Moderating Social Media Comments

Comment keyboard key. Finger

Moderating comments is thought of as a bit of an art form in the social media world.  How to best communicate with the irate customer or dissatisfied user?  I would encourage you to look back at my blog on reputation management for a list of key components to a social media crisis plan because many of those points are also relevant when moderating comments, and I’m not just talking about the negative ones.

I think the best way to understand how to moderate comments, is to look at what other brands are doing.  Just go on Twitter and Facebook and read through a company’s few posts.  You’ll, inevitably find some negative comments and their responses.  Some good industries to look at for this are airlines; two of my favorite are KLM and JetBlue.  Hotel chains and restaurants are good companies to look at, too.  It’s like many thing in social media: learn from what your competition is doing and try to do it better.

One thing to think about when moderating comments:  What you say and do online when addressing a user’s comments is as much for those folks reading it as it is for the person who wrote it.  Other customers will see how you respond to others, and this will have an effect on how they view your brand.  So, even if you are in a bad situation with no hope of helping or bringing understanding to the complainer, you can still help your brand by providing clear, calm words that instill confidence in the service you’re providing, as an arm of the customer service, for the brand.

So, now let’s take a look at a couple of practical examples of moderating comments.  How should we moderate the following audience/customer comments if left on your organization’s Facebook page?

To a hotel:
“I am disgusted about the state of your restaurant on 1467 Justin Kings Way. Empty tables weren’t cleared and full of remains of meals. It makes me wonder what the state of your kitchen is?!!! Gross.”

Here is one way to respond:
“Hi, <insert first name here>.  Thanks so much for reaching out to us and letting us know about this situation.  What you’ve described is not up to our standards, and I’ve contacted the manager at that location to make sure he looks into it right away.  If there’s anything else you’d like to share with us about your dining experience, please follow this link to a private chat: <insert link to customer feedback chat here>.  We appreciate your feedback and look forward to having another opportunity to raise our level of service with you. Thank you. <am>”

What did here with my response:

  • I let her know I heard her.
  • I used a conversational and calm voice.
  • I did not apologize, because I don’t know all of the facts, but…
  • I let her know it is being looked into.
  • I took the conversation out of the public view.  This is especially important if there are more bad details for her to share.  We would want to know about them, so they can be addressed, but not have them posted on Facebook.
  • I reassured her that we would do better next time.
  • I signed the post with my initials, letting her know she’s dealing with a real, trackable person.  This can help establish or build some trust with the complaining customer.

Now, a negative comment doesn’t mean that a customer won’t come back.  In fact, if that comment is handled well and the customer feels heard, you may end up with an even stronger brand loyalty from that customer.  However, sometimes, there is nothing you can say or do that will take away a customer’s negative opinion.  In those cases, it is even more important that you remain calm and take take the conversation off of social media, into a private conversation elsewhere.

Now, let’s look at an example of a comment made to a mainstream news network: 

“Your reporting on the Middle East is biased in the extreme. You gave almost all your air time to spokespeople for the Israelis last night and there was no right to reply for the Palestinians. The conflict upsets me so much and your reporting of it, saddens me even more and makes me f**king furious.”

(We will assume the reporting was balanced, with equal time to both sides.)

Here is one way to respond:

“Hi, <insert first name here>.  Covering the Middle East is a challenging thing, with all of the heightened emotions connected with this subject, but we at <insert channel ID here> always strive for excellence in our coverage with unbiased reporting.  Looking back last night’s report, the coverage did give equal time to both sides.  However, we will continue to listen to the feedback of our viewers to help us improve.  We appreciate you taking the time to share your views with us.<am>”

Why I responded the way I did:

  • You’ll notice I did not delete the comment due to the profanity.  I’ll talk more about that in a moment.
  • I recognized the emotion involved in his response due to the sensitive subject matter.
  • I corrected, gently, his misstatement about biased, unequal coverage.  If there are fact involved that are misstated, it is (usually) right and important to correct them.
  • I let him know we are open to all feedback — even criticism — which helps the brand look more human.
  • I thanked him.  Remember, social media is made for conversations.  Being able to respond to negative comments without loosing your head, shows brand strength.

Why didn’t I delete the comment due to the profanity, even though it was, essentially bleeped-out?  Personally, I hate any use of all profanity, but in this case, the comment is made on Facebook.  I think responding on Facebook is actually different than doing something like moderating a comment on your own discussion board or blog, and it’s important to try to not be too heavy-handed in such a public setting.  Also, the profanity needs to be looked at in context, believe it or not.  Is it threatening?  No.  Is it attacking?  No.  The user is just REALLY frustrated.  He is creating his own brand for himself for other users to see in using the profanity.  When you, as the moderator, respond with understanding and kindness — especially in the face of a comment that contains profanity — you create an opportunity to elevate your brand to the other readers.

What do you think?  Would you have left the profanity, or deleted it?  Do you consider Facebook and other social media sites to be different than your own personal blog or website discussion boards?  Should there be different standards when moderating?

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10 thoughts on “Moderating Social Media Comments

  1. Hi AnnMarie,

    First of all, I think you did an absolutely phenomenal job of mentioning your past post on reputation management and then using KLM and JetBlue as examples. I think this really helps tie everything in together so we can see the bigger picture.

    I think your approach to the second comment about the news station was excellent. One main concern the viewer had was having equal coverage for the two sides and the fact that the situation doesn’t make him very happy in general. So, I think you addressed it beautifully by saying that coverage on the Middle East is indeed challenging because of the emotions that it draws out. This is going to allow the commenter to feel like he is not the only person who feels that way which can possibly be a comfort to know–and also that you are aware of how touchy a subject it can be.

    You pose an interesting question about our approach to Facebook and message boards. I do believe we need to moderate them slightly differently because of the fact that with a message board, your post is searchable. This means that at any time, someone can comment on an old post and bring attention to that matter all over again. Where as Facebook, comments tend to get buried underneath others and new posts. So I personally because that your message forum cause pose more of a threat if there is a bad comment left that should have been deleted.

    Great job!

    • Thanks, Megan! I appreciate the feedback! I think moderating comments is such a delicate topic. We are all just trying to do our best to elevate our brand — not matter what the comment is about. We can obviously elevate our brand in response to positive comments, but it’s the negative ones where it gets tricky. As moderators, it’s essential that we remember it is possible to turn a negative into a positive — even if it’s not the original poster you’re really impacting, but the other readers. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Hi AnnMarie! Let me start by saying I absolutely love that you mentioned signing the restaurant post with initials to build trust. There is no better feeling than knowing you’ve received a response, except knowing that there is a real person behind that response and they truly care. When brands started doing this, I was initially confused, until one day, I received a response with a signature like that. I immediately felt a connection to the person who is essentially speaking on behalf of the brand. I do find it intriguing that you choose not to apologize though. While you don’t necessarily know all the facts, this customer is likely just looking for an apology. I feel I would probably apologize even without additional facts to build the customer back up a bit. I love taking the conversation offline! It shows you care enough to have a personal conversation with the customer, but you would prefer not to air dirty laundry in a public forum. Not every customer is going to be happy about it, but I would much prefer to discuss a complaint offline than on. As far as profanity goes in the second comment, much like you, I don’t tolerate it. At the organization I work for, it would immediately be removed; however a major network news station likely receives that type of profanity all the time (along with the negative posts). Like you recommended, they would most likely keep the comment rather than moderating for deletion. Great post, AnnMarie! I really enjoyed your list formatting of how to respond!

    • Hi, Kayla! Thank you so much for your feedback! I like how you brought up the desire to apologize to a customer to help affirm their feelings in the situation. In that sense, if I felt the need to do that more, I would say something like “I’m sorry you had a bad experience,” which is true for that customer regardless of what the facts actually are. Or, depending on the situation, you could always affirm them without directly acknowledging what they’re saying as factual with, “I’m so sorry you feel that way,” or something similar. I know it’s hard not to apologize because we are just so trained to do so, but it’s something I feel strongly about in moderation. Unless we know something is wrong, I feel like apologizing directly is an admission of guilt that I would do my best not to do. Thanks for commenting!

  3. AnnMarie,
    Another great post! Thank you so much for your thoughts and perspective. I loved how you tied back your assessment from previous readings and couldn’t agree more with your reputation post. Your reputation management posted was a great way to list of key components to a social media crisis plan because many of those points are also relevant when moderating comments. Nice job building on what you’ve learned from the previous readings. I’d have to say learn from what your competition is doing and try to do it better isn’t just limited to social media – but industry as a whole (I’m sure you already know that though).
    I agree with you – simply responding in the face of no hope still helps show to other users that you’re responsive, helpful and tried to make a bad situation better. I really liked how you walked us through your thought process as to why you said / did certain things with your responses. I like the personal touch you added and showed that you listened, you owned it and you wanted to do better.
    Interesting take on the second response. I appreciate that you kept the block and that you used kindness to help soothe the frustrated individual. For my scenario, I decided to remove the blog post, because you I can’t stand profanity and thought the user could make the same point without it. I wanted to give the user a chance to understand the terms and conditions, as well as know their views are important to the debate and discussion. I offered additional timed teleconferences so they and any additional listeners could call in and ask questions to a panel of experts. It’s interesting to see the choices made when it comes to removing/keeping the blog. What would make you remove it?
    You pose a great question on changing moderation with different media platforms. I believe you do and use Facebook/LinkedIn as examples based on the settings in each. Both have their audiences, but I think Facebook is more open/needed for moderation verses LinkedIn. What about you? What do you think?
    Thanks again for your post and your well–thought out ideas.

    • Hi, Frank! I always love hearing your feedback! To answer your question, I would have removed the second comment if it was threatening, abusive, or involved any sort of hate speech like racism. Those cannot be tolerated, in my opinion, even on such a people’s platform like Facebook. Allowing a comment containing those things would only invite others to respond similarly, not to mention the ugliness involved in a comment that would contain them. I wouldn’t want that on my wall/in my comments as a reflection of my brand’s customers.

      I agree with you that LinkedIn has amore professional audience, in general, and much less moderation is needed as a result. Facebook still is a platform for the masses, so to speak, and yo never know what you’re going to get. The good news is with a plan in place, we are able to handle situations like the examples given in a productive way that shows we are listening and that we care. That’s what users want when they’re posting such comments; they want to know that what they say and experience matters.

  4. Hi AnnMarie,

    Great post! It’s funny that you mentioned looking at what competitors are doing because we have been one of the first in the industry to make an effort to respond to a majority of our Yelp reviews. We recently noticed that our biggest competitor has started to do the same, and they have been incorporating a lot of our verbiage into their responses. 😉

    I really loved your first response and how you closed it with: “We appreciate your feedback and look forward to having another opportunity to raise our level of service with you.” It’s professional, friendly and promising without being too pushy. (I actually might steal it, haha!)

    I also like that you gently addressed the fairness of the coverage in your response to the second user but still thanked them for their feedback. I too would not have deleted that response. I myself use profanity when I’m angry and frustrated so I can’t imagine “punishing” others for doing the same. Perhaps if they were calling people or employees names I would consider it, but in this case, it was merely just a form of expression. We receive a lot of edited profanity on Yelp (you know, stars and such), and those almost always stay just because we try to put ourselves in the customers’ shoes. Would I be angry if ____? If the answer is yes, we try to be as understanding as possible, profanity or no.

    • Hi, Nhi! Thanks for commenting! You can absolutely use the phrase! I agree that looking at a comment from the perspective of, “Who would I feel if…” is a good rule of thumb. I like and appreciate that you don’t remove comments with profanity for your brand for expressing anger or frustration. Acknowledging that frustration is what the customers want, after all, so they’d be pretty annoyed if you, essentially, dismissed it by deleting their comment.

      Good for you for being an industry leader being copied by your competition! I’m not surprised! Keep up the excellent work!

  5. You did a really great job explaining the value of showing both the positive and negatives. I mentioned something similar in that when you post a response to a review online you are not only responding to that guest, but to the hundreds of potential guests out there that are sifting through reviews trying to get a feel for your business. Seeing a management response always helps your chances of gaining new customers. I too agree with not deleting the comments due to profanity as it was the user expressing his opinion in a non threatening manner. I think that Facebook and social media sites are equivalent and the sites aren’t different from your own pesonal blog or website discussion boards.

    • Hi, Samantha! Thanks for commenting! I always look at moderation through the lens of not just seeing how the original poster would react to the response, but also the greater community. That’s what social media is about, after all; we are creating online communities. We need to keep the entire community in mind when moderating — not just the original poster. If we make one person happy, but anger the rest, have we really done our job well?

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