You can't please everyone all the time, and sooner or later, you will get a negative post in your community.
Negative posts may be deserved and constructive or unfounded and trouble-seeking.
Either way, responding to these posts correctly is essential for encouraging and maintaining the culture you want to create in your community.
Clear and Compelling Community Guidelines
Before we get to how to respond to negative posts, let's look at how we can cultivate a positive and caring online environment from the get-go.
Community guidelines explain what behaviour is acceptable in your community. They could include references to acceptable language, intolerance, bullying, external links, posting personal information, advertising, and more.
You can include general guidelines, such as "be respectful", as well as more specific tips such as "avoid writing in capitals as this could be interpreted as aggressive".
The Role of Moderators
When a member submits content, it should go through a screening (moderation) process to ensure that it meets your guidelines.
Moderation is critical to ensure a pleasant and productive experience for everyone. A good moderator can enhance the quality of the exchanges in the community while ensuring that the members stay polite and respectful.
When crafting your guidelines, you also need to decide the sanctions when rules are broken. This will help moderators make faster decisions, make it easier to train moderators, and ensure all moderators are on the same page when it comes to moderation.
Will the post be immediately deleted? Will the member have the option of rewriting it? Will you suspend or permanently remove members who repeatedly fail to respect the content rules or commit a serious breach of the rules?
Lead by Example
One of the simplest and most effective ways to manage negativity in your community is to demonstrate the behaviour you seek.
Ensure that all your (and your team's) posts are courteous and friendly. Your team should be visible and post regularly to demonstrate that the community is well-run and has people on hand in case issues arrive.
Consider creating a handbook to help guide community team members on best practices for moderating and engaging online communities. You could offer template responses or even organize specific training sessions for your team to learn how to create better community experiences.
Separating Constructive Criticism From Trolling
Before responding to a comment, make sure you are completely clued up on the situation. Is this an unfounded comment? Or is this constructive feedback that could help you identify an opportunity to improve your community, product, service, etc. Ask the author for more information if necessary to clarify the situation.
In most cases, it is best to respond. However, if a comment is blatant trolling, it might be better to issue a warning or ban the member.
The worst thing that you can do is to delete a negative comment. Censoring constructive criticism is a sure-fire way to lose the trust of your community.
Acknowledge and Empathize
Be honest and empathetic when replying to a negative post. You may not give the author the answer they want to hear, but you can show that you are listening and care about what they have to say.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of writing the same response each time, making members feel you don't truly care about them. Try to switch up your wording and make each reply personalized and genuine.
Once you have replied publicly to the negative post, redirect the conversation onto a private channel. It's best to avoid getting into a public debate. On private channels, you can have an open and honest discussion away from an audience. Ask the person to DM you (or email you if you want to give them your email). DMs work well because the person doesn't have to leave the platform and it seems more personal.
Keep tabs on the most significant sources of frustration in your community. If you see a pattern, set up a webinar with the leadership team. This might not solve the problem entirely, but it shows that you take your community members' concerns seriously and seek recommendations from people with influence.
You could also consider having a space in your community where members can voice their constructive criticism. This keeps negative comments out of the main community feed and gives members a space to express constructive criticism.
An Opportunity to Create an Advocate
Ensuring that negative sentiment is moderated, isolated, and resolved is an essential factor in creating a positive online community. Don't be afraid to enforce the rules of your online community.
Try to embrace negative comments as opportunities. Opportunities to improve your community show members you listen to them and want to offer them the best experience.
By acknowledging and seeking to resolve issues in public, you demonstrate confidence and openness to member insights. You can turn negative posts into a positive experience for the member, which can increase their satisfaction with your community!
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