How to respond to negative comments on social media

Khoros Staff

For brands with a social media presence, negative comments are inevitable. Whether it’s an unhappy customer or just a “troll,” your response can make or break your online reputation.

All it takes is one complaint to quickly snowball into a larger fiasco if you don’t respond properly or at all. To build lasting trust among customers and prospects (and to set the stage for the creation of loyal brand advocates) it’s essential to know how to handle negative comments on social media.

Here are six steps you can take to deal with them, including examples of different types you may run into.

Step 1: Use social monitoring to identify negative comments

Stopping a problem in its tracks (and building lasting relationships) starts with social monitoring. Unfortunately, an unhappy customer won’t always speak directly to you.

To make sure you don’t miss important feedback, use technology that allows you to track all mentions of your brand, including branded hashtags, handles, and URLs shared on social channels. It’s also a good idea to watch for mentions that aren’t correctly tagging your brand, such as a misspelled handle and cases where your brand isn’t notified using an at sign (i.e., “@”) or a relevant hashtag.

The first place you’ll hear about a problem is likely social media.

Step 2: Know how to respond to the comment

The most important thing is to never respond negatively or defensively. Brands can take control of the situation by responding helpfully and genuinely.

Avoid canned responses and strive to make a human connection. Ensure your customer feels listened to and don’t be afraid to apologize for inconvenience or a less-than-stellar experience to help diffuse a negative situation.

How do you respond positively to negative comments?

It’s difficult to respond to negative feedback positively. Still, it can help build brand loyalty in the long run if you can show the customer you’re willing to take accountability and help resolve the issue. In the example below, Starbucks promptly apologizes and offers further assistance to a customer who complained in a comment on one of their social media posts:

Starbucks response to a negative comment on social media

Although the comment is negative feedback, Starbucks remains apologetic and positive while explaining the company-wide change instead of reacting negatively or defensively.

Step 3: Respond in a timely manner

Establish your response time, and know that speed matters. About half of social media users expect brands to respond within three hours.

Keep in mind that common service-level agreements (SLAs) can vary from mere minutes to hours, depending on a variety of factors including your industry and your team, and are likely to fluctuate based on peak times, specific events, or campaigns. With sensitive issues like an emotionally charged complaint, a slow response can leave a customer feeling ignored and stoke the flames of further discontent.

Negative sentiment can soar, and multiply—in some cases, circulating on social accounts until it reaches media outlets—when a brand’s response is seen as too slow. By responding to issues in a timely manner, your brand can show its dedication to customer service and you can prevent negative comments from going viral.

One thing is consistent across the board: rapid replies are expected.

Step 4: Respond publicly before and after moving to a private conversation

The days of purely 1:1 communication are behind us. On social media, a brand may be replying to a comment directed solely at them, yet this exchange is still taking place in the public eye. Responding publicly is essential for showcasing your brand as transparent, attentive, and helpful.

When responding to a complaint on social media, always reply publicly. If you must move the customer to a private conversation to provide a solution with greater detail or ask for sensitive information, like an account number or identifying details, try to do so on the same platform. Later, make sure to follow up publicly that the issue was resolved—to close the loop in the public eye.

Negative feedback on social media can also represent the chance to turn unhappy customers into brand advocates and provide unique opportunities to surprise and delight.

Step 5: Refer to your social media commenting policy

If you’re still unsure of how to deal with negative comments on social media, refer to your company’s social media commenting policy. Having a commenting policy in place will help you know how to respond to different types of comments and set expectations for followers and fans.

For example, the College of William & Mary has a social media commenting policy available on its website:

College of William & Mary's social media commenting policy

The College of William & Mary clearly explains which comments will be deleted from social media posts in the policy. It’s also common to include a statement about comments not reflecting the opinions or policies of the company.

Step 6: Know when it’s worth engaging

Responding to inbound posts, both compliments and complaints, strengthens a brand’s relationship with its customer base, but comments that veer into hate language territory (i.e., comments that are racist, sexist, or otherwise aggressively derogatory) may require a brand response that clearly states that kind of language is not acceptable.

Sometimes, there may be instances where a brand shouldn’t respond to a negative comment at all. It all comes down to the type of comment.

Examples of negative comments and how to respond

Different types of comments warrant different responses. Here are some examples of the most common types of negative comments on social media and tips on how to respond:

Customer complaints

Customer complaints are comments from unhappy customers who are experiencing problems with your product or service. The best way to address complaints is to first acknowledge them, apologize, and then offer a solution.

Complaints are the most common type of negative comment brands get on social media but it’s important to never ignore these comments. They are a great opportunity to create brand advocates just by providing excellent customer service. It’s also common for these comments to move into a private conversation, just remember to follow up publicly after you resolve the issue.


Some people on social media purposely look to cause problems and seek attention by leaving negative comments on posts. These individuals are often referred to as trolls. The image below is an example of troll comments directed at Starbucks.

Troll comments on Starbucks social media

The best practice when it comes to dealing with troll comments is to not engage. Their goal is to get attention, so you can just ignore them. However, never delete their comments, as it can worsen the situation.

Malicious comments

Malicious comments contain offensive or inappropriate language. They might insult or attack your brand, customers, staff, or leadership to stir things up. The best way to deal with this type of comment is to enforce the engagement rules laid out in your social media commenting policy.

For example, you can have a rule that states profane comments will be removed and you’ll enforce this by deleting any comments that contain profanity. If it comes to it, you can report or block repeat offenders.

Threatening comments

This type of comment is exactly how it sounds. Threatening comments are a serious situation as they are typically violent towards your staff, leadership, or even your customers. When it comes to harassment or threats, it’s important to refrain from engaging. You should first try to hide the comment if possible, then screenshot and report the comment to the social media platform, your legal team, and the local authorities as necessary.

How to respond to negative reviews

When it comes to responding to bad reviews, it’s similar to how you’d handle negative comments. Make sure you find them first, then don’t delay with a response. Stay positive and make sure to send a personalized reply to show the customer you care.

Milk + Honey's response to a negative comment on social media

In this example, you can see the salon, Milk + Honey, follows best practices in responding to a negative online review a customer left. They show appreciation for the feedback and offer a solution to the unhappy customer.

Who should respond to negative social media comments?

Typically, the brand’s social media manager in charge of that account responds to both positive and negative comments on posts. However, in some cases, escalated comments and DMs may be assigned to a customer service agent or manager who can provide more support.

Should you delete negative comments on social media?

It’s tempting to delete negative comments you get on social media, but be wary, as it can incite more anger and additional comments are likely to increase—both in number and in vitriol. If a comment is derogatory, you can report it, or remove it if that’s in your social media policy.

Hiding comments on Facebook is a common tactic to remove negative comments without facing backlash. You can hide the comment from the public, but it lets the comment remain visible to the user who posted it, as well as to the original poster’s friends. This lessens the potential for additional conflict when removing a comment from the public eye.

Never miss customer feedback with Khoros Social Media Management

One third of Americans have used social media to complain about a brand or its customer service, which opens up a new world of crisis management where one complaint can quickly gain momentum, putting your brand’s reputation at risk.

Social media crises are also threats to a company’s profits. Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist at the PR firm Weber Shandwick, says “One tweet, just one dangerous tweet, can really impact your share price.”

It’s imperative to stay on top of social monitoring so you never miss customer feedback. But to properly handle negative comments on social media before they escalate, your brand must first see them.

Khoros Social Media Management solution makes finding and tracking social mentions and comments easier. Request a demo today to learn more about Khoros Social Media Management.

For more best practices on social media management, download our whitepaper: Social Media Pocket Guide.

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