Social media is a powerful tool where individuals can share their unfiltered opinions about brands, both positive and negative. But sometimes those opinions can stray from the constructive and lean toward the rude, outrageous or simply incorrect.
In an age when digital confrontation and Twitter feuds are common, social media managers need to respond to these negative commenters in a manner that won’t tarnish the reputation of the company. We asked a panel of Forbes Communications Council members for their best tips on effectively handling internet “trolls.” Here's what they had to say.
1. Understand Where Your Critics Are Coming From
It's important to distinguish between well-founded complaints or criticism and hecklers. Be transparent with any complaints regarding your products or services, do your best to resolve problems and don't be afraid to match their tone or wit as long as you're coming from a place of empathy and are genuinely trying to help. If your critic refuses help, disengage. Your audience will understand. - Daniel Lalley, Brondell Inc.
2. Keep Your Emotions Out Of It
Trolls come with the territory of the online world. It is important to stay calm and not emotional so that you don’t get sucked into the negative cycle. Dealing with the comments promptly but not mindlessly engaging with the trolls helps an organization stay professional and neutral. - Preeti Adhikary, Fusemachines Inc.
3. Ask, 'How Can We Make It Right?'
Someone will always have something to complain about. So accept the criticism or the rude comments with class and kindness. Being genuine in your responses, masked with extreme kindness, will win. Sometimes asking, "How can we make it right?" often catches the offended and rude off guard. Remember a human is on the other end—you may have caught them at the wrong time. - James Gilbert, CloudCherry
4. Be Responsive
Your social media community is watching to see how you handle comments. I've found the most effective strategy to communicate is to be responsive. If it is a customer is upset, take the time to listen to their complaint and come up with an appropriate, responsible answer. Take the discussion offline, if needed, to eliminate any back and forth in front of others. Do not delete posts or comments. - Kara Cowie, SkillPath
5. Respond With Humor (When Appropriate)
Trolls just want attention. On one hand, they are trying to generate a negative image of your brand, but they also provide you with an opportunity to be in the limelight of social if you respond with humor. However, if the comment is of a serious nature, try to respond calmly and connect with them in the inbox. - Haseeb Tariq, Fox.com
6. Lean On Your Fans
More often than not, your advocates will jump to your defense and course correct an outrageous comment. Take a beat and assess the situation before overreacting and adding fuel to the fire. It's common practice to provide a statement when inaccurate information is being spread, but if it's something that warrants a conversation, try to take it offline and address privately. - Meghann Craig, Empower MediaMarketing
7. Learn To Discern What Warrants A Response
When dealing with trolls, you have to decide whether a nasty comment really deserves a thoughtful response or whether you're just going to be giving the spotlight to somebody who is seeking attention. Responding to every troll often isn't necessary, and you should be cautious about taking the bait. Consider your audience and whether they would agree that the negative comment demands a response. - Robyn Hannah, Dynamic Signal
8. Consider The Impact On Search Results
Along with an obvious polite and professional answer, always remember that people are searching for your business name. When possible, try never to use your business name in responses to rude, outrageous or negative reviews or comments, just in case it shows up somewhere you don't want it to. The opposite also applies. Don't forget to throw in your business when replying to great reviews. - Erica Orejel, SKY Waikiki • Top of Waikiki • Waikiki Business Plaza • Waikiki Shopping Plaza
9. Generate Positivity On Your Page
The more positivity you can build on your page, the less brand damage someone can inflict with negative comments and harsh reviews. To the extent that you can, respond to all social media comments. Think of your responses to negative comments as part of brand-building. Focus less on changing the mind of the "troll" and more on what kind of impression it will give to others who read it. - Ellen Sluder, RingBoost
10. Show That You Care
Unfortunately, when it comes to social media "trolls," it's par for the course. The answer is simple: Treat them as you would want to be treated. It's our job as the professional to make it right. Find out what would make this person happy, such as hotel points or a coupon for ice cream. A simple, "We're sorry and we can do better" can sometimes go a long way. Always reply to show you care. - Amanda Dalrymple, TWC Management
11. Encourage Them To Take The Conversation Offline
If trolls are the digital embodiment of unwarranted social media evil, then kindness is their kryptonite. A good social media manager won't delete the comment, (unless it's wildly inappropriate) but will respond with professional courtesy and above all, kindness. The best policy is to refer the troll to an email or phone number to file a formal complaint, then thank them for the feedback. - Melissa Kandel, little word studio
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.