Respond To Negative Comments Without Backing Down

Respond to negative comments without backing downReceiving negative comments or harsh criticisms doesn’t necessarily mean you, as the brand, are in the wrong. But dealing with the naysayers without backing down from what you stand for can be a trick.

A former employer of mine used to survey the crap out of customers.

Everywhere you went, surveys were thrust in their hands, suggestion boxes were posted at every corner; we even had surveyors walking around with handheld computers asking customers if they had time.

All responses were circulated amongst directors and negative feedback had to be addressed.  This may sound good in theory but here is the problem:

We spent too much time reacting to negative feedback; pulling campaigns, creating more rules, and simply putting out fires to make people happy.

It’s bound to happen.

You’re going to get negative feedback. You always have, it’s just social media has made if far more public. One of the biggest objections I get from CEOs about establishing an online presence is they don’t want to open themselves up to backlash.

I know. Negative comments suck. We try not to take it personally but even if we’re an employee of the brand and not the actual brand, it still feels like a direct hit.

If people have something negative to say about you, they’re going to say it, and they are going to post it. Wouldn’t you rather have it be on your home turf so you can respond appropriately and fix the problem?

Brands require a thicker skin now, and with it, more self-confidence to stay the course and be true to their own values.

How can you respond to negative comments without backing down?

Martin X is upset with Patagonia. He scanned the photo above from the Patagonia catalog and posted to their Facebook wall with the following comment:

Irresponsible Parent skiing with helmet – less child during blizzard conditions in BC, Canada via Patagonia Catalog promotion.

You can see the full thread here.

Patagonia responded two days later with the following:

Hi Martin,

As parents of the next generation of Patagoniacs, we fully agree that it’s paramount that we protect our kids as much as we can as they explore their world. We also value the case-by-case judgement (sic) that a life in the outdoors requires and develops. Self knowledge, risk assessment, decision making and personal responsibility are qualities that define the activities we love. In this case, little Casey’s father assures us that as a veteran peak bagger, ocean swimmer and world traveler, Casey (and the giraffe) loved the powder run with Mom and returned to the cozy lodge all smiles and in perfect condition. 

We appreciate your comments and concern, and thanks as always for being part of the Patagonia community.

Two days is a little slow to respond to something like this, but they were the first to respond before others’ chimed in with their opinions.

Let’s dissect the response before we talk about the rest of public opinion:

  1. Show empathy. Patagonia demonstrated empathy by stating that they too are parents. They agree with Martin’s assessment that safety is paramount.
  2. Establish boundaries. Everyone has their own definition of “safety.” They explain that adventuring is, by nature dangerous (but so is crossing the street and simply sleeping in your crib). They leave it to parents to determine what is right and wrong.
  3. Thank the commenter. They thank him for his comments, and for being part of the community. (We agree to disagree in this case.)

Out of the 57 comments, everyone came to the defense of Patagonia. The mother in the photo commented about the love for her child and the safety of the situation. The father (and photographer) attested to the same, and many other customers agreed.

After Patagonia made the simple statement, they let the community continue the conversation without getting involved.

Martin, not satisfied with the response, continued to post his discontent on their wall over the next few days. Patagonia had said their piece, however,  and stayed out of it while a minority agreed with Martin, most came to Patagonia’s defense.

And then it went away.

The Lesson

Who doesn’t like a brand with a bit of self-confidence? Sometimes you’ll be in the wrong, and that’s a different blog post, but sometimes you’ll be criticized and you need to be OK with disagreeing. Don’t let the trolls and  the naysayers control you.

Some brands might have pulled the catalog, rescinded the photo, and backed down with bowing, with their tail between their legs.

You don’t have to do that. Address the situation head on. Empathize, listen and thank. If you’re doing everything else right like building a community based on values you all strongly believe in, your community will come to your defense.

Don’t fear the bad guys. Karma will do it’s work. You can’t be everything to everyone and if they don’t like you? Let them stroll on by to the next X. Y, or Z company. They just aren’t the customer for you.

If you like what you've read, please subscribe to get new articles to your inbox. We update 4 to 6 times per month. 


Tell others about this:
Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Buffer this pageEmail this to someone
  • Justin Brackett

    Great thoughts Lisa!! When I see people back peddling on something they
    said or they did when they get a negative comment, it makes me
    grimace! Without knowing it they just devalued their brand. So, did they think
    everyone would always agree with them? Heck no. Best thing is to keep
    it human and relational right?

    • Lisa Gerber

      Hey Justin! :) Yes – remember the Gap logo? They pulled it back without ever really releasing it other than to a bunch of us Twitter addicts – not an accurate sample at all.

  • Pingback: Marketing Day: January 2, 2013()

  • Christina Pappas

    I left a negative comment on Yelp a few weeks back and the owner of the business called me to ask me why I would ruin her business. She was literally crying over this review. I think a better reaction would be to publicly respond to others could see she had seen the review and add her side to the story. We all know that perfect (all 5 stars) is not always sincere. What happened to being honest? Or rather, the market allowing consumers to be honest?

  • Rich Hohne

    Super good post, Lisa. It seems to me most brands call the lawyer first and that dictates their response. And while keeping your lawyer happy might be important, the best thing to do is be honest and let your viewers be heard. It’s almost like we really have gone back to the days of “no bad press” because you can have it work for you and have your true colors shine through.

    • Lisa Gerber

      So true, Rich. If you focus on keeping the lawyers happy first, and customers second, pretty soon you won’t have a reason to keep the lawyers happy. :)

  • Pingback: Marketing Articles and Resources For The Week()

  • Carol Lynn Rivera

    That’s a great example, Lisa, and a wise response we can learn from. When people complain there’s either a gut reaction to pretend it never happened or to get defensive. This is a great approach for any size business. I’m sure it’s not easy to “stay our of it” especially as more people complain and that defense mechanism kicks in again but it’s a good goal to aim for!

    • Lisa Gerber

      Hi Carol!
      I worked with a large client this year and their community manager did an awesome job. She’d call me to discuss how to handle a negative comment and we’d strategize together – and I loved her because of course it made her angry and hurt. But we’d figure out the right way to respond without emotion.