How to Turn Negative Online Feedback Into Reputation Growth

By Sarah Asp Olson

Man at laptop

Whether it’s a Facebook comment that’s less than flattering, a one-star Google review detailing exactly how your company let a client down, or even a former employee who decided to go out with a bang, negative feedback is an inevitable part of doing business online. 

Whatever the complaint — big or small, real or exaggerated — how you respond matters. 

In an online-fueled world where 4.9 billion people are on social media and 76% of consumers read reviews when evaluating businesses, you better believe your current and potential customers are watching. 

Feedback — good, bad and indifferent (we’re looking at you, 3.5 stars, no comment) — is ubiquitous when doing business online. The best strategies for managing negative comments and reviews not only address the original customer complaint but also showcase your empathy and compassion as a business. 

In this post, we’ll walk you through (with examples) the step-by-step process of handling negative feedback — from that first knee-jerk reaction to the resolution of the complaint. Our guide? Our very own director of digital strategy, Anthony Vera Cruz. 

Ready, Anthony? We sure are! 

Someone Is Unhappy and Posted About It. Now What? 

“It’s not personal; it’s just business.” 

That may have worked for Michael Corleone, but for the vast majority of business leaders, it’s very much the opposite. Your business — and how you conduct it — is often one of the most personal things about you. 

When you get negative feedback, it’s only natural to feel that twinge of hurt, anger or defensiveness. Yet, according to Vera Cruz, it’s essential to shift away from that perspective as quickly as possible. 

“It stings. It hurts to see this thing out there publicly, and many of us can’t help but take it personally,” he says. 

But a bad review, comment or post doesn’t have to be a bad thing. “It’s actually an opportunity that you could never manufacture on your own to be able to showcase what kind of company you really are.”

With that mindset modification in place, let’s dive into the steps you should take when it happens. 

Step 1: Don’t Delete

Let’s start by noting that some platforms don’t allow outright deletion. Google, for example, does not let businesses easily remove reviews. If you think a review violates Google’s terms of service, you can report it to Google for evaluation, but this is far from a guarantee of removal.

When it comes to platforms that do allow you to remove negative feedback, like Facebook, deleting every negative comment may seem like the most straightforward solution, but it can often backfire. 

Not only is the internet forever (screenshots, anyone?), but you also need to think like a consumer scrolling through your comment section. 

“If I saw a company with no bad feedback ever or if the reviews were too good to be true, that would cause my radar to go off,” Vera Cruz says. 

That’s because deleting negative feedback makes you seem untrustworthy. Nobody’s perfect, and your customers know that. Invesp reports that 30% of consumers assume online reviews are fake if there are no negative reviews. 

Most importantly, removing negative comments and reviews is a big missed opportunity. According to TrustPilot, “88% of consumers read reviews to determine the quality of a business’s customer experience, and 76% of consumers say they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them.” 

“Either the review is accurate but negative, or it’s negative and untrue. How you handle your response in either scenario — with diplomacy and customer service — speaks massive volumes. If you just delete those things off the site, you lose the opportunity to demonstrate your empathy and care for your customers.” — Anthony Vera Cruz, m3 director of digital strategy

Addressing concerns head-on not only showcases your commitment to resolving issues, but it also demonstrates that you value empathy and trustworthiness. 

But wait! That’s not to say there are never circumstances that warrant deleting a negative review. We’ll get to that a bit later, so stick around. 

Step 2: Read and Understand

Before crafting a response, take time to thoroughly understand the reviewer’s concerns. Is it a customer care complaint? Are they unhappy with the quality of a product or service? 

In some cases, the complaint may be legitimate (your company screwed up). Other times, the negative feedback is unwarranted. You may need to confer with your staff to get a clear picture of which is most accurate. 

Taking time to understand the problem and the situation gives you the best possible chance to reach a resolution. 

Step 3: Respond 

For a review on a public forum like Google or Facebook, the best course of action is to respond publicly. It shows both the reviewer and those reading the review that you’re actively addressing the issue. 

Remember, the primary aim of your response is to open a dialogue with the reviewer and, ideally, resolve the issue. 

No two situations are alike, and you should customize your response based on the reviewer, situation and platform. Use the following as a starting point to craft an empathetic and thoughtful response. 

Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Max comments the following on a company social media post:

“This is what you call leadership? More like, let’s micromanage our hard-working employees and treat them like crap. I put in my time and work for this company and get nothing in return. I miss the old guard before the merger. This company is totally going down the tubes.” 

Using the knowledge they found in this blog post, the team might craft this response: 

Max, thank you for your openness about what you’ve been feeling lately. This sort of candid feedback helps us know where we may need to put some additional attention. Change is never without its bumps. We’re excited about where our company is headed and are glad to have you as a part of it. We’d love to discuss your specific situation further, if you’d like. Just message us directly, or I can have someone reach out. 

Each piece of that response serves a specific purpose as shown in this infographic below. 

Here’s another example from Julia, who left a one-star Google review:
“I ordered a bulk shipment of parts from this company for a huge project we were handling. Not only did the parts arrive three days late, but half the parts were the wrong model. Their customer service was unresponsive. We were left scrambling. Highly disappointed with the lack of professionalism and will think twice before using them again.”

And here’s how the team might respond:

Julia, thank you so much for taking time to share your thoughts. I totally understand how frustrating that must have been. Your detailed account helps us ensure this does not happen to others. While we can’t fix what happened, we would like a chance to earn back your trust going forward. Please contact us via DM or phone at 555-5555.

Step 4: Keep It Professional and Empathetic

As demonstrated in the examples above, no matter the nature of the complaint, your tone should remain professional and empathetic. This public response is as much for every other potential customer reading it as it is for the one who left the review or comment. 

Flying off the handle, being dismissive or matching a disrespectful tone tells potential customers that you can’t handle criticism. And that’s never a good look.  

And — perhaps most importantly — be sure to craft any of your responses with an approachable, human voice. Adopting an overly formal tone or “corporate speak” can come off as generic, insincere or detached, which is the opposite of what we are going for.

As we demonstrated in the examples above, writing in your own voice (while remaining professional) can soften and humanize your response. 

“Most people will deescalate more quickly and be more receptive to your reply when they feel like they are talking ‘person to person’ versus ‘person to faceless company,’” explains Vera Cruz.

Step 5: Offer a Direct Line of Communication

According to Moz, When an owner’s response solves a cited problem, 62% of customers will give your business a second chance, and an additional 28% say they might. Of course, not every complaint can be solved publicly and in the moment. Do your best to address the concern with a response, and then offer a way to communicate directly with the offended party via email, DM or phone. 

“The best outcomes are when you are able to open a dialogue with that person and really unpack more about what that person’s going through and why this was so painful for them,” Vera Cruz says. “It’s another opportunity to show compassion and empathy.”

Not every one-on-one interaction will turn a negative commenter into a brand ambassador (though some do!). But an attempt to resolve the issue to the customer’s satisfaction can leave them with a better impression of you and your business. 

Step 6: Reflect and Improve 

Every piece of feedback is an opportunity for growth. Negative reviews and comments represent a chance to do better. Try to approach it from a place of learning and growth. Is there any truth to the feedback? What can you learn from this comment? How can you improve your processes or performance to enhance this customer’s experience (and those who come after)? 

Now Is the Time to Plan Your Response 

Negative feedback is inevitable. Don’t let it catch you off guard. Start crafting a plan for responding to negative and positive feedback now. (That’s right: You need to respond to the good ones, too!) This is called reputation management, and it’s more important than ever.

Keep Reading: 4 Steps to a Successful Reputation Management Program

“Look at negative reviews and comments like mini-crises — and treat them accordingly,” Vera Cruz says. “You want to have a crisis plan in place so you can respond quickly and confidently.”

The crisis communication arm of your reputation management plan should include:

  • Monitoring. Establish the tools, platforms and people who will be monitoring online mentions and reviews. 
  • Immediate action protocols. What happens when you discover negative feedback? You shouldn’t be guessing at the immediate next steps. 
  • Designated responders. Which team members should respond publicly, and who should reach out to the author, if necessary? 
  • Escalation process. Unfortunately, not every negative situation ends with a positive outcome. Develop an escalation protocol and exit strategy if communication channels aren’t working to resolve the issue. 
  • Legal considerations. Before responding or issuing blanket apologies, it’s important to check in with your legal team, especially if you are part of a highly regulated industry such as health care. They can guide you through any potential implications and ensure your response doesn’t inadvertently admit fault or liability. 

If this feels overwhelming, you may want to rely on the support of an agency to handle your reputation management. That way, experts can monitor and respond to both the positive and negative reviews on your behalf. 

When Is it OK to Delete a Comment? 

We’ve spent a significant amount of time telling you why you shouldn’t delete comments, but there’s an exception to every rule. In this case, there are two: safety and legality. 

As mentioned above, Google has a system in place to handle reviews that violate its content policies. This can include things like hate speech, fake engagement or illegal content. Google warns, though, not to report a review “just because you disagree with it or don’t like it.”

When it comes to social media platforms, where you have more control, the same principles should apply. 

“There are certain situations where it’s either a safety issue or legal issue,” Vera Cruz says. “It could be a threat of workplace violence, or someone has shared confidential client or patient information. Those are cases where it makes sense to delete a comment or review where applicable.” 

Remember, We’re All Humans

Pull-quote from our Director of Digital Strategy

Mistakes will happen. You’ll mess up an order, or a customer will misunderstand a policy and snap back with a disproportionate response. When you get hit with negative feedback online — especially when it feels unjustified — it helps to remember that there is an actual person behind that screen who feels hurt or wronged. 

“The products and services you’re creating are for humans who got up this morning, went to work and got through the day,” Vera Cruz says. “It’s easy to lose sight of that. Every business is about humans interacting with humans. That’s why this reputation management stuff is so important.”

Sarah Asp Olson

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