The Consequences of Deleting Social Media Comments, Part 1

Pictured: The results of a deleted Facebook comment

“What’s the worst that can happen?”

These are famous last words when it comes to something that should be absolutely taboo for social media marketing: Deleting negative comments.

Deleting negative social media comments is a reflexive and almost instinctive reaction for most businesses. They see one angry customer, panic about the prospect of this looking bad on their Facebook page, and quickly hammer the X button before they understand the implications.  It seems like a completely harmless way to manage your reputation.  A few mouse clicks and the bad word of mouth is silenced, right?

Not in the least.  As a business owner you can silence negative feedback on your own social profiles, but you can’t control what people say elsewhere.  By deleting negative comments you lose the opportunity to remedy a customer complaint directly. Worst of all, deleting a customer’s complaint gives them all the ammunition they need to prove you’re as bad as the customer says to their friends and colleagues.

Let’s call the client involved in this case study Restaurant X.  The restaurant was fairly new in Fairfield County and had been receiving a heap of recommendations as well as glowing feedback on their timeline.  All was well until one irate customer posted about a bad experience with a rude bartender.  This is the sort of complaint that needs immediate attention because it addresses a specific grievance rather than taking the “This place sucks!” approach to reviewing.  Unfortunately, the customer was quietly ignored as updates were posted, which understandably served to make them angrier.

Restaurant X, prior to consulting with me, worked with a company that I’ll refer to as Agency Y.  Unfortunately, Agency Y made this same mistake.  I opened Restaurant X’s Facebook page after our first meeting and saw that the customer’s criticism had vanished.

Pause for a second and think from the perspective of a consumer.  You’ve just had a bad experience after paying money for guaranteed service and quality, and you’d like to make your voice heard in a public forum.  How will you feel seeing your voice unceremoniously silenced by the business itself? In Likeable Social Media, Dave Kerpen compares it to “collecting someone’s comment card, reading it in front of them, and then ripping it up in his or her face.”

It wasn’t a good feeling for Customer Z.  They immediately began bombing every review site they could find with one-star reviews, citing their original complaints on top of the Facebook comment deletion.  They took the opportunity to share this bad experience on Twitter. They promised never to visit the restaurant again (and there’s a lot of competition in this town).  One day later on Twitter I discovered two tweets about the restaurant citing Customer Z’s review as a reason for not patronizing Restaurant X.

If you think this sounds like Customer Z was overreacting, remember that communication is what people use social media for in the first place.  Responding to comments is the expectation on a social network.  Not responding and then deleting a comment means that the business representatives have created another bad experience and people have every right to be upset about it. 

Then again, maybe I took it too far. (Credit: Wired)

 Check in soon for Part 2 of this two-part article, which deals with how to handle a situation where you’ve already deleted a Facebook comment and how to turn such a situation around.  Part 2 will also feature the ending of the Restaurant X Saga.