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The Absolute Wrong Way to Respond to Negative Comments

It’s hard to avoid it in business: You can’t please everyone and you will likely disappoint someone who wants the world to know about it. While it’s never fun, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, you should be thankful for negative reviews because they give you an opportunity to address the issue.

Anger - Negative Comments Responses

There are many ways to respond and we’ll get to some of them. But there is one way not to respond, and we’ll start there.

You can not win when you respond in anger. We understand – whether you’re a small brand or a vested employee – it’s easy to take these things personally. Sometimes, the reviewer is “in the wrong” or simply a troll, which makes it even harder to be nice, however no one wins when you respond in anger.

I was looking for a local veterinarian to take care of my sick dog and came across one with many 5-star reviews. I was ready to make the call when I saw a 1-star review complaining about an unexpected charge for an exam. This normally wouldn’t influence me because I saw an angry commenter; until I saw the response of the owner:

Responding to Brand Criticism

When you stoop down to their level, you stoop down to their level. And your buyers then make a choice if they want to do business with you; not the reviewer. I wouldn’t want to take my much-loved pet and put him in the care of this person.

Responding in anger only serves to fan the flames, and get you more attention. I don’t care what they say; all PR is NOT good PR.

A small restaurant owner in Australia angrily responded to a negative restaurant review. He finally got that write up he likely wanted in Huffington Post. Well, maybe not the type of write-up he had hoped for.

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How to respond to negative comments and reviews?

First, approach it strategically. What do you hope to accomplish by responding? You might not be able to turn the detractor. While it would be nice, this is not the sole focus of your response.

Think about the hundreds if not thousands of viewers who will see this for years to come. We want to tamp down any potential fire immediately, hope to turn the detractor, and show others we care, and have taken this matter seriously.

In the case of the vet, he is obviously following the law and putting priority on the care of the pet. He easily could have explained how the pets’ safety and well being is priority, why the exam was necessary, and mention they did get approval prior to incurring the charge.

Also, if you are able to, get a feel for the person who has commented and look at their following. This is going to give you a good idea of the scale your response should take. Sometimes simply responding to the comment is enough. You might need to take some kind of action in addition if it looks like it could get bigger.

Responding to Negative Criticism


Show you understand how disappointing or upsetting the situation must have been. Most people just want to be heard.

Apologize if you owe one

We strive for and that did not happen today. We are sorry for that.

But sometimes you aren’t wrong! So don’t apologize.

This is when it gets frustrating. The customer might have been wrong, but they blame you. It never helps to point a finger back at the angry individual. Follow steps 1 and 2. Apologize not for making a mistake but for the fact that they didn’t have a good experience. Re-state your expectations, and what happens when they aren’t met mutually. Speak in a factual way and stay professional.

Thank the commenter. If appropriate.

Getting constructive feedback is good. It helps you make your business better. Thank the reviewer for taking the time to comment and allow you to address the situation.

Know when to stop engaging.

Our vet didn’t have to attack the couple for not communicating. That’s not his problem. We don’t want to engage in a public conversation, nor do we want this to get shared and spread (cough, in the Huffington Post).

Acting in any way that will aggravate the situation is a mistake. If the person wrote a long-winded saga with every detail, don’t feel the need to honor it with a detailed point by point response. We want to remain calm, and put this baby to sleep fast.

Address your response at a high level. “Our priority is on the safety and well-being of your loved pets. Prescribing drugs without an exam would violate that promise…”

Do not continue to engage with this person. Say your piece, and move on. Hopefully, others in your community will come to your defense.

Don’t fear the bad guys. A client of mine once said, “If you stop and kick every barking dog, you’ll never get anywhere.” (Please don’t kick a dog.)

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.

Lisa Gerber is the founder of Big Leap Creative, where she helps organizations and executives take their big leaps by communicating their ideas. 

For more marketing advice from Lisa Gerber, click here.

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