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Internet Marketing and Web Development in Higher Education and other tidbits…

Negative Facebook Comments: @#$% Me

25 Mar 2010

written by Jessica Krywosa

Negative Facebook Comments: @#$% Me

jk 277x300 Negative Facebook Comments: @#$% MeI knew smooth sailing couldn’t last forever. Someday, that dreaded negative comment would rear its ugly head on  our university Facebook page. I just didn’t know it would be so harassing, misplaced and something that would give me an instant panic attack.

It started innocently enough: the occasional hatred of the Red Sox. A snarky comment about a recent campus event invitation. Somehow, it escalated to random jabs of ‘bitches’ posted on the page for no apparent reason other than to mess with the administrator. I was baffled at what appeared to be comment spam from someone who must have had a negative experience.

I sat back. I had that inner dialog most community managers have when they hit their first negative member. ‘Do I reach out to this person, or will that only enrage them more?’ ‘Should I engage them openly, or will that ultimately end with me losing control/getting ganged up on?’ ‘What would happen if I emailed them directly to see what their issues may be?’

Addressing this situation can be a tightrope, but one you absolutely have to walk out on. We’ve all seen how comments can build momentum, be it a back channel such as The Great Keynote Meltdown of 2009 or the more recent Nestle Facebook Fan Page debacle. Although tenuous, it is most definitely, very necessary.

I took what I felt was the high road and emailed this person via Facebook. I tried to address any concerns they may have and invited them to my help. I asked them if we were posting too much, that they could consider removing us from pages that they’ve ‘fanned’. I then let them know that any further profane or negative comments that do not add to the conversation will be removed. I wished them a good weekend, and gave them my full name, title and university email.

The next day, this person un-fanned the page, negative comments ceased and I felt foolishly triumphant. While out to lunch, I checked my email and found that I had a response from the message I had sent to this person the previous week:

“Blow me.”

To make matters worse, the negative comments were back and included one that was my ultimate fear: that we were inhibiting what students can say on our Facebook presence. I quickly addressed this – this time, out in the open – and the negativity continued. This is when I realized it was time to disengage.

Add to this that you can’t block someone unless they are a current fan of the page. If so, its very easy to permanently ban someone from a Facebook fan page. Since my lil’ stalker would only pounce in and out to malice me, once out there was nothing I could do.  If I blocked them from my account, they could still post on the page for others to see.

A co-worker tried to find this person in search and turned up gold: two profiles. One with no friends, one with several. In steps all those little ‘report’ links that I never paid attention to before. I reported the profane email. I then reported the suspicious profile (Facebook allows you to report ‘impersonations’, providing the link to the profile you feel is the true one).

So far, the negative profile has been suspended and all negative activity on our page has since ceased. But that doesn’t mean I don’t check every day hoping that another negative comment or account hasn’t popped up. The truth is, at any time there could be another situation such as this. Disgruntled alumni. Irked parents. Undergrads dissatisfied with Spring semester grades. The point is that stepping in may be uncomfortable and you may not know how exactly to handle it or how the person will react, but doing nothing will only make matters continue or worse. Sometimes, you’ll get luckily and students will spring to your rescue and problems resolve themselves. But what if that doesn’t happen?

How have you addressed negative comments? Any horror stories or positive notes to share?

The content of this post is licensed: ©2010 All Rights Reserved


About the author

Jessica Krywosa

Jess is the Director of Web Communication at Suffolk University. She has been a leader in electronic outreach strategies for grassroots educational non-profits for over ten years. Currently Jess is focused on strengthening virtual relationships with a heavy emphasis on enrollment and retention based efforts. Connect with her on Twitter LinkedIn or visit her personal website and blog.

This post was written by - who has written 14 posts on .eduGuru


  • http://itrookie.wordpress.com Tiffany Hendrix

    We had something like this very early on. It had been up for a while before I realized it but almost immediately, we took it down (referenced lawsuit to the campus, etc.). Before we got it down though, some of his friends encouraged him to contact administration, and were very positive about turning his experience around. They handled it quite well and we’ve not heard from him since.

  • http://rachelreuben.com Rachel Reuben

    I’ve been mostly fortunuate in that either one of two things happened — 1) the community self-corrects itself. Others jump to our defense and tell the Negative Nelly where s/he can stick it. :) Or, 2) We have a great deal of activity on our wall that their gem of a comment rather quickly gets buried and we just don’t engage.

    The only time I engage is if they’ve said something that is factually not true, and I want to make sure the correct information is out there. But, people who just use profane comments I just let the community handle, or watch them get buried.

  • http://www.hanover.edu Joe

    My approach: direct message stating why I’ve removed/edited the comment. They can’t get too upset for you being upfront about the situation, and sending it privately allows you to keep the dirty work behind the scenes.

  • Julie Wight

    Great post – it’s always instructive to hear how others deal with negative situations. I agree with Rachel. I tend to not engage and let the community do the correcting (unless there is a fact that needs to be corrected). Unfortunately, our Facebook Page is a little more fledgling and things don’t get “buried” as quickly as on some Pages.

    Actually, the worst negativity I’ve seen has been on our university Flickr pages. It was easily enough remedied by blocking the user who had set up a fake account and was posting seriously offensive comments. However, it is much harder to constantly monitor each photo on a Flickr Page than it is to monitor a Facebook Page. As a result, I’m considering discontinuing Flickr for the University.

  • http://gradschoolmarketer.blogspot.com Davina Gould

    My favorite tips I’ve seen on this issue are 1) to lower the profile of negative comments by adding other comments/updates, 2) publish Facebook comment guidelines that include the reasons you would delete comments (Univ. of Kansas has good model guidelines on their fan page) 3) the Air Force Blog Assessment chart for profiling negative posters and responding appropriately. I’ll try to include the USAF link in this comment, or you can just Google “Air Force Blog Assessment” to see it. http://www.prwatch.org/node/8104

  • http://krywosa.com Jess

    I agree with all posts here. Generally, I wait for negative comments to be pushed lower by other content, but some days, that just doesn’t happen as quickly as I’d like. :)

    More so, the random swearing and then the profane email led me more to watch this person as a harassing spammer rather than someone that could be easily rectified by the community. Generally, we don’t see a lot of interaction on other people’s comments, but more so on content.

    Def need to build our community to interact more!

  • http://www.morethangrades.com CRios

    On our blog and Fanpage we have a simple rule: No profanity or offensive language. If posted, it is removed. I think most fanpage administrators are overly sensitive and feel the world is watching and that you are some how censoring your fans. You are not. Negative comments are one thing, crude or vulgar is quite another. Besides, most people who are your real fans know a jerk when they see one, and most people are busy with their own stuff to dwell on yours for too long. If a comment is negative, it should be addressed if it reflects poorly on your institution or website since it may be something that needs to be addressed. Remember, there is a reason they let you moderate or remove comments from a page. CRios, teacher-blogger, MoreThanGrades.com

  • http://siobhancurious.wordpress.com/ Siobhan Curious

    I have struggled w/ negative comments on my own blog (and on guest posts I have contributed elsewhere) and I always find it extremely stressful, but also try to see such conflicts as learning experiences. I’ve also written posts about dealing with negative comments; you’ll find one here:

    http://siobhancurious.wordpress.com/2009/05/29/who-are-your-gurus/

    and another here:

    http://siobhancurious.wordpress.com/2009/08/31/bloggers-block/

    The virtual world, like the “real” world, is full of a*holes; the problem is, of course, that online you can be an a*hole without showing your face. We can’t change people, but we can take a constructive attitude toward unacceptable behaviour, although it’s not always easy…I think that’s exactly what you did in this case, and I’m just sorry you had to deal with the situation at all.

  • Rob Fitzgibbon

    Hi Jessica – thanks so much for sharing your experience. I agree with previous posters – developing and publically communicating common-sense communication guidelines for the specific social media space can be a great help. Guidelines can structure debate into civil and productive discussions and are more of a question of decorum than censorship.

    Given guidelines, having an debate about a controversial topic such as admission or tuition is not only possible, but can be honest and productive. The great majority of your audience will understand that swear words, ad hominem attacks and bullying should not be tolerated and in fact destroy the communal space.

    There will always be the sociopathic troller that’s just looking to stir up trouble, but you have the rules posted for them to see, give them a warning, and if they keep it up, block them out.

    Gook luck and thanks again for your article!

  • http://brandmanagersnotebook.wordpress.com Travis Brock

    Great post on an issue that is growing more and more as Facebook continues to be a popular social network. Like everyone has mentioned, guidelines are a good way to go.

    The worst thing to do is start a “back and forth” of words and to stoop to the negative person’s level like Nestle did.

    Even with a good set of guidelines, each situation needs to be weighed and a proper response calculated. Another thing not to do, is to respond right away if emotions are “hot” – I have gotten caught in this and responded angrily and frustrated to negative comments and things only spiraled downward. Be sure to take a step back and make a thoughtful and calculated response – which it seems like you did in your situation. Again, great post!

  • http://www.fullerton.edu Brenden Sparks

    We’ve got a disclaimer on our page that reads:

    “We adhere to Facebook’s Terms of Use and Code of Conduct, and we reserve the right to remove any content that is abusive and/or profane, as well as advertisements for services, activities, and events not sponsored by the university.”

    The person monitoring our FB wall has gotten a little bit more loose about student-posted stuff, but generally we take down any profanity as soon as we see it. For a while we were sending a FB message with the boilerplate message “Thank you for participating but please refrain from…” but after a particularly invective-filled response we just take things down and don’t bother to say anything to the offender.

    In general, we allow people to express negative comments toward the university or what we post–as long as they remain civil and avoid profane language or personal attacks. Sometimes people post mildly offensive or inappropriate things, but the line we drew in the sand is at actual profanity or a personal attack.

  • http://www.facebook.com/humbercollege Nick Farnell

    Great post Jessica,
    We are well over 5,000 now and have had very few negative comments. The way we have our page set up is that anyone can visit the page, but only fans can comment. This achieves two things; it encourages people to ‘become a fan’ and it is easier to deal with negative comments.

    We have had very few negative comments, but our process is to delete the comment while posting a public reason why, as well as contacting the offender.

  • http://www.wmich.edu Nancy Kroes

    Very timely blog – many many thanks!

    I just passed this link along to our University Relations folks who handle the main Facebook fan page for our University. This was their response: For the main FB page (/wmich), we take the first approach. Our student ambassadors and other friends (all students) reply so it comes from someone other than WMU.

  • http://www.mikemccready.ca/blog/ Mike McCready

    Thanks for sharing your experience Jessica. We’ve recently started a Facebook fan page, so we haven’t experienced this yet. But I really appreciate your openness with yours. We also plan some open communication on our new website, so this will be helpful as well.

  • Laurie Creasy

    Our school, Penn State, has a huge Facebook fan page, and we get comments and wall posts that span the gamut of emotions.

    We post our guidelines on the page (and we adhere to them), but beware: Those side-of-the-page posts may not show up if the user is reading on a smartphone.

    We want conversation. If we get negative comments, our fans have shown us that they will take up the cudgels in our defense.

    That said, we usually send a message to fans who have posted something commercial or objectionable explaining why we’ve taken down the post. We get a few — let’s say pithy — responses, but most people thank us for getting in touch with them.

    Posting a note about what posts we’ve taken down and why got us a lot of flak from our fans, who felt it was our page and we should take down whatever we wanted. They just didn’t want to know about it.

    The only people we ask Facebook to block are people who spam our page with chain letters, and then only if it’s a repeated offense.

  • http://www.smcblogs.com Mallory Wood

    Jess,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience. I am anxiously waiting for the moment when I will have to deal with profanity on Saint Michael’s College’s fan page or the incoming Class group page. Thankfully that has not happened yet, but I find it extremely helpful to hear your thoughts (and everyone’s comments) about how to deal with these situations.

    I must say, I agree with how you handled the situation. While I never hope for negative comments about the college, I believe (like many others) that the community will respond. I do, on the other hand, take action against a post from spamming companies and agree that the situation you faced needed to be treated similarly.

    I’m looking forward to reading more from you on doteduguru!

  • http://www.marketingforhighered.com Laura D.

    Good article. On a similar note, I’m interested in how you (and others) approach tough questions posted on your wall? Questions like “Why is tuition so high”, “Why do you accept so many students if there’s currently a housing shortage,” etc? Questions like these can’t necessarily be put into a harassing category, but are still difficult to answer on a public forum. Do you suggest answering these questions publicly or privately? And should the original question be removed? It’s a fine dance…I feel it’s important to address the question, but also don’t want to encourage any further negative feedback.

  • http://krywosa.com Jess

    Hi Laura,

    Great follow up question: My personal philosophy, which I’m sure many share, is to leave tough questions. The fan page, IMHO, is a space for free and open discussion. Some universities are lucky enough to have students and alumni who frequently come to fray and answer these questions. This serves two purposes: it authenticates the community and keeps those questions real.

    I would never remove anything unless it is profane or harassing – this means it doesn’t add to the overall conversation. If conversations are deleted that really hold some personal feeling for the group, aren’t we doing them a disservice? I’d rather hear that great feedback and respond thoughtfully in some way than to stop it or send it someplace else.

    I personally would not respond to these questions, but let the community do so. I feel its not ‘my’ community and therefore there are no real answers I can offer, but others in the community may be able to add to the discussion. If it does get to a level that you see many responses, perhaps there is a way the university can respond with a town hall to hear student’s frustrations. Or, maybe not.

    It is a fine line that we all have to walk and I hope that others who have been through this can also share their experiences.

  • Chris Syme

    I manage social media for our athletic department and we have the “two-p” rule about removal–profanity and porn. As far as negative comments go, we usually leave them as our community is pretty good at policing itself and they get pushed down so fast I have a hard time keeping up.

    I have to remind myself it is not MY community–I just helped build it. If we pariticipate in social communities online, we have to become comfortable with the negative. Hopefully, we can help develop the communities in such as way that they become actual neighborhoods and not just places to post our “news”.

    As far as questions go, we have a link on our website that allows fans to ask questions (like your tuition question) on a forum where it is answered by the AD and everyone sees the answers in an ongoing conversation. Our Facebook page is not the right venue for those kinds of questions and I encourage fans to ask those questions on the forum where they can get someone who is an expert (or authority) to give them a real answer.

  • http://www.siteexecutive.com Bob

    Thanks for your sharing your thoughts. We have been discussing this here for our company about how to deal with the rogue community members and how we can help our clients, higher education, how to deal with them. Transparency is always great but having a strong community to back up the negative with many positives makes it look even better.

  • Facebook layouts

    you give this person to much credit and place far to much importance on their opinions. does it really matter what anyone who looks at and reads her “facebook” page thinks.

    it would seem that everyone in this office may have to much “free” time on their hands

  • http://www.squidoo.com/panic-attacks-and-treatment Kofi Awunyo

    Fabolous post,sometimes,it’s healthy to focus on what people think of you or comments you made… They may have much time at disposal, you find good people to associate with

  • http://www.facebook.com/UnionCollegeLincolnNebraska Scott

    I think it’s very important to have a comment policy in place from the start that you can point to. On the Facebook pages I administer for Union College (Nebraska), we have the policy in an FBML tab. That way we can point to the rules and suggest commenters frame their opinions in a manner that fits the rules–it doesn’t have to be positive, but it does have to comply. We’re a rule-loving species for the most part, and what frustrates people the most is not having standards, but the inconsistent application of them.

    Another useful tool I’ve found is an app called Page Notifier. The service scans your page for new comments and e-mails them to you. When I check the page, I usually only notice recent comments, but with this, I know when someone comments on a photo from a year ago. The free version scans once a day, and you can pay for more frequent scans. It’s a wonderful tool that makes up for the glaring omission of activity notifications for page managers in Facebook.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steve-Hippel/100001479797095 Steve Hippel

    Really interesting. Was just looking for info because I have just created a FaceBook business page myself. This was something that crossed my mind. I’m not sure if your article has helped with my worries but it has opened my eyes. Thank-you.

  • Big_Boob

    Naprawdę ciekawe. Czy po prostu szukasz informacji, bo ja właśnie stworzyliśmy stronę Firm Facebook sam. To było obligacje coś, co przyszło mi do głowy. Nie jestem pewien, czy Twój artykuł pomógł z moich zmartwień, ale otworzył mi oczy. Podziękowania.

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