By Brian Appleton published September 11, 2017

7 Witty Ways to Respond to Negative Feedback on Your Content

respond-to-negative-feedbackSeven years ago, as a naive content marketer with more enthusiasm on my resume than actual experience, something transpired that bugged me for years. I was working as a freelance blogger, paying my way through college. A typical morning involved writing, publishing, and scheduling social media content and blog posts for clients. My weekend had been relaxing and my Monday morning coffee was just about perfect.

Then it happened. Someone said they hated my blog post. What was even worse? They said I couldn’t write worth a lick.

I was stunned. Shocked. Discouraged.

It surprised me so much that I couldn’t even formulate a response.

Today I wouldn’t think of ignoring negative feedback. Responding to negative feedback is one of the best ways to showcase your brand’s personality. All you need is a little creativity, honesty, and a solid grasp of the facts. It’s known as wit – the ability to think quickly, often associated with humor.

Responding to negative feedback is a great way to showcase your brand’s personality, says @BArailrunner. Click To Tweet

Here are seven tips I use when responding to negative feedback that enable me to strengthen the audience relationship and show off the brand’s fun, professional personality.

1. Play it cool

Every time I read a negative comment, bad review, or insulting remark I take a long, deep breath and read it again.

The temptation is to reply immediately to counter all the horrible things being publicly posted. Responding in the heat of the moment always makes things worse.

Take the time to consider your reply and don’t jump to conclusions. First, consider the context of the complaint and then formulate a response.

If you’re good at humorous writing (or have a co-worker who is) use that to your advantage. Responding with authentic humor is one of the best ways to defuse a tense situation. In the same way that a smile relieves tension in face-to-face encounters, tasteful humor can turn a bad situation into a great one.

Respond to a negative comment w/ authentic humor to defuse a tense situation, says @BArailrunner. #socialmedia Click To Tweet

That’s exactly what Sainsbury’s did when it turned a customer’s clever but frustrated tweet into a viral brand win.


2. Understand your responsibility

It’s easy to think your first responsibility in responding is damage control that appeases the commenter. While you absolutely need to resolve the situation, your first responsibility is to your audience and your brand.

Let me clarify. Your target audience only includes people with the potential to turn into paying customers and brand advocates. In other words, focus on people who could become qualified sales leads.

If the commenter isn’t part of your target market, don’t go overboard to appease him or her. Instead, address the issue and showcase your brand’s personality.

If negative commenter isn’t in your target market, don’t go overboard to appease them, says @BArailrunner. Click To Tweet

Everlane registered a win after sharing a classy but funny response to a brutal customer complaint on Instagram.


3. Generic doesn’t cut it

Never reply with a general statement. That’s a recipe for frustration. Your response needs to be customized to address the concern.

You can always tell when someone is using a copy-and-paste response rather than writing a personal message. Needless to say, this infuriates people.

Remember what happened in 2013 when Bank of America used a bot to generate automatic Twitter responses?


4. Identify hopeless interactions

There are three types of brand haters you’re bound to encounter if you create and share content online:

  • Trolls – People who enjoy stirring up trouble by trying to provoke irrational or emotional responses
  • Goblins – People who get offended at your brand and lash out on a personal level
  • Hobgoblins – The dangerous hybrid – people who troll your brand nonstop and use a smattering of highly offensive language while making everything personal

Rarely will you be able to reason with any one of these three aggressors. If that’s the case, see if you can (1) hide or delete their feedback or (2) sharpen your wit and create a moment your ideal audience will enjoy … just like Wendy’s did.


5. Respond kindly, not in kind

It’s not always clear why negative feedback occurs or what the real issue is. When this is the case, your best approach is to make sure you understand the spirit in which the original message was intended. Was it hostile, confused, humorous, or frustrated? Once you think you understand how the message was intended, you can craft an appropriate response.

In 2013, Tesco responded to a Twitter user that tagged its account in a joke about a friend’s mobile voicemail. While Tesco’s response might seem rude or insensitive to some, it ultimately resulted in a playful exchange that promoted a positive brand perception. All because Tesco considered the intent of the message.


6. Transform the conversation

Turn a negative into a positive by changing the narrative and owning the experience. You don’t always have to say “sorry,” ban an offensive comment, or write a lengthy response. Sometimes you just need to own it and unapologetically laugh about it with your audience. Be true to your brand’s personality.


7. Block or ban (in rare circumstances)

Banning someone or hiding a comment should be a last resort. Try your best to reach a peaceful resolution in a way that preserves brand integrity and addresses legitimate concerns.

However, if a particularly obnoxious, slanderous, or outright offensive person publicly attacks your brand, it’s OK to ban them. Here are three steps I follow:

  • Hide or delete derogatory language and offensive terminology.
  • Respond to the original poster by asking them to privately message your brand to resolve the situation.
  • Ban the poster if they ignore you and continue posting offensive comments.

TIP: Ensure that your steps to dealing with offensive language are known to your audience by publishing them in your guidelines. It’s helpful to post those before a potential issue arises to avoid looking reactionary.

Prevention is the best medicine

It’s always best to anticipate problems and address potential concerns before your content goes live.

For example, Facebook allows you to ban offensive words in posts to your page:
1) Go to “Settings” at the top right of page:


2) Select “Page Moderation”:


3) Enter the words to ban from your page and click “Save Changes”:


It’s as simple as that.

Avoiding unfavorable criticism is impossible if you consistently publish and share content over an extended period. However, you can minimize the damage with a witty reply that both satisfies the commenter and enhances brand perception.

If you ever see that comment that stuns, shocks, or discourages you (or your brand), just remember these three tidbits:

  1. Negative feedback is better than content obscurity.
  2. The goal of every interaction is to improve brand credibility and perception.
  3. Always stay true to your brand’s personality.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Brian Appleton

Brian is a content specialist and copywriter at Envision Creative in Austin, Texas and has been professionally blogging since 2010 with a focus on creating compelling content that is both fun and valuable. Follow him on Twitter @BArailrunner.

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  • Vishwajeet Kumar

    Hello Brian,

    Being a blogger from past 10 months I have never faced this type of issue. However I think the points you have mentioned here is very factual and one of the professional way to deal with the situation. Negative comments can definitely harm brands or even individuals reputation and deal with this need patience and professionalism. I will keep your points in mind. Thanks for the insights.

    Enjoy your day 🙂

    • Brian Appleton

      Thanks Vishwajeet, it’s always great to hear that someone has been able to avoid that side of blogging. Keep up the great work!

  • Point Visible

    haha, LOVE Wendy’s Twitter, always makes me giggle.
    And, what I hate is the generic answers, as you mentioned. Sometimes they are useful, okay, they save time and so on, but think a personalized approach does so much more for clients and brand impression.
    Lovely article btw!

    • Brian Appleton

      Taking a personalized approach is the way to go, I completely agree. Wendy’s social media team is awesome, they do a really great job of being authentic, cheeky, and still professional.
      Thank you for the kind words!

  • Michael Stone

    Great article!

    • Brian Appleton

      Thanks Michael, glad you liked it.

  • Franklin Morris II

    Thanks for this article. I liked it a lot. Thanks for all of the examples you gave as well.

    My big concern is what do you do if a person uses Fiverr or something like that to get 100 or 200 negative reviews about your business at one time? I read a story about someone who had that happen to him with Facebook reviews, and at that time, Facebook didn’t get rid of all of those reviews. Can Google and Facebook really do a good job of determining which reviews are negative and which ones are fake?

    This article is good for dealing with the once and awhile negative reviews/comments that people leave about a business, but how to you combat hundreds of fake reviews that might happen all at once or over a period of time?

    • Franklin Morris II

      I read these two articles:

      1. “A Competitor Bought 200 1-Star Reviews For Our Facebook Page – Here’s Our Story”

      2. “[Updated] We received 100 fake one star reviews on our Facebook in a matter of minutes…and Facebook refuses to take them down.”

      • Brian Appleton

        Thanks for sharing the two articles Franklin, I remember reading the first one when it came out.

        An effective tactic you can use that Facebook seems to take more seriously than fake reviews, is fake profiles (which usually correspond with fake reviews). If you report each fake profile individually Facebook will usually intervene.

        • Franklin Morris II

          That’s a good strategy that I didn’t think about.

    • Brian Appleton

      That’s a great question Franklin. You can typically appeal reviews that you believe are fake/spam and 90% of the time Google, Yelp, and other sites will allow you to remove them. The best thing to do if you can’t remove the review is to respond and be as helpful as possible. This at least gives you some degree of damage control by demonstrating the professionalism of your brand so that other reviewers recognize your credibility.

      It’s also helpful to review to the Terms of Service for each platform and see if the review is in violation. If they are you can contact the platform/site and notify them so they can remove it.

  • Amy Prosser DeVita

    Thanks, Brian…I’m actually emailing a link to this article to all of my content marketing partners with the advice to keep it handy! Super helpful:)

    • Brian Appleton

      Thanks Amy, I’m glad you found it so useful! 🙂