How I deal with online hate comments

In January of this year I started a new job which also includes community management. That means dealing with comments and messages we receive over our social media channels.
We do get hate comments. A lot. Dealing with these comments is an emotionally straining task. But they are also a highly valuable opportunity.

So how to deal with them? Some of the comments are rooted in well deserved criticism, others are just plain hate speech. While I love to interact with people on our social media accounts, it does take an emotional strain, having to handle an avalanche of negative comments. These days are rare but they happen. 

A lot of self care is necessary on such days, even though these comments are not directed at me personally. Still, even if you know that all these negative emotions do affect you. 

It would be too easy to just brush it off as “People just hate, don’t take it seriously” or as Taylor Swift said: “Haters gonna hate, hate hate” because every person who decides to write something on the internet does so because they feel that they have to express something.
And in the case of hate in most cases these are attempts to distract oneself from feelings such as helplessness, powerlessness, injustice, inadequacy and shame. Hate is grounded in some sense of perceived threat. Like much of anger, it is a reaction to and distraction from some form of inner pain.

Because hatred often conveys problems, it should be viewed as a kind of feedback. If there is a pattern in certain unfavorable comments or a specific set of reactions to a negative comment, I try not only to focus on responding to hate comments, but also to investigate why people continue to leave them. 

A study by Polish researchers suggests that politeness and empathy are the best ways to answer online aggression. 

It is advised to react to every single negative post, because otherwise it could cause a social media crisis and lower brand trust. So far on the theoretical side – but I am still a human being who has to read, understand and empathize with all of the comments, before answering them. I had to grow a thick skin very quickly and also to learn how to understand the posters emotions without them taking over my emotions.

To me it is important to see the people who leave negative comments as the individuals they are. To understand where their frustration and aggression comes from and most importantly to offer them a solution. While some of the comments will always stay what they are – rude insults – most of them show that people care enough to turn to us.

It is a kind of feedback and shows areas where we might have not communicated well enough or topics we didn’t treat as seriously as we should have. Therefore I also try to look for patterns in hate comments. These comments help to inform future posts and topics that will be featured on our social media.

While researching for this blog post I also found the Starbucks LATTE customer service practice, and will use that in a modified way for how I deal with hateful comments.

Listen to the customer

Acknowledge the problem/situation

Take action and solve the problem

Thank the customer

Explain what you did

There are a lot of other systems for customer service recovery that you might find helpful for your organization, like Marriotts LEARN or The Broadmoor hotels HEART. 

While every organization has a slightly different process all of them include a part where you listen and try to understand. Which also ties back to the Polish study mentioned earlier.

So, while opening the accounts on a Monday morning and reading a bunch of angry comments can ruin your day for sure, it is important to not let these emotions affect you personally and see these comments as what they are: Expressions of deep rooted fears, powerlessness or injustice, that give you the opportunity to understand your commenters problems and how to help them. And knowing that my answer might have helped a person or at least let them feel that their emotions are valued, helps me get through even the worst of Mondays.

As always, please do give me feedback, tell me how you takle angy social media comments or how they make you feel!

Photo by Ravi Sharma on Unsplash

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