Dealing with Negatives

In our previous post, Get Found on Social Media – Part 4, we continued our series on how you can make it easier for people to find your social media efforts. In this post, we take a look at how to deal with negative comments.

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Dealing with Negatives

One big question that comes up almost immediately when enterprises start to use social com­puting is: What do you do about negative comments?

When dealing with this question, it’s helpful to recognize that if you act in the world, you probably have detractors. People have more than likely been talking negatively about you offline for some time. You’ve never been privy to their conversations, and you’ve had limited or no ability to address them directly or to know their concerns. Now that social media has brought these negative conversations out in the open, not only are they spread more widely, but you get the chance to do something about the root causes. That’s fantastic! You can find and address negativity, in real-time, for the first time in history.

The natural inclination of most enterprises is to try to suppress, delete, or otherwise eliminate dissent. In a world where access to broadcast media was expensive, restricted, and guarded by gatekeepers, this type of approach was effective. Enterprises could use libel laws or lawsuits, could pressure media outlets, and could use the media to confront and refute naysayers. Many enterprises employ these techniques in social media as well.

Often, however, the old tools for dealing with negatives not only don’t work online, but can result in generating even more negativity.

A recent example of the traditional approach, and one that has made it into our Social Media Hall of Shame, involved international food giant Nestlé. Like a lot of large food companies, Nestlé is the target for various groups who disagree with their business and agricultural methods. Some of these groups had taken to posting defaced versions of the Nestlé logo on Nestlé’s Facebook fan page as a critique and protest of the company’s policies.

In series of posts widely seen as an attempt to silence or intimidate these critics, Nestlé posted, “We welcome your comments, but please don’t post using an altered version of any of our logos as your profile pic — they will be deleted.”[1]

This post breaks a cardinal rule about running online communities: Govern your community with a light hand. Your community members expect to be involved in major community decisions, and they certainly do not expect to be arbitrarily censored.

The company also threatened action for trademark infringement if critics didn’t comply. Incredibly, Nestlé also posted sarcastic replies to negative posts.

Nestlé’s old-media attempt to stem negativity was, unfortunately, all too predictable, as was the result. Rather than doing anything to respond to, placate, dissuade, or even just acknowledge the dissenters, Nestlé whipped up a storm of protest that eventually made the mainstream media news — blowing up a relatively unpublicized group of protesters into media darlings.

Here’s a typical post following Nestlé’s blunder:

[W]ould like to personally thank Nestlé for providing a place for all the people who see their unethical, disgusting and lethal practices for what they are to share their opinions. Finally we have a way to share how much we hate their practices. If you don’t boycott Nestlé already, start now, please.

One poster stated she’s not a fan — the posts were on Nestlé’s Facebook fan page — and wanted to have a “Register My Disgust” button on the page. Another was a bit more reasonable:

I like some Nestle products so I qualify as a ‘fan.’ I would like Nestle to make them even better by removing palm oil. I would like to enjoy my Kit-Kats without feeling responsible for rainforest destruction and orangutan deaths.

And this wasn’t Nestlé’s only social media blunder. When Greenpeace posted a critical video on YouTube, the company lobbied to have it removed based on use of its logo, generating lots of free publicity for Greenpeace.

The poor besieged person in charge of the Nestlé Facebook page did try to do some damage control, posting:

This [deleting logos] was one in a series of mistakes for which I would like to apologize. And for being rude. We’ve stopped deleting posts, and I have stopped being rude.

This was a good move. It does three things: It acknowledges the mistakes; it pledges to stop deleting the logos; and it humanizes the company by taking personal responsibility for the action. Remember, our first rule for using social media is to Be a Person, not an organization.

So what went wrong here? Well, obviously, Nestlé has the right to protect its logos and trademarks. But was it really the best approach to sarcastically criticize and threaten the dissenters? What the company failed to realize is that social computing gives the same power to individuals as it gives to big enterprises. You need to keep that in mind whenever you make a decision to deal with negativity about your business.

By the way, you may be interested in the end of the story. After a two-month campaign led by Greenpeace against Nestle for its use of palm oil, the company gave in and announced in May 2010 that it will rid its supply chain of any sources involved in the destruction of rainforests.[2] There’s no telling what role the bungled responses on YouTube and Facebook had in this resolution, but they sure didn’t help.

Dealing with Negatives is the 66th in a series of excerpts from our book, Be a Person: the Social Operating Manual for Enterprises (itself part of a series for different audiences). We’re just past page 208. At this rate it’ll be a long time before we get through all 430 pages, but luckily, if you’re impatient, the book is available in paper form at and you can save $5 using Coupon Code 62YTRFCV

See the previous posts What is Social Media?Social Sites DefinedWhy Social Media? How is Social Media Relevant to Business? First Steps Toward a Social Media Strategy, and Decide What Your Business Will Do About Social Computing, pt. 1

Next up: Techniques for Handling Negatives

[1] Bnet’s Nestle’s Facebook Page: How a Company Can Really Screw Up Social Media:

[2] Mongabay:

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