Deleting Negative Facebook Comments Makes a Bad PR Situation Worse

Sweeping Under the Rug

Susan G. Komen for the Cure dug itself into a PR hole recently after it cut funding to Planned Parenthood (hat tip to Gini Dietrich for sharing this with me).

I’m not much concerned with the politics of the decision, or the debate about Komen’s intentions. I’m focused on the PR response that followed. Apparently, Komen has been deleting negative comments from its Facebook Wall and other social media channels.

deleting negative Facebook comments:
is it ever a good idea?

Let’s look at it from a brand’s perspective: Your Facebook Page is your property (well, technically it’s Facebook’s property…), and you want to portray your brand in the best possible light. It’s a marketing channel and you want to win over new customers and keep the loyalty of existing customers. You have every right to delete comments that tarnish the image and message you’re trying to convey.

Okay, fair enough. But it’s still a bad idea. Here are three reasons why:

  • Transparency. Like it or not, consumers demand greater transparency today than ever before. When brands scrub criticism from their Facebook Walls, customers are pretty quick to sniff it out, and they’re not afraid to point it out when you whitewash them. On the other hand, brands that embrace all feedback earn points for their receptiveness to criticism.
  • Backlash. Think that negative review came from someone with an axe to grind? Imagine how PO’d they’ll be when you delete their negative comment. They’ll repost with renewed venom — then they’ll tell 100 friends, plus point out how you deleted their initial comment. Then you’ll start hearing from others who had a similar experience. Good luck sweeping that PR backlash under the rug.
  • Customer Service Opportunity. Whether it’s a single negative review or a groundswell of criticism, negative feedback is a golden opportunity to show that you’re listening, you’re responsive, and you care. Remember, it’s often how you respond, rather than the initial complaint, that shapes customers’ opinions of you.

When Deleting Facebook Comments Makes Sense

There are a few cases when deleting comments is acceptable — if a comment uses obscene or threatening language, or violates your community guidelines, for example.

Do you have community guidelines for your Facebook Page? Maybe you should. What about a response and engagement plan? A social media engagement plan (sometimes called a social media policy) will advise you how to respond in various situations. A good social media plan explains when it is acceptable to delete a comment and what the protocol is, as well as when and how to respond to other comments.

  • Gini Dietrich

    There were about 10 of us who did a test yesterday. We each posted one comment on the SGK FB wall and on Nancy Brinker’s wall. They ran the gamut from being “disappointed in how you’ve handled communication on this” to “how will 170,000 women get the appropriate screenings now?”

    ALL of them were deleted but SGK said, last night, they’re only deleting the ones that are threatening or violent. Not true. All 10 of us were deleted. And none of us were either of those things. 

    The issue with deleting comments, in today’s digital world, is you’re saying to your stakeholders, “We don’t really care what you have to say.” That’s a big no no.

  • Lauren Licata

    When working for an e-commerce company, customers would occasionally use our brand’s Facebook wall to voice their dissatisfaction regarding their orders. Instead of deleting the post, we would make right by utilizing Facebook as an additional customer service channel. Our marketing and customer service departments worked closely to resolve these negative customer situations as soon as possible, and we’d be sure to post on Facebook once the issue with the customer had been resolved. We found that this helped us to reinforce our customer service focus, and those who followed our Facebook page were able to witness us turn a potentially very bad situation, into a positive customer experience.

  • Anthony Rodriguez

    When a comment truly does violate the community guidelines, is it appropriate to indicate why the comment is being deleted for full transparency? Or is it just OK to delete them? I know the TSA has a delete-o-meter on its blog that shows how many comments they have deleted.

  • Scott Hepburn

    I wonder if we’ll see a tightening of brands’ Facebook comment policies in the future. Despite our belief in a more open comment policy, a huge contingent of brand reputation managers still believe in burying criticism by any means necessary.

    As a marketer, I understand the impulse to bury negative comments. Still, it’d be nice if the default response was “How can we do better?” rather than “How can we make this go away?”

  • Scott Hepburn

    I love this, Lauren. @arikhanson:twitter recently asked whether we focus too much on PR failures and do too little to elevate PR and customer service wins like the one you describe. I think the approach of your former company is a model many more brands could use — we just need to do a better job showing them and convincing them it works.

  • Scott Hepburn

    Excellent question. I’m gonna throw this out on Twitter to see if we can get some discussion started around this.

  • Gini Dietrich

    It definitely will be interesting to watch in the next few years. I personally believe there is huge value in how the company responds publicly to criticism. They have much more opportunity to earn respect and trust by doing that than burying or deleting it.

  • Smedette

    I wonder if they are really deleting comments or if people are not changing the view settings on said Facebook page?  Most pages default to only show the company’s posts and not the public comments.

    (Please do not read that as an endorsement of what the Susan G. Komen foundation did.)

  • Scott Hepburn

    That thought crossed my mind, but @ginidietrich:disqus knows this stuff inside-out and backwards, and if she and 10 friends can’t find their comments, something’s up.

    Ironically, it doesn’t matter — the Komen folks could delete 24/7 and not keep up with the torrent of criticisms. Cut off one head, three more grow back…that old story. And honestly, if they choose to spend that much time deleting negative comments, they’re ultimately paying for their choices. And that, ultimately, is the best way to test their commitment to those choices.

  • Cuppan85

    Great article and good comments. For me, nothing is worse than seeing that my comments have been deleted or never published in the first place: especially if the comments are by no means offensive but simply constructive criticism.
    I’ve found that a company called Kiosked hasn’t published my comments on their blog and that simply makes me really mad with the company. I commented twice just to check that I didn’t do any wrong the first time, but it seems they simply never approved of my comments (in one I commented that the example used by them probably wasn’t the best possible – I can’t understand how this can be found worth not publishing!). I also know that I’m not the only one and I’ve seen other negative comments being deleted. For me, this is quite disgusting behaviour, especially as this company needs all help they can get (they’re not exactly doing well)…

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  • Barry Kort

    After deleting most of his comments on a mutual friend’s conversation thread on FB, thereby turning the rambling conversation there into meaningless swiss cheese, I asked for an explanation of the wholesale deletions.  I was told that this individual did that routinely.  The next day, the person who had deleted the bulk of his comments returned to say, “Barry, anyone who has joined in a FB discussion will have been informed by email from FB of everyone else’s contributions. FB is ephemeral, and there is no need to keep a public record for folk to read. The email thread is permanent unless you delete it.”  

    That was news to me, so I checked both my e-mail from FB and my notifications.  There was no such transcript anywhere to be found, either in e-mail or in notifications.  

    Is there a definitive source to resolve this confusion?

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