review on social media, the contents should be neutral, cognizant of your broader audience, and aimed at showing that you would like to resolve the matter by speaking with the individual directly.

Threats of litigation or allegations that the poster is engaging in defamation should be avoided under all circumstances, regardless of who is posting the content. Even if you intend to privately pursue a lawsuit, public representations that you will be doing so are more likely to exacerbate the situation and cause greater harm in the short term.

Today’s business owners face challenges that previously generations could not contemplate. Years spent building a reputation of trust, reliability and exceptional customer service can be placed in jeopardy in the matter of minutes by an individual armed with a keyboard and a desire to cause harm. If your business is attacked on social media, consulting with an experienced legal professional can help relieve the stress and uncertainty caused by the attack and provide you with options, tailored to your specific needs, as to how you can overcome this setback. 

The Defamation Practice Group at Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs understands that each business is unique and strives to provide their clients with practical and legal solutions to meet their needs. We encourage those interested in our services to contact us directly at [email protected] or call 440.578.090 to schedule a free consultation and discuss their options.

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