01 March 2016 Guest Contributor

The funny thing about social media - it's social. And sometimes that means brands open themselves up to criticism (even flagrant abuse) when something they post or something they do goes awry. Which is why I believe brands, and the professionals who manage their social presence on their behalf, should prepare for this inevitable outcome. And further, why I feel brands should NEVER delete a post just because it's critical.

Hence why I was disappointed to read recently that UltraTune had been (allegedly) deleting posts on Facebook that criticised their rubber-clad advertising campaign for being both sexist and in poor taste. After all, wasn't that the reaction UltraTune was courting? That is, 'cut through' via moral outrage? Surely they can't expect women to embrace the ads and thank them for depicting our sex as not just 'weaker' but also mentally challenged. 

But perhaps I'm missing something. So I asked a team of social media experts if they thought it was appropriate to delete critical posts. Loved their responses, even if they didn't always agree with me. Here's what they said:

"For any business, being on social media can be a great place to engage with customers and really give their brand a personality. It can also bring with it the risk of angry or dissatisfied customers venting online for the world to see. Deleting negative comments is one easy way to deal with them however it’s probably not the brightest. Businessess need to be prepared for the good and the bad when engaging on social media and unless a post gets really nasty or is socially offensive it’s best to be dealt with online with a few simple tactics:
  1. Respond in a timely manner - The sooner the better when it comes to negative feedback. An angry customer left to stew is a ticking time bomb. And keep in mind when it comes to any comments good or bad that it's not just that one customer who can see it. Other users will see how long it takes for a response, how you diffuse the situation and how you reply. Acknowledge their comment via a reply and give a reasonable timeframe in which you will deal with it.
  2. Customise your reply - There is nothing worse when you make a complaint than getting a generic message that often doesn't make sense in the situation. Acknowledge the problem and offer advice in accordance. Making sure you personalise the message allows users to see there is a person behind the screen and not just a robot.
  3. Say Sorry – Apologise and be sincere about it! Again not a computerised message.
  4. Get a room – Getting into a debate over a public platform is probably not the best practice for any business, so take it offline. Provide the customer with a direct contact number for a representative where they can discuss their issues in private and find a resolution.
  5. Resolve The Post – Once a resolution has been met, update the post so users who are following aren't left hanging. A simple post such as: “This matter has now been resolved” will allow other users to see the complaint has been dealt with in a timely manner."

Anna O'Toole, Digital Advertising Works

"Many business owners get upset or angry when they read a negative post or review. After all they're only human. A negative post is not good for your business, but deleting the post without fair reason or a rude, aggressive or flippant response from you will damage your reputation even more. Be polite and professional at all times.

Responding to negative posts publicly from genuine customers, addressing the issues while maintaining a professional tone will show you are responsive to feedback. If the reviewer is baiting you into a back and forth, take the conversation offline immediately by asking them to PM you their email address or phone number so you can handle the situation away from the public forum.

If you believe the post is untrue or not from a genuine customer, this is a fair reason to remove the post."

Darnelle O'Brien, The K.I.S.S Marketing Agency

"Everyone knows the dangers of deleting posts on social media. It can fuel the fire at a rapid rate. At Hello Social we never recommend deleting comments unless they are in breach of consumer laws, advertising standards or if they are misleading or offensive. This is your legal obligation as set out by ACCC. Best practice in community management is to hide comments that could be considered offensive to some audiences or that aim to be purposefully malicious.

The combination of a house rules document outlining behaviour and an appropriate response flow chart is all your team needs to act appropriately on social media."

Max Doyle, Hello Social

"I believe that it is acceptable and that posts shown to be offensive should be removed to avoid fuelling the fire further and causing further damage to a brand's reputation. However, it should always be accompanied by a formal post or even an original post with the explanation of rationale/concept or intention behind it - along with an apology and genuine acknowledgement of why it may have caused offense to some (or even blatantly been unintentionally insensitive, such as in the recent 'blackface' saga)."

Reyes Beard, Reyes

"In our experience, it is a brands' responsibility to proactively manage any situation that occurs on their social media channels. Online relationships are just as important, if not more important, than offline relationships, making it imperative for brands to ensure their community management is up to scratch on their social channels. We recommend brands create a crisis management document which outlines 'what to do' in a situation of conflict or crisis. This will assist Social Media Managers to proactively manage a crisis and remain authentic.

Surprisingly, brands who work *with* their audience in solving a problem, even if it's one they've created, are more successful in increasing their brand affinity and advocacy rates than brands who simply ignore, or even worse, delete a ne gative post that they've created.

Brands need to remember that people are forgiving, just like they are in offline relationships. The principle is simple: Made a mistake? Own it. Apologise. Move on."

Laura Magnano, FWRD Agency

"Short answer? No, it's not a good idea to delete posts or comments that are critical of your brand. Deleting posts can be like waving a red flag in front of a bull and only encourage the person who made the post to make more critical posts. Instead, we recommend brands leave negative comments on display AND respond to them. By doing so you can publicly defend your policies or clarify your service intent. Also, by doing so you will often find that your die-hard supporters will come to your rescue and publicly back you up and sing your praises.

10% of your followers on social media will hate everything that you do, 20% of people will love everything that you do and 70% won't really be passionate one way or another. BUT... the 70% care about how you treat the 10%. So treat them well and respond to them publicly in real time."

Marty Spargo, Reize

"I work with hospitality businesses each day, helping them manage their profiles and brand reputation on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Zomato, Yelp and Trip Advisor.

For restaurants in particular, this is a question which is continually raised - and one that spurs a lot of discussion. Personally, I think we'd all agree that watching a business publicly respond to a negative comment on one of these platforms is akin to watching a car crash. So I can understand why some businesses feel the need to delete them altogether. However, I believe this can be equally damaging to their brand.

Customer loyalty is built on trust. When they see a business who's taken on criticism, dealt with it/improved, and left that journey as a digital trail for all to see, it adds legitimacy to that business. It makes customers feel heard.

On the other hand, a business who deletes all negative commentary is likely to appear suspicious - particularly if the positive reviews do not reflect overall public consensus. For this reason I always advise my clients to contact customers directly (where possible) to see if they can find a resolution privately. This often results in the customer deleting the original review of their own accord. If not, it serves as a benchmark from which the business can grow."

Veronica Fil, Kahunas of Content

"First of all, once a post has been posted, it actually means the poster is responsible for whatever implications it may have. Deleting a post is a waste of time as there are screenshots and clone sites. In my case, I have automatic Tweet as soon as I post on any Facebook page that I manage. When that tweet goes, there are smaller sites that crawl Twitter for content. They will duplicate that tweet and even if you have deleted it off one platform, a simple Google search will bring it back as a post from another sub domain. It's therefore recommended that one has to scrutinise what they post heavily before it goes live. Taking back what you said before normally is a second or two too late."

Prosper Taruvinga,

"We are a PR firm specialising in reputation management and social media figures very active in this area. When we are in the strategy planning stage with our clients the aim is to prevent issues occurring in the first place. One small but significant part of the strategy is to make a decision on what negative posts might be about and how they are responded to.

An experienced communicator knows what the reactions will be well in advance - that's what we do. Thereafter, it is to manage this process, yes it can be managed, so there aren't any inflammatory posts. It is extraordinary the misconceptions people have about social media - but usually when there is a guideline it's easier.

Clients often lose perspective as it's hard to be an 'outsider' in your own company. On the other hand, how not to be dull and boring and still encourage engagement is a fine line indeed. Similarly when we are called in when there is a social media incident, the first thing we ask for is to see the strategy - and even though a document might be headed up Social Media Strategy - that's usually where it ends."

Elizabeth Heusler, Heusler Public Relations

"I'm a director at Joella and do not believe businesses should delete any posts, especially negative feedback. They need to look at it as an opportunity to communicate their message and values and demonstrate that they have nothing to hide."

Megan Barrow, JoElla Marketing

So,I think it's safe to say we all agree that deleting a post that's merely critical of a brand is a BIG no, no. So why do they persist; making negative comments disappear as fast as the magician Dynamo pushes a mobile phone through a glass beer bottle? Your guess is as good as mine.

Would love to hear your thoughts.