Emily Tan
Nov 17, 2011

Rule #1: Don’t delete negative comments

With social media the buzz word of marketing for the past few years, you’d think brands and agencies would have strategies in place for dealing with both the positive and the negative side of consumer interaction. But recent events suggest some social media marketers may need a refresher in the basics.

Chapstick: The problematic ad that turned out to not actually be the problem
Chapstick: The problematic ad that turned out to not actually be the problem

Take Chapstick for example. By all accounts it’s a social media savvy brand. The ad (pictured) that started all of that brand's trouble even urges consumers to “be heard at facebook.com/chapstick”. When one consumer, who found the ad offensive, wrote a blogpost in October and then took them up on their offer, her comments were deleted. She wrote a blogpost about that too, as did a mother who said she and her family would no longer be using Chapstick and had her comments deleted as well.

Pretty soon there was an online petition to get the Chapstick ad pulled and the incident was covered by articles in Forbes and the Wall Street Journal. Chapstick did pull the ad in the end and issued an apology to consumers who “felt their posts were being deleted.”

Even more recently, Sapient Nitro’s Gurgaon office decided to make a self-promoting music video and post it to their Facebook page. When bombarded with negative comments like “does this make Rebecca Black an idea engineer?” the comments were deleted, users reportedly banned, and the video taken down.

Too late though. The video had been copied and was reuploaded on YouTube where SapientNitro had no control over user comments – quite a few deriding its social media abilities. An explanation that the video wasn't meant for global audiences was posted on SapientNitro's blog which, taking local cultures into account, puts a new spin on the video.

But the video's ill-reception isn't the real problem. While SapientNitro isn’t a consumer-facing brand, the real damage to its reputation, points out Fleishman-Hillard’s senior vice-president and head of digital integration for Asia Napoleon Biggs, is the perpetuity of the web. “Now everytime someone does a search for SapientNitro and social media, chances are this incident will pop up.”

One factor tying these two incidents together is that the original problem may have gone largely unnoticed if Chapstick and SapientNitro hadn’t started enraging their fanbase by deleting comments.

“The message they’re sending out is that they don’t value their customers and their feedback; that they're only interested in broadcasting their mantra and not truly listening and responding to consumer feedback,” observed Scott Pettet, Asia-Pacific vice president for Lewis PR. The outraged reponse, he continued, is because “heavy-handed moderation in social media suggests that a brand is trying to control consumers and this runs totally against the grain in the context of social media”.

That brands still make this mistake is a result of poor planning, agree experts. “Brands and agencies tend to skip developing a robust set of social media policies and processes. They also tend to delegate social media management to junior and inexperienced staff,” observed Burson-Marsteller’s director and lead digital strategist for Greater China, Zaheer Nooruddin.

Biggs acknowledged that negative online comments can be quite hurtful. This, combined with a lack of social policy, guidance and perhaps, a junior employee, can result in panic and the deletion of all negative feedback.

So how should negative comments be handled? “Brands have to take it on the chin when they make a mistake. If you’re not prepared to do that, social media is not the place for your brand,” said Pettet. Brands shouldn’t take too long about it either, he added. “Chapstick could have demonstrated that it really was listening to the voice of its consumers, and even though they got the ad wrong, the correct response could have won them even more fans.”

“Even if the comment is somewhat unreasonable, brands should at least acknowledge that they’ve seen it and they’re working on it,” Biggs said. “Human nature craves attention, they just want to be heard, give it to them and you may earn a fan.”

Brands have every right to delete abusive or threatening comments but they should take a screen shot, acknowledge the comment was deleted with an explanation and invite the user to continue the discussion privately, added Biggs.

“Negative comments should be dealt with transparently,” commented Nooruddin.

Of course, avoiding a situation where you receive negative comments altogether is ideal, but quite often impossible. “Marketers will get these things wrong from time to time. It’s about how you respond. Be sure you have a policy for it.” said Pettet.

“Someone, somewhere will not like what you’re doing and will say so. It’s a shark pit, if you’re going to jump in, be prepared and wear chainmail,” said Biggs.

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