Why Community Managers Can’t Ignore Negativity


Every brand experiences a negative situation now and then. Sometimes it’s something major and the negativity escalates to something that causes people to look unfavorably on the brand. More often then not it’s a customer service issue that can be handled with a single phone call.

In any event, to ignore negativity or write it off as insignificant can be a major mistake.

3 Positive Things About Negativity

Before we get into why you can’t pretend a negative situation doesn’t exist, let’s get into why negativity is a good thing for every brand.

  1. Every complaint is an opportunity to improve: All feedback is good feedback. To write someone off as a crank can feel good, but there may be some valid concerns there. Sometimes there’s truth in trolling, even if it’s not delivered in such a nice manner. Stop writing people off as trolls or naysayers and take a look at what they’re really saying. If what they’re trying to convey is truly valid, don’t ignore then, thank them.
  2. Even the most disgruntled person can become an advocate: People are negative or disgruntled for a reason. By ignoring them, you may never learn why. Take a deep breath and talk to them anyway. It’s hard to hear criticism for sure, but if you listen instead of ignore, you may find the other person to be socially awkward. You may also be dealing with someone who has a hard time conveying feelings without sarcasm or anger. If you listen, respond, and react if the occasion calls for it, you might turn that person from someone who is always hating on your brand, to someone who becomes your fiercest advocate simply because you took the time to let them know you care.
  3. You can become a case study of how to do things right: Community managers gain a reputation usually for one of two reasons- they either do something wrong, or they do something right. By being known as a person who works with people rather than turning your back on them, you’ll be known for the right reasons.

What Happens When You Ignore Even the Smallest Situations

How you handle a situation online can mean everything when it comes to your or your brand’s reputation. If you ignore it, you can ignite a chain of events causing major damage.

Let’s explore some of the things that can happen when you ignore a negative person or situation:

  • The situation doesn’t go away: When you continue to sweep dust under the rug eventually you have a very lumpy rug with  making more work for you in the long run. It will take less time to say, “I hear you,” than it will for you to have to deal with a messy, public aftermath. Granted, there are people who tend to bait brands and community manager hoping to provoke an argument, but ignoring them will only make them step up their game. Be nice, be gracious, and let the negative person at least know you’re taking his thoughts into consideration. Even if it’s a situation you won’t be able to fix, or if the person is just picking for the sake of picking, it’s better to say “I’m listening,” than to not say anything at all.
  • Other people notice: What happens when brands ignore complaints? Everyone wonders why no one at the brand is responding. I’ve seen situations where folks are wondering why the community managers isn’t online handing things. Again, even if it’s just a nitpicky situation no one can do anything about, saying “I hear you” will look a lot better for you and your brand than to ignore it all. There are other considerations too. Since community management is a public role, other community managers talk. I belong to several online groups for CM’s and at least once a week we’re presented with a “where’s the community manager?” discussion after online negativity was ignored. Moreover, if you’re known for being a hands off community manager, it may be hard for you to land a job in the future, because many people will remember your name in a not so positive way. I hate saying “people talk,” but the truth is, they do.
  • Other people join in: Negativity has a snowball effect. Even the jerkiest people have friends and you never know who is going to join in the chorus. It only takes a matter of minutes for a small situation to get out of hand. Nipping it in the bud will control the snowball effect and show that you’re on top of things.
  • People you work with notice: A brand is made up of an entire team. No one wants to be associated with brand negativity. If you’re avoiding or ignoring a negative situation, it not only reflects upon you, but it will also reflect upon people you work with. In essence, you’re ruining many reputations in addition to your own. Plus, the people you work for won’t like it and it can lead to a tense situation.

Everyone is Worthy of a Response

Nothing pisses me off more than a community manager who doesn’t feel everyone is worthy of a response. When you ignore a situation you’re telling the other person “you’re not worth my time.” In community, everyone matters – even the grumpy people. Every single community has their difficult members. By writing them off you’re making the situation even worse. You don’t have to get negative back at them, but the courtesy of a reply is always in order. Any community manager who doesn’t think so, shouldn’t be a community manager.

What You Can Do Besides Ignore

Ok, so some guy is baiting you on Twitter. What do you do?

  • Assess the situation:  Why is this person calling out the brand? There may be a valid situation. Sometimes, in their anger socially awkward will use negative or insulting language. Look beyond that to the actual complaint.
  • Determine a cause of action: Many times the complaints are valid but there’s nothing you can do about it. For example, say you work for a peanut butter brand, and someone heckles you for not adding enough peanuts to the crunchy variety. One complaint certainly isn’t enough to change your entire operation, but the last thing you want to do is to roll your eyes and move on. If the amount of peanuts didn’t matter to this person, he wouldn’t have mentioned it. And, as a person spending money on your brand, he has every right to mention it. In this case, you can’t really do anything about the product, but you can tell the person you hear him and you’ll be sure to share his thoughts with your team. You may even send him a free jar of peanut butter for caring so much about the brand. No, it doesn’t change things, but at least the other person knows you’re listening which can lead to a more positive view of the brand.
  • Respond: There’s never an “I can’t do anything” situation. At the very least you can tell the negative person you hear his complaint. To not respond is to not care. Is that what you want to be known for?

Here’s something else: A little humor goes a long way. Sometimes when someone snarks at me online, I respond with humor. I don’t snark back. I don’t cause drama. I don’t get petty, but if I can make people smile with my response it helps to diffuse the negativity.

You can’t just be manage a community on an arbitrary basis by paying attention to some things and ignoring others. Take some time to see what is being said behind the snark and negativity and you’ll probably find valid feedback.


How are you responding to negativity?

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  1. Jokas says:

    “if you ignore me I’ll go away” that was normal reaction while we got it. But the matter is how to rise up after we feel like the death upon us. But thanks you already giving the reason why they do that. That’s informative for me.

  2. OBVAVirtualAssistant says:

    A little humor goes a long way. Sometimes when someone snarks at me online, I respond with humor. I don’t snark back. I don’t cause drama. I don’t get petty, but if I can make people smile with my response it helps to diffuse the negativity.- Brilliant just touched my heart so very true but in reality we exactly do the opposite.