Managing Negative Comments

  |  March 23, 2010   |  Comments

Negative comments can make the commenter look worse than you - as long as you handle them in the right way.

My column "Don't Let User-Generated Reviews Ruin You" hit a nerve with many people. I recounted the harrowing tale of the Cleveland lawyer who has been significantly affected by two seriously negative reviews that appear in the Google Local Listings.

In the comments that followed, the one resounding question was: "What do we do about these!?"

Jeremy Aaron Anderson, in a comment on that column, rightfully pointed out that this falls into the area of "search engine reputation management" and "social audience development."

But how we go about dealing with these things is not clear cut.

The first approach I often hear people take is getting their lawyer involved. I've seen companies (and sometimes rather large companies) try to scare people into taking down the content.

This approach can backfire if you don't know the power and will of who you are dealing with.

Case in point is a story that unfolded in the search marketing community back in 2007. Jennifer Laycock created a site called The Lactivist. It was a fun site promoting women who breastfeed. She sold t-shirts and that sort of thing.

The legal counsel for the National Pork Board sent her a threatening letter stating that they were prepared to sue her because she was selling a shirt that said "the other white milk."

She goes on to say this on her site: "As best I can tell, the issue that REALLY has their panties in a wad is expressed in this quote from the cease and desist letter:"

In addition, your use of this slogan also tarnishes the good reputation of the National Pork Board's mark in light of your apparent attempt to promote the use of breastmilk beyond merely for infant consumption, such as with the following slogans on your website in close proximity to the slogan 'The Other White Milk.' 'Dairy Diva,' 'Nursing, Nature's Own Breast Enhancement,' 'Eat at Mom's, fast-fresh-from the breast,' and 'My Milk is the Breast.'

Laycock responded by saying, "Do they think I'm trying to an [sic] promote an adult breastfeeding fetish??!"

That was, I think, the point that made her mad. She writes, "I don't have a lot of tolerance for bullies."

Long story short, through social media, she won. She got a letter from the National Pork Board CEO Steve Murphy apologizing for the offensive comments leveled at The Lactivist in the original cease and desist letter.

Along with that, she got a letter from them that said, "...National Pork Board intends to conduct a voluntary fundraising campaign among its staff and executives to gather donations for Mother's Milk Bank of Ohio."

The lesson here: be careful about looking like a bully. Americans tend to side with the little guy.

Trying to scare and push people around could make you look worse than before everything started.

I'm currently working for a client who has tried suing someone who is maligning them on the Web and it has just made them push back even harder.

As long as these people are not intentionally libeling you, there isn't a lot you can do about this kind of thing.

I did a video once about the Kodak Chief Marketing Officer Jeffrey Hayzlett. It has ranked at the top of the listings for his name for a long time. Actually, I'm not particularly proud of the video. I often think about taking it down, but I don't.

The reason I don't is because he has never asked me to. I am not a fan of what he is doing to one of the great brands in America. And the fact that he hasn't done anything about this video makes the point that I don't think he "gets it."

I fall into the camp of "all publicity is good publicity."

Just so you know, I've gotten my own lumps in this space. There is a prominent blogger that pretty much flogged me because he didn't like a video I did on him. Because he's so powerful, that one post ranks well for all sorts of different phrases...not the least of which is my company name.

I'm sure there will come a time when I'll get into that more thoroughly. But him creaming me on his blog was, I believe, a great benefit to me and my exposure. I also got a lot of private support. No one would come out in public to support me because they were afraid of him. But many people quietly supported me.

I wouldn't be surprised if my Jeffrey Hayzlett video is doing something similar to him. A comment from 11 months ago was, "This video provides the most amazing demonstration of perfectly useless opinion (presented by two of the most self-absorbed and self-congratulatory douchbag pseudo-hipsters imaginable) that I've ever witnessed."

As you are looking at negative comments, it's very hard to look at them with a cool head. But sometimes they can make the commenter look worse than you. Instead of making them go away, you might try calmly and kindly engaging in them. You might come off looking like the good guy while the angry commenter looks irrational and ridiculous.

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Sage Lewis

Sage Lewis is the president of SageRock Digital Marketing. SageRock has been a leader in Web marketing since 1999, offering search engine optimization, paid search marketing, social media marketing, and analytics.

Sage speaks nationally with SES and other prominent Web marketing organizations. He is one of the most sought after speakers and coaches in the field of Web marketing. From coast to coast, Sage has trained, coached, and consulted with some of the largest brands and conferences in the country.

Sage is also "The Web Marketing Video Guy" with nearly 500 Web marketing videos published. Sage writes as an expert for ClickZ in the "Search Engine Marketing" section. He lives in Akron, Ohio with his wife, Rocky, and son, Indiana.

His columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.

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