Anyone who has dealt with online attacks on either their own or their business’ reputation knows how unpleasant it can be—especially when the criticism is disproportionate, inaccurate, or unfair. You may feel inclined to respond to unflattering comments and reviews on your own, to set the record straight. But you’re still busy trying to keep the day-to-day operations of your business running smoothly, and realistically, you just don’t have time to answer every critic. Worse, you know that what gets written online stays online for a long time.
So, what should you do when you’re being trashed on the web? How can you salvage your reputation from haters with seemingly unlimited time on their hands?
Prioritize the most prominent or most commonly recurring negative opinions
You may find that many commenters are highlighting similar themes in their negative reviews. Maybe they’ve all had a comparable experience, or maybe they’ve been influenced by a particularly outspoken seed-planter. Regardless, you’ll save yourself valuable time and energy by locating the original or most prominent exponent of a particular derogatory view. Address that person directly, and try to be diplomatic if you reasonably can.
If a misconception about you or your business is very prevalent in public discourse, or there is a significant issue affecting your organization that requires explanation or clarification, an open letter or public announcement would be more effective than trying to address individuals’ concerns one at a time.
Resist the knee-jerk temptation to become defensive
Defensiveness is a natural reaction when one feels under attack. But a defensive tone can easily invite escalation. Many disgruntled-sounding customers will become more reasonable and even-handed once they’ve calmed down. By contrast, the more heated and argumentative an online discussion gets, the lower the probability of a mutually satisfactory outcome.
A good first step in many cases is to express regret over the unpleasant experience the complainer has had—“I’m sorry that this happened to you.”
Often, you’ll find it’s not difficult to identify the source of the individual’s discontent and possible solutions.
Try to set things right
Does the complainer have a legitimate gripe? Did you or your company do something that caused offense or dissatisfaction? Can the problem be rectified, or at least mitigated? Was it within your control?
Be honest with yourself as you contemplate these questions, and think about ways that you can offer a legitimately dissatisfied customer, client, or stakeholder some consolation. Would a partial or total refund be appropriate? Or a free session or product?
Don’t waste time on lewd or scurrilous comments
You’ve undoubtedly come across the phrase “Don’t feed the trolls”. Indeed, not all critics are fair, civil, or reasonable, and it’s okay to be discerning about the ones you choose to engage.
Online harassment remains a very serious problem in our society, and the ability to offer opinions anonymously online brings out the worst in certain people. Unfortunately, even in 2016, women and girls in the public eye are still regularly subjected to degrading, misogynistic diatribes. Abusive language and character assassination aren’t justified by any error or misjudgement on your part, and you needn’t feel obliged to put up with such behaviour.
Online fora and social media platforms typically have content management policies, including harassment protocols. If someone is either harassing you directly or spreading hateful innuendo about you or your organization, don’t hesitate to report it to the site’s administrators.
Keep your eye on the ball
While you can’t always dissuade people from making negative comments about you or your business, you can focus on your present and future clients and customers. If you continually learn from your mistakes and do your job responsibly and effectively, you should receive plenty of positive reviews to offset the nasty ones—especially if you make a point of soliciting and incentivizing feedback.