Why it pays to embrace negativity on social media

Negativity on social media isn’t something businesses should fear. It could lead to your biggest wins. Find out why it’s time to embrace a bad review.

Negative online reviews
Written By
Emel Rizwani
Published On
November 29, 2021

Why it pays to embrace negativity on Social Media

Are fears about negativity on social media preventing your business from embracing the potential of social media marketing?

Worries about negative feedback are part of the wider concerns that many businesses have around social media. Fear of not knowing what to do; fear of getting things wrong; fear of committing or wasting time and money are all common. 

This collective fear is so strong that a staggering six out of 10 businesses still don’t use social media. Surely, they argue, it’s better to avoid social altogether than risk going viral for the wrong reasons.

But is it?

Your customers are on social media

With 4.2 billion social media users on the planet, your customers are using social platforms. They’re talking about what matters to them, what they like as well as what they don’t, how they spend their time, what they aspire to and even what they want from businesses.

This is marketing gold, and social platforms give you the means to mine it.

So, if you’ve been sitting on the fence about using social media to grow your business – especially because of fears about bad customer feedback – I’m here to challenge your thinking.

It pays to embrace negativity on social media.

If you’re worried people might say something bad about your business, it probably means that you know there’s room for improvement. Complaints are simply opportunities to listen to your customers and make your business better. 

Get your response right and negative feedback could lead to your biggest wins (and profits).

Don’t believe me? A recent study by Harvard Business Review found that people whose complaints are handled quickly often turn into loyal customers and brand advocates. When someone’s complaint is addressed in under five minutes, they spend more on future purchases than those who haven’t complained!

Criticism on social media is inevitable

All businesses face criticism at one point or another. The deal-breaker isn’t so much what’s said as how you deal with it.

What you mustn’t do is ignore negativity and hope it goes away.

(Look at what happened when United Airlines refused to deal with singer Dave Carroll’s complaint that baggage handlers broke his guitar. It cost the company’s shareholders $180 million in just four weeks, a figure that would have bought Carroll 51,000 replacement guitars!) 

People will say things online about your business, whether or not you’re part of the conversation. With 72% of us regularly leaving business reviews, that’s a fact of modern life.

And, yes, some reviews and comments are critical.

One survey from early 2021 found that 48% of UK businesses say they’ve been impacted by fake reviews and negative social media posts within the last 12 months.

And that’s despite 60% of businesses not even using social media. 

Whether they’re on social platforms or not, 47% say they do nothing to deal with or respond to negativity online and 25% don’t even track what people are saying about them.

This head-in-the-sand approach is arguably far more dangerous than showing up on social media, especially when 78% of people say that one of the things they care most about when reading reviews is if the business responded.

If you’re not there to deal with criticism, there’s a very real risk that your critics will control the narrative. 

What will they say about you?

Will they think you don’t care about your customers? Will your brand come across as unfeeling or arrogant, even? 

Saying nothing can be far more damaging than taking criticism on the chin. 

And speaking up puts you back in the driving seat of how people perceive your brand.

Negativity on social media builds better businesses

If there is a problem with your product or service, or maybe your price or positioning, you need to know about it, address it, and fix it. 

It’s easy to feel defensive about a bad review but try to take a step back and see things from the customer’s perspective.

People want to feel heard and validated. You can use a negative review to show your customers that you’re listening and genuinely care about what they think. Let them know that you regret they didn’t have a great experience and offer a solution or ask what they think you could do to improve things.

This is the approach that makes a great story, a great customer experience.

Remember that unhappy customers are going to be negative about your brand whether you’re on social media or not. You can’t do anything about it if you’re not there doing something about it. 

And don’t forget that having your finger on the pulse and your ear to the ground will save your firm a tonne of money in market research! Be there where it’s all happening.

We all make mistakes

Mistakes happen but it’s very rare that an error can’t be deleted, amended or apologised for. 

A great example of this is when an American Red Cross employee accidentally drunk tweeted about DogFish Beer to the official Red Cross account instead of her personal account late one evening. The Red Cross social media manager took the tweet down within an hour and posted a humorous follow-up: “We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys”.

People loved this response and no harm was done. DogFish Beer even donated to the Red Cross as a thank you for the inadvertent publicity. 

As this example shows, the best response to staff mistakes is to be honest and proactive about offering a solution. Then review what went wrong.

Do you need to invest in training? Do staff have clear procedures to follow? What could be done differently/better next time?

Customer complaints can lead businesses to brilliance

Some of the biggest PR wins for businesses on social media in recent years have come from brands being proactive about responding to customer complaints.

Let’s take Nike’s 2018 campaign featuring NFL player Colin Kaepernick as a brand ambassador. Kaepernick was seen as a polarising figure in the US after he refused to stand for the American national anthem and eventually began taking the knee to bring attention to racial injustices in the country.

Some consumers publicly burned their trainers (causing #justburnit to trend on Twitter) or cut Nike’s logo from their socks, while others boycotted the brand altogether. Nike’s share price initially fell by 2%.

But Nike took a stand. Kaepernick perfectly represented its brand values of fairness and equality so, far from being apologetic, Nike placed the athlete at the centre of an Emmy-winning advert in which he urged people to “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it”.

The subtext was that Nike was prepared to lose customers to stand up for its core principles. People respected this integrity and showed it with their purchase power.

Within a matter of months, Nike’s brand value increased by $6 billion. The company enjoyed a 31% boost in sales, $163 million in earned media and a 36% increase in share value.

And who can forget KFC’s chicken shortage in 2018

When the business had to temporarily close 540 of its 900 premises because it had run out of chicken, customers took to social media in their droves to complain (some even called the police!) 

It could have been a disaster.

However, KFC used a savvy mix of humour and honesty to manage the situation, joking in social media posts the “The chicken crossed the road – just not to our restaurants!”

In a stroke of PR genius, the brand posted a picture of an empty chicken bucket with the letters “KFC” rearranged to say “FCK”. 

The business also decided to be transparent. They told their customers what was happening, why and what they planned to do about it. Most importantly, they responded quickly.

People appreciated this approach and were soon back on-side. Search for the KFC chicken shortage on Google today and most of the top-ranking articles talk about it as a masterclass in crisis management.

Any business can turn negatives into positives

Any size company can turn customer complaints around. It’s not just the territory of big-name brands.

What would you do for a customer who complained about your business in person? Treat customers who complain via social media the same way.

Acknowledge the person’s complaint and show that you’re listening. Discuss the situation and your proposed solution online. Everyone makes mistakes. What matters is what you do to rectify them. 

Other customers will respect you being transparent about this. It shows you care.

Even if you feel someone is misrepresenting what happened, it’s vital to stay calm. Stick to the facts and still ask whether there’s anything your business could do differently next time.

Social media offers many benefits for businesses

With the right approach, social media marketing is packed full of positives for businesses.

It offers a chance to make human connections with your customers, to show them the people behind the brand and the values your business is built on.

You have the opportunity to learn about what matters to your customers and communicate with them in real-time.

This can lead to greater customer satisfaction rates, organic referrals filling your sales funnel and, as we’ve seen, the ability to respond to negative feedback or fake stories promptly and authentically, minimising their impact.

People love brands that stick to their values, especially when those values align with those of the customer. It makes a business more human, more relatable and, literally, worth more in terms of human emotion.

Through positive reviews, you’ll have another opportunity to learn what your customers love about your business (and fill Google’s search results with listings praising your brand).

If you combine this with the knowledge about what you could do better (thank you, negative commentators!), you’ll have the formula for business success.

Tips to ensure you and your team are prepared and able to do this properly

Yes, worries about negativity on social media can be daunting. Our advice is to feel the fear and do it anyway.

(But, first, make a plan for how to respond to criticism before it happens!)


1. Have a social media strategy

A proper one! Something that you’ve invested in and has the full team’s buy-in. This will help you to make decisions, respond quickly and in a way that reflects your brand values.

2. Know your target audience

Minimise negativity on social media by getting crystal clear about your audience and tailoring your content to them. When saying the right things to the right people, your posts are more likely to resonate, ignite conversation and attract positive feedback.

3. Develop your tone of voice

People buy from people. When a brand has a clear voice and personality, customers feel that human connection and they know what to expect. That’s why KFC was able to be so irreverent about its chicken shortage. 

4. Prioritise strong customer service training and a crisis plan

In “real life” and on social media, complaints often escalate when they’re not handled quickly or well. Strong customer service training and a clear crisis plan are the antidotes.

5. Hire us!

As a social media marketing agency, we know how to build your business presence on the social platforms your target audience loves. We also know how to track brand mentions, plan content and respond quickly and appropriately if something negative does crop up.