March 7, 2021
Negative comments will happen—it's collateral damage resulting from today's digital culture. When they occur online, they can often feel petty, unfair, or even cruel. They might be written by a frustrated parent, unhappy student, or even someone who has never interacted with your school.
The truth is, negative comments (and reviews) happen and can definitely damage your online reputation. To protect your school’s brand and demonstrate you listen to constituents, address negative comments with empathy and kindness—providing facts as necessary. Doing so shows your audience you are caring and invested, even beyond the classroom.
Here are 10 tips for handling negative comments online.
Tip #1—Don't Try To Ignore Negative Comments
When you find online public criticism of your school, you must acknowledge it and explain your position. This will show current and prospective families that you are engaged and interested in receiving critical feedback.
Reply to every comment, whether it's positive, negative, or neutral. By actively participating in social conversations, you connect with constituents and demonstrate your commitment to your school’s mission and values.
Tip #2—React Honestly
When it comes to social media, sincerity and authenticity rule the day. If your school has experienced negative comments online about a constituent’s experience, offer an apology. Then suggest they connect with you by phone or in-person to further discuss the situation.
Tip #3—Avoid False Promises
Analyze the issue raised by the commenter and explain how you plan to fix the situation—if you already have a plan. If not, respond that the school is looking into the situation and will share more information as soon as possible. Don't make promises you can't keep.
Tip #4—Maintain Professionalism
It's tempting to fire off a quick response to a negative comment or review, but it's important to remember that something fueled this publicized frustration. Post your reply when you can do so politely and respectfully. Have someone who isn’t involved in the situation look at your response to make sure it is appropriate in words and tone. How you handle your response to the negative comments will affect your school’s brand. Be courteous and professional.
Tip #5—Take It Offline
When in doubt, always ask to take the conversation offline. Respond to a negative comment by suggesting a discussion of the issue via email, over the phone, on a video chat, or even in-person.
Tone is often misunderstood in text. Offline conversations create more beneficial connections.
Tip #6—Make It Personal
Delivering a generic response often feels inauthentic and could cause the conversation to spiral downward. Personalizing your message shows you’re empathic, and likely diffuses the situation.
Tip #7—Respond Quickly
Respond to negative comments as soon as possible. Forty percent of people expect brands to respond within the first hour of reaching out on social media, while 79% expect a response in the first 24 hours. Making an angry constituent wait allows them the opportunity to take their grievances elsewhere. Plus, it might make them think you're ignoring them—even if it's unintentional.
Tip #8—Offer an Explanation
Sometimes responding to a negative comment is as simple as offering an explanation about the cause of the perceived problem. Miscommunication can be very damaging. According to author Dale Carnegie, miscommunication causes 90% of management problems. Get the facts and ask for clarification if needed. Then resolve the underlying issue with an explanation.
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Tip #9—Learn From Your Mistakes
Everyone makes mistakes, and your school is no exception. If you have made a mistake and someone went online to voice their opinion, the quickest way to de-escalate is to own it and plan to learn from it. Use your plan of action to resolve the conflict. Frustrated constituents will appreciate that you considered their opinions.
Tip #10—Focus on the Positives
Work toward highlighting positive comments. If you have testimonials, now is the time to share those. If not, reach out to families or students and ask them to write a positive review. Use these tools to handle negative comments professionally, personally, and most of all, respectfully. Your school’s brand will flourish as a result.
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