Brands of all sizes and in all sectors can receive negative comments on a daily basis, and it’s crucial to protect your online reputation by responding in a strategic way.

Before social media, some complaints were easily forgotten mutterings. However, the digital world has made it all too easy to express frustrations on the web that stick around for eternity – and can gather attention in an instant.

Our golden rules will equip you in responding to online criticism.

  1. Honesty. Organisations that give frequent updates regarding issues are more likely to receive sympathy from customers. Ignoring concerns and not communicating the problems you’re facing only leaves room for speculation or gives the impression you don’t care. Be transparent and straightforward.


  1. Respond quickly, fairly and rationally. Consider the publisher’s feelings. They’ve invested time and money into a product or service and feel let down. What message would they want from the company? Some people may be abusive, but it’s important to stay calm. Aim to take the conversation offline by responding publicly and suggesting a resolution either through email or phone call.


  1. Be mindful of future content. Currys PC World is regularly inundated with complaints on its social content. The constant flow of posts that don’t address consumer issues only fuels stakeholders’ annoyance. This doesn’t look good to potential customers. The picture below shows a recent attempt at some light-hearted fun on the brand’s Facebook channel which backfired.


  1. Copy and pasted replies. Nothing is more frustrating than a clipboard response. Everyone’s issues will be different, so the response should to be tailored. Taking time to personalise answers may take longer but will ultimately help client relations in the long-run. For example, Birchbox UK experienced delays in shipments. The business responded to all comments on social media individually and let users know when they could expect their order based on purchase dates. Show you are going the extra mile to resolve difficulties and consumers will have more understanding.


  1. Refuting allegations. Provide some sort of evidence, whether it’s an email chain or pictures. An example of how not to do this is Oh Polly. The clothing retailer claimed a controversial direct message from one of its employees was photoshopped. This is too easy to claim and difficult to prove. Unsurprisingly, no one believed them. Twitter users criticised the brand’s actions for claiming the picture was fake rather than addressing the content itself and reinforcing they don’t agree with said views.


  1. Hide comments when necessary. This is okay in some situations on Facebook. Once hidden, the commenter and their friends will still see it. This avoids a ‘You deleted what I said!’ situation.

On Twitter you can report tweets or privately contact the poster. Instagram allows you to turn off comments on your posts, but this presents its own problems in terms of engagement.