I’m not a big Internet commenter myself, but it’s my instinct to read comments on blog posts or Facebook posts, or to look something up and read a few reviews before making a purchase. Personally, I know my perception of a product or service can be forever altered by a positive or negative comment – and I’m not alone.
A survey last year showed that 72 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
In other words, that guy in the comments section named HamSandwich23 is officially just as reputable a source of information, at least in perception, as a family member.
Businesses don’t usually have the tools or the personnel to monitor all of these touch points, which can make for a PR nightmare. We’ve talked about how to respond to negative feedback on social media before, but what about ad hominem attacks and insults that barely have a thing to do with a product?
To Catch a Troll
An Internet “troll” is somebody who anonymously reads and comments on articles with less-than-favorable words. A recent study showed that this “trolling” can seriously impact the perception of a brand.
Here is what The New York Times, which helped run the study, had to say:
“Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself … In the civil group, those who initially did or did not support the technology — whom we identified with preliminary survey questions — continued to feel the same way after reading the comments.”
The troll seems to have a lot of power when it comes to perception, so how can PR work to fix that problem?
Staying Connected, Civilly
Customers often take it for granted that businesses are going to be easily accessible and responsive online. So, while silence may not be an option, implementing some editorial oversight certainly is.
When it comes to blogs, businesses should make sure to set up a moderation feature. That way, they can review comments before they go live on their websites. This is much better than disabling commenting altogether and closing off an avenue of engagement. Reader comments can enrich customer relationships and potentially reduce the bounce rate from visitors, because comments can engage people and encourage them to stay on the site for longer.
There’s also an oft-overlooked thing about negative online comments: you can actually turn them into a great PR opportunity to connect with people and share more about your brand.
Just make sure that the comments aren’t coming from a troll, first.
Turning Comments into PR Opportunities
It’s important to understand that the majority of Internet commenters are not trolls. Having an honest exchange with someone is much different than trying to defend yourself from unwarranted attacks.
So let’s imagine that someone posts a negative comment on a Facebook Page or a blog post. First, you need to decide whether or not it’s coming from a customer or a troll. That’s easy: if the person has a real issue with a product or service, then it’s better to allow the comment. If the comment is incomprehensible vitriol studded with curses, then it may be a troll.
People will understand if you delete or ignore a comment that is totally off-base. However, deleting comments about real problems with a product or service seems dishonest.
By allowing unfavorable – but real – comments onto a Facebook Page, businesses show that they are genuine and transparent. The best way to address issues that arise within negative comments is to not only respond, but link to pages that provide more in-depth coverage of the issue at hand. If the content is on your own site, you’re also continuing to directly engage those visitors.
Setting up a moderation filter on a blog and keeping a close eye on social media channels allows companies to determine which commenters are trolls and which are customers. Once that line is drawn, it’s a matter of engaging with the negative comments and helping the customer and showing every other customer who’s watching that you care about resolving the issue.
Negative comments can be a PR problem, but positive, helpful responses can be a PR boon. Just don’t get tricked by a troll.