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The danger of deleting

by Amanda Robson

As more and more organisations step into social media, they are learning first-hand that they can’t control what is being said about them online and in such a public arena.

Sure their customers, partners, associates and clients may give high praise, but others might dish out harsh criticism.

However, it is how an organisation deals with this feedback – the good and the bad – which can ultimately shape how they are perceived by their online stakeholders.Times of crisis or a particular inundation of negative feedback can lead some businesses down the dangerous path towards committing one of social media’s biggest sins – deleting posts and comments.

When dealing with complaints, regardless of the medium, the same rules apply – acknowledge negative comments, respond to them and demonstrate that any issues are being followed up and/or resolved.

Deleting negative comments or questions on social media does none of these things. What is does do however, is send these kinds of messages to your online community:

  • We only welcome positive feedback, not negative feedback.
  • We are uninterested in changing our products/services/operations/values based on feedback.
  • We want to use social media to our advantage but don’t respect your right to share your opinion.
  • We want to keep up appearances and sweep issues under the rug.
  • We do not operate transparently.
  • We don’t want to answer the tricky questions.
  • We don’t think our online community is sharp enough to notice that we deleted their messages.

Essentially, how negative comments are dealt with online is indicative of how a business deals with complaints generally i.e. whether it embraces them as opportunities to re-evaluate products/services/operations to meet customer needs or alternatively, ignore them.

By deleting negative posts or comments online, not only is an organisation failing to respond to individual complaints, it is also eliminating an opportunity to demonstrate to the complainer and the wider community that it is taking further action. Being caught out is likely to incite even more rage and risk more damage to the organisation’s reputation than the original complaint.

Some additional thoughts to consider:

  • There are certainly times when comments and posts should be deleted, for example, if they are discriminatory, defamatory, list personal contact details or are illegal in nature. Make sure this policy is explained on your social media account visibly and clearly so that you can refer back to it.
  • If damaging posts or comments are unfactual or untrue, organisations should feel entitled to clarify these points in response.  However, if they contain negative opinions or details that can’t necessarily be disputed, don’t argue.
  • Tone isn’t easily conveyed in digital communication and often, face to face or phone conversations can be more meaningful. Where possible, offer social media users channels to connect with you offline.
  • Ensure that social media forms part of your issues or crisis communications planning. In times of crises, plan for a team of people from across all relevant parts of the business to gather, communicate key updates and answer questions where possible.