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When Content Backfires: How to Handle Negative Feedback Online


As your followers and traffic grow, so does the potential for ruthless people to emerge.

Sometimes they have good reason.

Sometimes they’re just trolls who want to squash your content into jelly.

No matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to keep an audience happy. Your comments section and social media are the go-to destinations for disgruntled people.

Once those complaints live on the web, they’re not likely to disappear unless you take the shady route (hiding and deleting them is not recommended … I’ll get to that shortly).

It’s not the presence of the complaints, debates, or negative responses that matters; what matters is what you do once those comments roll in.

Develop process and policy

You need a professional approach to managing the community around your content. That means creating a policy and process for handling feedback — all types, not just the negative stuff. It should also go beyond your blog comments to include things such as Facebook engagement and other social platforms you use.

You need a professional approach to managing the community around your #content says @IAmAaronAgius Click To Tweet

Most feedback needs to be passed along to the proper people, taken into consideration, and responded to. When urgent matters pop up, you don’t want to scramble to figure out how to respond.

You want documentation that states who handles what type of feedback, and who is accountable for generating the response and continuing the engagement with the individual. You also want response times clearly defined. This makes the process run much more smoothly.

Set parameters for your commenters

An audience-facing policy also needs to be created that sets boundaries for your readers. This lets them know what is acceptable, what kinds of activity earn them a boot, and how you handle comments. It’s a good way to prevent problematic behavior from showing up.

Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Marketing, offers these guidelines to manage expectations of how he handles the comment section of his blog. Readers are put on notice of what’s acceptable and what’s not.


Tim Ferriss, author of the 4-Hour Workweek takes a humorous approach in the comment policy for his site:

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be – cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation!

Smart businesses that publish highly trafficked content take a similar approach with comment policies. Check out this policy from Mayo Clinic:

We encourage your comments on Mayo Clinic’s various blogs, and hope you will join the discussions. We can’t respond to every comment, particularly those that deal with individual medical cases and issues. We review comments before they’re posted, and those that are off-topic or clearly promoting a commercial product generally won’t make the cut. We also expect a basic level of civility; disagreements are fine, but mutual respect is a must, and profanity or abusive language are out-of-bounds.

Having a policy is a start, but it’s a simple and passive approach. It might help diminish unwanted behavior, but has a policy ever really stopped an angry or irate reader from leaving a comment?

When they hit submit, you want to be ready with a response that goes beyond simply deleting comments.

Classify negative feedback

Negative feedback can take a lot of forms. Not all negative feedback is the same, and not every negative commenter is out to destroy your reputation.

Simply Measured established a few distinct types of feedback, which I’ve tweaked to reflect what I’ve experienced:

  • Bluster: Blusters are chaotic responses generated from frustrated rambling. The individual is indignant, upset, and frustrated, but they’re not capable of getting a point across. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a point or that they’re a troll; they just can’t accurately convey their issue. At the least, you know they’re upset, so that’s a start. It’ll take some digging to identify their true issue.
  • Pressing: This is a critical feedback point that’s a heads-up of a serious problem. It could be an issue with your fact checking, broken links, formatting and readability, or even a busted opt-in. It’s something you want to act on immediately.
  • Disgruntled: Your nasty audience members are mad as hell over something trivial or something big. They typically tell you (sometimes at length) exactly what the problem is. Rarely can you reason with them.
  • Constructive: This negative feedback comes with good intentions and it’s probably what you’ll see most often from followers. A good example of this is someone letting you know that you missed key points in your content. They’ll usually list what you missed.

They might tell you that something was confusing, or that you contradicted yourself in specific spots. It’s a good opportunity to modify your content and learn from the experience.

Respond to negative feedback

Pore through reputation management tips and books, and you’ll read time and again about how you should publicly respond to every comment, even the negative ones. It’s supposed to paint you and your brand in a positive light because others see how you handle situations.

You should publicly respond to every comment, even the negative ones says @IAmAaronAgius #contentmarketing Click To Tweet

It’s true that you should respond to everything … within reason. Here’s how Nestle engaged commenters in a Facebook post:


Some situations are far beyond mediation, especially when you’re dealing with a disgruntled commenter. You should absolutely respond to pressing and constructive feedback, and work with bluster comments to try to sort out their concerns.

Aim to respond to 90% of the disgruntled comments. If applicable, apologize, or find or offer a solution even if it means just offering to consider their concern in the future.

If it’s an antagonistic comment that in no way contributes to the discussion, then opt out of the conversation.

Comments are an essential engagement element. Just don’t feed the trolls.

Remember, responding to everyone and every comment is not your priority. Your priority is to have patience.

Every comment, no matter how ill-informed or irrational, is an opportunity. The better your response, the more respect you’ll gain from the community overall.

Consider alternative approaches

Dealing with difficult comments can drain energy and be a huge time-suck, especially when you get caught up in a back and forth. Here are some additional strategies for dealing with negative feedback on your content:

1. Comment moderation


Click to enlarge

Most content management systems and comment platforms give you the ability to turn on various degrees of comment moderation before a comment goes live.

You can require registration for comments, require individual comment approval, or grant automatic approval for future comments once the respondent’s first comment goes live.

The biggest benefit to moderating comments is that you can catch negative feedback before it goes public. You have the opportunity to respond to the individual privately, provided an email is included.

2. Delete comments

I don’t recommend deleting negative comments and feedback — at least feedback that’s constructive or contributes to the overall discussion.

Disgruntled comments and people trolling are another story, and deleting comments that would be out of bounds might be a good strategy to take. The same goes for comment spam.

3. Ignore ’em

In situations where you’re dealing with a highly aggressive, irrationally angry person it can sometimes be best to just ignore the comment. This is especially true if the individual isn’t looking for any kind of solution and is only interested in attacking you.

If they do have a complaint that you can address, discuss that specific issue and ignore the rest of the ranting and insults. Keep your responses short and don’t engage beyond providing a solution. That will just pull you away, waste time, and could potentially spiral into a worse issue.

4. Take it offline

When you get negative feedback from someone, even constructive criticism, you don’t really know what it could turn into.

Any conversation stemming from negative feedback has a potential to spiral out of control, especially if other commenters jump on board. You may want to consider just responding to people privately through email or through a direct message on social media.

Don’t take it personally

With the volume of content you create, sooner or later you’re likely to rub someone the wrong way or have people disagree with you. Don’t let it impact you personally, and don’t lose sleep over it.

Do your best to listen to feedback on your content, apologize when appropriate, provide a solution if you can, and always remember to thank people — especially when dealing with negative feedback.

How do you deal with negative feedback? Share your approach with me in the comments below. I promise not to delete them.

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Cover image by Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo, via