There’s nothing like a negative public comment or nasty message on social media to really put a damper on your day, or your business. Even a single critical voice can have a big impact and might seem to outweigh a symphony of supportive ones.

Since dealing with difficult comments can both drain energy and consume, it’s important to differentiate between disgruntled customers and anonymous haters, and to respond to each appropriately. The following strategies can help you and your small business manage the inevitable but it’s up to you to determine which is the most appropriate for your communication style, specific readership and business.

Strategy #1: Establish a written policy for blog comments.

Setting very clear boundaries with readers about which types of comments are appropriate, and how you’ll handle them, can help prevent problematic behavior from happening in the first place. In addition, you can simply point to the comment policy on your blog if you get complaints for deleting a comment (for example).

Best-selling author Tim Ferriss has a comment policy on his highly trafficked blog. It reads:

“Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation!”

Even the Mayo Clinic, the renowned medical center, has a comment policy for all of their blogs, letting commenters know that comments are reviewed before going live. It reads:

“We encourage your comments on Mayo Clinic’s various blogs, and hope you will join the discussions. We can’t respond to every comment, particularly those that deal with individual medical cases and issues. We review comments before they’re posted, and those that are off-topic or clearly promoting a commercial product generally won’t make the cut. We also expect a basic level of civility; disagreements are fine, but mutual respect is a must, and profanity or abusive language are out-of-bounds.”

Strategy #2: Moderate comments.

Mayo Clinic isn’t the only blog to moderate comments. In fact, if your site is hosted on WordPress (the most popular content management system and publishing platform), many comment moderation options are available.

The Settings Discussion SubPanel on your blog (located under Settings → Discussion) has multiple options.

Comments can be turned off for individual articles (or all of them). You can require users to fill out their name and email address before commenting, hold comments in moderation before they appear (either at all times or if the author hasn’t posted a previously approved comment), and even automatically place comments in the moderation queue if they have specific words, names, email addresses or IP addresses. You can also blacklist specific IP addresses.

Strategy #3: Ignore hostile comments, but respond to legitimate concerns—in private, if possible.

Whether you decide to delete comments or not, UIC professor of communication Steve Jones recommends ignoring trolls to the best of your ability. “If it’s something that doesn’t seem legitimate, that’s very vitriolic, very angry, it’s probably best to just ignore it,” he says. Responding to legitimate concerns, however, is a good idea so some discretion is needed.

“It depends on the type of post or comment that you’re looking at. If it seems legitimate, if there’s a complaint that can be addressed in some way, a good rule of thumb is to address it and stick to the topic and keep it short. So if someone’s complaining about a product or service, you can say, ‘I’m sorry to hear that. Can we help in some way remedy this? Thanks for your comment,” and that’s it. Or ask them to message you directly, to try to keep it from becoming a dialogue that you’re constantly engaging in.”

Strategy #4: Respond to everyone privately.

This strategy is not for the faint of heart. Andrew Warner, founder of the website Mixergy, would seek out individuals who didn’t care for the interviews of entrepreneurs he released on his site. He even went beyond comments on his own site and would contact people speaking about him on outside forums.

“At the beginning, I would go to every single person on Hacker News who put me down and I would look up his or her contact information and call them up,” he recalls. “I’d say, ‘I just really want to learn, I really respect your opinion, I see that you don’t like my interviewing style. I need to get better here. Could you just tell me what it is that you don’t like about it?’”

While he didn’t implement all the feedback he received, some of it was incredibly useful. “The attitude of ‘I see you’re watching me and I want to get better, what can I do to get better’ really disarms people. They respect the effort. Maybe they give you useful information, maybe they shut up and maybe they continue, which is the worst case, but if they do continue, they were going to continue anyway,” he says.

Takeaways for small businesses

The four strategies outlined above are intended to not only help you find a consistent approach to dealing with unhappy, or malicious commenters online but to also find the approach that makes the best use of your resources and serves your small business well. Whichever of these strategies you end up implementing, remember to keep things in perspective. A small handful of negative comments rarely represent the majority of your readers. Create an open, but respectful, forum for customer feedback and your fans will back you up.

Want to learn how to turn positive comments and customers into advocates? Read our blog post here.

This post contributed by guest author, Yael Grauer. Grauer is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and editor. Find her online at

© 2013 – 2018, Contributing Author. All rights reserved.

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