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Caring loudly: A gov guide to negative social media comments

Jun 17, 2024

Contributed blog by Angie Ramirez, Freelance Writer at Government Social Media

Social media is no stranger to negative comments, and government social media accounts can be a prime target.

As government social media managers, it’s easy to let those negative comments get to us. Even though we understand that the person is not mad at “us”, it can still be difficult not to take it personally at times... especially when the comment says something like “fire the intern” or perhaps it’s criticizing a typo you accidentally overlooked while switching between many hats.

Whether the work is about our social media strategies, or the work or organization is doing as a whole, it’s important to respond with tact and compassion.

When I find myself getting frustrated over a negative or rude social media comment, I like to think of the wise words of our municipal queen, Leslie Knope, “What I hear when I'm being yelled at is people caring loudly at me.”

Here are some quick tips on responding to negative comments and turning those loud concerns into meaningful conversations.

1. Stay calm and professional

When a storm of negativity hits, remember to stay calm. It’s not about you; it’s about the issue at hand. Responding with professionalism shows that your agency values feedback and is committed to serving the community.

Example Response: Hi [insert name], Thank you for your feedback. We value [insert topic] and will pass along your comment to the appropriate department so that staff can look into this concern.

2. Acknowledge and validate

A lot of the times when folks are leaving negative comments, they really just want to feel heard. Even if you don’t have an immediate solution, just acknowledging their comment is an important way to show that you’re listening. This simple step can diffuse a lot of the initial frustration.

Example Response: Hi [insert name], we are sorry to hear about your frustration and we understand that this issue is important to you. We will share your concern with the [insert department] for review.

3. Provide clear and accurate information

Negative comments can also come from misinformation (or disinformation). Providing clear, concise, and accurate information can clarify any misconceptions and show transparency.

Example Response: Hi [insert name], we know there has been a lot of misinformation about this topic. Here are the facts about [issue]. [Provide clear, concise, and factual information]. We hope this clarifies the situation. You can learn more about this topic at [insert webpage with relevant info].

4. Show empathy

As public servants, many of us just want to help support our communities. When responding to negative comments, it’s important to take a breath and try to approach the topic with empathy and compassion. Connecting on a human level can build trust and show that the agency genuinely cares about the community’s concerns.

Example Response: Hi [insert name], We understand that this situation is frustrating and hear your concerns. We’re committed to finding a solution that works for everyone.

5. Follow up

After addressing the issue, follow up to ensure the commenter feels heard and satisfied. This shows a commitment to continuous improvement and can turn a critic into an advocate.

Example Response: Hello again [insert name], We connected with the [insert name] department and have received the following information [detail of information or what is being done to address the original complaint]. Thank you again for sharing this concern.

But Angie… What about trolls?

So maybe not allll comments are people caring loudly. While many negative comments can come from genuine concerns, and responding can be a great opportunity to build meaningful relationships with your community, trolls are a different story. Trolls aim to provoke and disrupt, oftentimes intentionally posting to incite a response. Here’s a few steps you can take to handle them:

Tip: Don’t feed them 

Engaging with trolls can only fuel the behavior. Respond once if necessary, then move on.

Example Response: We encourage constructive dialogue. If you have a concern about the [insert agency name], please fill out a service request at [insert website].

Tip: Redirect to private channels

Some issues are too complex to address adequately in a public forum. Offer to continue the conversation through private messages, email, or phone calls.

Example Response: We’d like to discuss this in more detail to better address your concerns. Could you please send us a direct message or email us at [email address]?

Tip: Turn it into a teachable moment

Sometimes we can play the game too and turn troll comments into teachable moments and an opportunity to educate the public on respectful engagement and the importance of constructive feedback.

Example Response: We value all community input. Please remember to keep discussions respectful and constructive. Here’s how you can make your feedback more impactful... [provide tips].

Tip: Consider using humor

Depending on the voice of your organization, you may be able to turn troll comments into funny opportunities to showcase brand personality. DISCLAIMER: Before trying this approach, discuss it with your team to ensure it’s on-brand and not insensitive.

Example Response:

 

Tip: Know when to not engage

Some trolls are not worth engaging with. You know who they are and rather than adding fuel to the fire and giving them attention, it’s best to just not respond. Pro tip: Have some outlined ‘rules’ written down in your internal customer service policy to help guide this decision to not engage.

For more detailed information on handling these interactions and how to discern the difference between someone caring loudly and a true troll, please visit this blog “Redefining Trolls and Creating Opportunities from Negative Interactions” written by Jessie Brown in 2021.

Conclusion

Navigating negative social media comments can be challenging, but it’s also an opportunity to show your agency’s responsiveness, transparency, and dedication. By staying calm, empathetic, and professional, you can transform loud caring into constructive dialogue. 

And last but not least, remember to take care of your mental health. If your agency’s page is getting flooded with negative comments, speak up and let your team know when you need a break or some help. We’re on the frontlines of communications for government accounts, and it’s crucial to recognize when we need a pause to take care of ourselves so we can ultimately better serve our communities.


Meet the author

Angela Ramirez (Pitts)

Freelance Writer - Government Social Media LLC

Angela is an award-winning government communicator who is passionate about leveraging social media to build strong relationships between government agencies and the people they serve. During her tenure with the City of Tampa, Angela proudly maintained a dynamic social media presence for the City, telling Tampa’s story through historic events, including the Super Bowl, the COVID-19 pandemic, major hurricanes, and more. She also helped establish a community-centric social media following for the City, growing the @cityoftampa Instagram profile from less than 1k followers to over 100k in under five years.

She has recently moved to the beautiful state of Colorado and now serves as Communications Manger for the City of Lakewood, the 5th largest city in the state. Her passion for government social media continues as she strives to be a thought leader in the field. She takes immense pride in the connections she’s made with social media professionals across the nation.

Angela earned her bachelor's degree from the University of South Florida and is currently completing her master's degree in Digital Strategy from the University of Florida. In her free time, you can find her scrolling Instagram Reels, spending time with her husband and dog, or planning her next big adventure.


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