If your public-sector entity is on social media, it’s only a matter of time before you receive negative comments from citizens. Recognize that all negative comments are not created equal, and how you deal with them says a lot about your agency.
In my experience, there are generally three types of negative comments on government social media: a complaint about a specific service or situation they encountered; disagreement or dissatisfaction with something your agency is doing; and unhappiness about anything related to your agency. Before you get depressed about all this, know that there are techniques good social media managers use to effectively manage negativity.
“My water bill is totally messed up!” The first type of negative comment — complaints — is the easiest to address. Think of them as customer service opportunities. Acknowledge the person’s complaint and try to help resolve the problem, or at least point him or her in the right direction.
Get in touch with the right department behind the scenes and understand that timely responses are critical. Ensure that your subject-matter experts know they need to help your social media coordinators to respond quickly. Use every agencywide training as an opportunity to mention how important their back-end support of social media is. Often complaints have private details that would be better communicated offline, so you may need to point the citizen to a phone number or email for resolution.
“I hate all these speed traps around town lately. Don’t police officers have anything better to do?” While it is harder to manage negative comments that disagree with a policy, program or approach your agency takes, there are still some techniques to consider.
First, does the comment warrant a response? Sometimes you might want to leave it alone and let them speak their opinion. Remember, citizens have a right to speak their mind and it’s not your job to remove opposing views. However, you’ll want to jump in if the comment communicates misinformation that might confuse other people. Correcting misstatements can sometimes be an art. You want to clear things up, but not put the citizen on the spot or embarrass him or her.
Make sure to acknowledge the comment. “Sorry to hear that. We appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts with us” goes a long way. Many times, you’ve satisfied the commenter because they know they have at least been heard, even if their issue was not resolved. Taking it a step further, you might offer to have them call or direct message you with more details. Most people won’t actually take you up on that offer, but they’ll remember that you extended the invitation.
“This is so typical of the city. Sometimes I don’t think anyone there has a brain.” This type of comment is the hardest to deal with, because they are gut reactions that reflect a general unhappiness with anything related to your agency.
If you respond with “We appreciate you taking the time to comment,” it might not help and may even come across a bit snarky. And you don’t want to fuel the fire. Do not remove comments like these unless they have foul language that violates your published comment policy. Negativity shouldn’t be a reason for comment removal. Often, these comments don’t warrant a response.
Keep in mind that these comments are designed to get personal, but make sure to avoid getting emotional. If you feel it’s appropriate, ask them to consider joining a neighborhood group so they can help guide the direction of policy — hopefully turning them into community champions down the road.
Kristy is known as “GovGirl” in the government technology industry. She is a former city government web manager who has a passion for social media, technology and the lighter side of government life. Kristy is the CEO of Government Social Media.