How to Handle a Social Media Heckler

Aug 23 2010

Social Media encourages transparency. It encourages sharing. It encourages feedback. It is dependent on User-Generated Content.

It is every company’s worst day at the office when a consumer or detractor attacks their company or product publicly on a blog, a forum, or on It is one thing if the complaint is based on experience versus if it is baseless, untrue and, well, just plain old vindictive.

Most marketers don’t know how to deal with a public slight. And there are degrees of hecklerhood on social media:

3rd Degree: A onetime complaint, usually through “Company X sucks”

2nd Degree: A lengthy, misinformed expository comment. Most commonly, this is seen on your blog’s comment stream or a Yelp! Review

1st Degree: A foe actively seeking out the organization and disparaging it or its products. Tools for this include the comments section of online newspapers, an entire blog post dedicated to their grievance, or worse yet, the purchase of domain name that fills the first page of returns on

Mambo Media has handled and neutralized all three levels of reputation management. Each level requires different methods, but the most important thing is to react, respond and engage. It is tempting to just ignore the slight. Don’t – most of the time, the heckler just wants to be heard.

The chart below captures the recommended strategies for each variation of the heckling:



Ways to Respond

3rd * One-time complaint* Usually on Twitter or via email*Example: “Company X sucks” * Publicly Acknowledge* Appreciate the feedback* Indicate changes you will make, or have made as a result of the complaint
2nd * A lengthy, misinformed expository comment* Usually one comment on a blog or Yelp! Review* Ex: “This Company steals customers from local vendors, and they charge way too much. I wish my city would just ban them.”  *  Publicly reply to the post, acknowledging the author’s concerns. Read:* POLITELY present the facts, in a measured tone. Refer them to online third-party resources* Request an offline phone conversation, meeting, or email exchange
1st * A foe actively seeking out the organization and disparaging it or its products* Usually will comment on all blogs related to the company or industry, write their own blog post, comment on news articles, and create a Facebook or webpage dedicated to their campaign.* Ex: “This organization mismanages its donations. And the people who work there don’t know what they’re doing. How do I know? I use to work there, until they fired me. But, I care about starving children in Africa and am offended they are stalling change. So, I started this blog to detail how backwards the organization is.”  * Reach out to the heckler and set up an in-person meeting.* Make it on neutral territory, preferably with others in tow. Making your heckler see that there is a human on the other line of their communiqués is critical.* Treat them like a thought leader or power-user (a valued customer). Let them vent, ideate and share their POV. Then encourage them to participate in activities related to shared goals.

Yes, the strategies above rely on old-time “man to man” tactics. If that is not possible, then set up a meeting. Bring in the “bigwigs” so they realize the heights their criticism has circulated within the organization. Lastly, determine how much of this discussion is public vs. private. Each situation is different, with different factors, but Mambo Media endorses transparency whenever possible.

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