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Expert Advice from Guy Kawasaki: Responding to Online Comments

Expert Advice from Guy Kawasaki: Responding to Online Comments

By: Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick, authors of The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users (Penguin Publishing Group, 2014)

Responding to comments is hand‑to‑hand marketing that requires diligence and effort — there’s nothing easy about it. In particular, negative comments take even more effort, patience, and understanding, and this doesn’t come naturally to most people.

Here’s how to transform responding to online comments from being a pain to being a way to foster engagement, build your reputation, and even have fun.

Use the Right Tools
The first step is to find comments that you need to address. There are two scenarios. The first is monitoring comments in your Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram posts.

Doing this is easy because these platforms organize, or “thread,” the discussion, so you can share a post and go back to see if there are comments.

The second scenario is monitoring comments on Twitter. This is harder because there isn’t the same level of threading.

Vain as this may seem, you need to set up a search for your name — for example, @GuyKawasaki — to monitor comments about you and responses to you. You can save this search so that you don’t need to reenter it every time.

Twitter also provides advanced search capabilities to make finding comments more efficient. For example, here’s a search that finds mentions of @GuyKawasaki or @Canva, but not the retweets of our tweets. (You don’t need to respond to retweets, and hopefully there will be so many that you couldn’t respond to them all even if you wanted to.)

People will also make comments about you that are unrelated to your posts. You need to monitor these too. In a perfect world, people would @mention (Twitter and Facebook) or + mention (Google+) you by typing “@” or “+” before your name. If they did, the platform would notify you via e‑mail or when you were on your page. However, most people are unaware of this capability.

Many services can monitor mentions and comments, including Argyle Social, Commun.it, Google Alerts, Hootsuite, Social Mention, SocialBro, and Sprout Social. And, as mentioned before, TweetDeck is a great application for monitoring @mentions and search terms.

Use “Mentions,” Not Hashtags
The purpose of a hashtag is to help people share a topic. This is different from a response. For example, when Audi introduces a new car and you want to discuss it with other Audi aficionados, you should use #Audi. When you make a comment about Audi or to Audi and want to ensure that Audi sees it, you should use @Audi on Facebook or Twitter and + Audi on Google+ (h/ t Gary Pageau).

Consider the Total Audience
The audience for a response is everyone who will read it, not just the commenter. This is different from e‑mail, in which the recipient and anyone he or she might forward your e‑mail to are the only ones who matter.

On social media, many people might be watching and judging what you write. I would argue that the other people watching are more important than the original commenter. Posting on social media is analogous to a politician answering a question at a town hall meeting, and as any successful politician will tell you, everything is always on the record.

Assume People Are Good Until Proven Bad
As with email, it’s easy to misinterpret social media comments because of their textual format. What you interpret as criticism or an attack may be innocuous or sarcastic. Or perhaps you are oversensitive. Here’s an example:

Was Barry asking me this question because he thinks I tweet too much or because he knows I dislike broadcasting? You could interpret his tweet either way. I needed two more tweets from him to figure out that he was simply curious about what I thought and was not criticizing me for tweeting too much.

It’s always important to look at the context in which a comment was made.

Stay Positive
Since others are watching, you should stay positive and pleasant no matter how banal, blasphemous, or baiting the comment. You can never go wrong by taking the high road, because winning the war for class and credibility is more important than winning the battle with one commenter.

Truth be told, I sometimes forget to follow this recommendation myself, so do as I write, not as I do.

Agree to Disagree
If you can’t stay positive (been there and done that), you can agree to disagree. There isn’t always a right way, wrong way, or best way. Life is too short to be constantly fighting battles, and most battles are not worth the effort. Also, agreeing to disagree really pisses off “trolls” — online bullies who are always looking for a fight in order to compensate for inadequate organs or pathetic lives.

Ask the Right Question
When someone expresses a strong negative opinion, ask if he or she has firsthand experience with the issue. For example, if you shared a story about Android and an iOS fanboy attacks you, ask him if he’s ever used or owned an Android phone. The odds are good that he hasn’t and is only repeating what he’s heard. That’s the basis for how he “knows” he’s right and for expressing his opinion.

On social media, the combination of certainty and ignorance is common, so get used to it! Indeed, it’s often the case that the more certain a person is, the more ignorant he or she is too.

Go Three Rounds
The best (and worst) interactions often occur between commenters. It’s enchanting to watch strangers develop relationships and take posts in deeper and serendipitous (albeit related) directions. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that commenters sometimes get into bitter fights and make mean-spirited comments that they would never utter in person.

My suggestion is that you embrace the rules of amateur boxing and fight for only three rounds. The opening bell is when you share a post. Ding-ding. Round 1: Commenter comments. Round 2: You respond. Round 3: Commenter responds to the response. End of fight.

Delete, Block, and Report
If all else fails, don’t hesitate to ignore, delete, block, or report trolls and spammers. You don’t have a moral obligation to engage with them, and there’s little advantage to lowering yourself to their level. If you need help identifying someone who’s a troll versus someone who’s simply passionate, I’ve got a LinkedIn post for you.

I have a one-strike rule: I delete inappropriate comments (profanity, racism, and off-topic rabbit holes) and flag trolls and spammers on the first occurrence without hesitation.

Life is too short to deal with orifices.

Excerpted from The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users,  in agreement with Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick, 2014.

Guy Kawasaki is the chief evangelist of Canva, an online design service, and an executive fellow of the Haas School of Business at U.C. Berkeley. Previously, he was the chief evangelist of Apple and special advisor to the CEO of the Motorola business unit of Google. His many acclaimed books include The Art of the Start and Enchantment. Visit him on Twitter.

Peg Fitzpatrick is a social media strategist innovating the world of social media. She’s spearheaded successful social-media campaigns for Motorola, Audi, Google, and Virgin. When she dies and meets Saint Peter, the first thing he’ll say is, “I follow you on Pinterest.”  Visit Peg on Pinterest