Derogatory Customer Feedback Online: Should Your Company Delete It?

I received a question from a reader, related to the freedom customers have in leaving public feedback about a company. They wanted to know how a business owner should treat derogatory comments when they or their team have the ability to delete them.

Their question would apply to any website or social media profile where you have censorship ability.

Here is their question, paraphrased:

Assuming someone posts a derogatory comment on your company’s page, do you take it down to address it, or do you leave it up with a note that you will contact them if you know how to get in touch?

First, I’m happy to see the question wasn’t a case of simply censoring negative comments. The reader is still willing to address them even if the comments are removed.

But look. There’s no clear cut answer for this one. Here are a few things to consider though when deciding how to deal with negative feedback:

1. Does the person want an actual solution to the problem, or are they bitching just to bitch?

My philosophy is this: complain to your heart’s content as long as there’s a real problem, but be prepared to take credit for your comments.

If your commenter isn’t giving you any option to contact them (no phone number, email address, or even a website link), then they don’t want a personal solution that badly.

Does that mean you should delete anything that’s anonymous? I don’t think so (and definitely not when we’re talking about reviews — deleting any honest review makes you inherently dishonest yourself, and that’s not someone worth doing business with).

That said, there are anonymous comments making reasonable complaints that you should address because they likely affect a broader group of customers. And there are anonymous comments that are unnecessarily heated because someone posted while pissed. There’s a difference.

You don’t need to tolerate abuse from customers, and neither to other visitors to your website or profile.

2. Is the language inappropriate for your site?

What’s considered tolerable language for one audience may be completely inappropriate for another. If you don’t want to allow swearing on your incoming comments, that’s fine. But make that clear up front in a comment policy, so there’s no question as to why something may have been removed.

If you don’t have a comment policy in place, you run a bigger risk of your censorship stifling conversations with other customers. They might worry you’ll delete anything you don’t agree with.

If someone posts a negative comment filled with swearing, and if you deem that inappropriate for your site, my personal preference is to keep the comment, remove the problematic bits, and add a note about what you removed with a link to your comment policy.

3. Is it libelous?

There’s no place for libel. Period. And your company doesn’t have to host it or support it just because you don’t want to be known for overly censoring feedback.

4. Is it really a derogatory comment?

I don’t think it’s acceptable for any company to censor comments just because they don’t agree with what was said. I’d be careful about limiting the scope of what the company considers inappropriate. You don’t want to turn away potentially valuable constructive criticism. Look at it this way: it’s free market research.

There are cases where deleting feedback may be the most appropriate course of action, whether you respond to the commenter privately or not. But remember, there are consequences. If you’re too liberal in using your delete button, you could turn potentially mild situations into heated ones. Your site is not the only place people can go to complain about you. Piss them off even more there instead of trying to help, and you risk even worse feedback being published elsewhere (where you have no ability to censor or even directly respond).

One of the greatest things you can do for your company’s reputation, especially online, is to be responsive to legitimate customer feedback. That doesn’t mean you should respond to everything. Just don’t turn a blind eye by censoring everything that’s critical of your company. That would make you an asshole. And people don’t like doing business with assholes.

Plus, that’s a surefire way to get your company some scathing reviews on consumer reporting sites. And they won’t censor unflattering feedback for you. I have a client of my own in that industry, and I can tell you that even if you tried to sue those sites to get negative reviews removed, you will lose. So don’t push customers to that point to begin with.

When you respect and appreciate your customers, they’re much more likely to respect and appreciate you. Focus on being helpful, and don’t get your panties in a twist every time someone criticizes your company. You don’t have to please everybody (let’s face it; some people are just piss-ants and you’ll never please them). But your goal as a business owner should be to please as many of your customers as possible. And a big part of that is listening to them. So let them speak.

Note: This post was originally published in 2009 and has since been updated.

Jenn Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. An active digital publisher, she runs numerous websites and blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has over 20 years' experience working as a solopreneur running a 3-prong business of offering freelance writing and consulting services, running digital publications, and operating as an indie publisher of predominantly e-books.

This experience includes over 20 years working as a professional writer and editor, more than 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (specializing in areas like digital PR, online marketing, social media, and SEO), 19 years' experience as a professional blogger / online publisher (including web development), and around 17 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

At Kiss My Biz, Jenn shares stories, tips, and tools from her own adventures in solopreneurship, while aiming to help fellow solopreneurs and creative professionals succeed even where it feels against the odds.

15 thoughts on “Derogatory Customer Feedback Online: Should Your Company Delete It?”

  1. There are very few reasons to delete a negative comment outside of obvious intent to do harm. If there is any merit to the complaint, it should be addressed.

    The most common obstacle people have in these situations is a lack of empathy for their customers. It doesn’t matter if facts are being misconstrued or there’s a lack of understanding. The only thing that matters is the market’s perception of what’s real. Once you have a handle on that, you can use facts to better explain things to bring their perception in line with reality (if in fact that’s the problem. But most people start their responses with “You are wrong becuz…” which only leads to a battle of egos.

    Starting off a response with, “I am sorry you feel or see things that way” is more likely going to open the door to a meeting of the minds. And a far less painful resolution to the complaint.

    And lastly, if there’s one complainer, there are many more who simply walked away without complaining and much less likely to return. Be thankful for the complainer because you otherwise may be completely unaware of the damage being done by your company, messaging, staff and/or product.

  2. I think it depends if it is an isolated incident or a flawed business model. If it is minor and isolated it might be good to show the community how a business resolves issues. If it is continuous slandering it might just be a flawed business model that needs to be visited.

  3. I am working on the website of a local security company. One of the techniques salesman use at competing companies is to seed Citysearch and similar sites with anonymous but completely false and ugly reviews. We also have the case of a former employee who was fired and now posts damaging comments on review pages. How do I combat that?

    While I understand you can’t please everyone all the time, false reviews are impacting this client’s business. We are testing a follow up program. After 90 days if a new client posts an online review, either good or bad, that’s not anonymous and sends us the link, they can receive a $25 Visa Gift Card.

  4. As far as negative reviews, they’re often just a fact of life. One of the groups I used to work with was authors. The fear some of them have of negative reviews is astounding, but the facts are simple… not everyone is going to like what they write, and not everyone is going to like your client’s company.

    If the comments are essentially an effort to sabotage (from the competition) or they’re libelous and doing real damage, then talking to an attorney might be the only effective way to go. But when it comes to the competition, you’d probably need some real evidence before any site is going to give up user data showing that’s who it is (and it’s very unlikely that they would without a court order to do so).

    From strictly a PR perspective the company has to choose whether to ignore or engage. That decision has to be made on a case-by-case basis. My preference in cases like these would be to focus on the positive. If there are that many negative reviews that it’s doing the company harm I’d ask the company “where are all of the POSITIVE reviews to counteract them?” If they’re not getting many, then there’s probably a real problem there. They could improve in some area. They need to focus on the positive aspects of their business and work to get exposure, reviews, etc. built around those things. If people aren’t spreading the word in a good way, you (and the client) should be wondering “why?”

    I would absolutely not “buy” reviews though, negative or positive, especially with the new FTC guidelines regarding this same kind of compensation for reviews. If these review sites are covered (and I won’t speak to that), then your customers would have to disclose that they’d receive a gift card when they post those reviews. That disclosure (while necessary) could cast doubt on the validity of those positive reviews — not something you want readers wondering. If they don’t disclose, your client could end up fined (review the guidelines with a lawyer to clarify and find out how they apply to your client specifically — I’m not one, and won’t give actual legal advice).

  5. I think your post really highlights the best ways to go about dealing with negative feedback. It is necessary to have a set policy if you are concerned that something might be posted that you disagree with.

    In addition, I really like your blogging style. You tell it like it is, and I appreciate your honesty. People need to understand that you can’t take things personally, and you seem to really put that out there. Thanks for the post!

  6. Hi Jen,

    I usually keep comments that are true, regardless of how bad they are, I like communication that has a person behind it, if he is pissed about something so be it, if he doesn’t like me, awesome… now I have someone to talk to and a subject 🙂

    For example; I think you are blunt, stubborn, generally agitated and fundamentally a c@#t. But that is why I read your blog. Stop being so entertaining and tell me how to get traffic to my site! I know you hate all ways to do that, but tell me what you do agree with so I CAN DO something to get some fricken traffic.

    Or did I fail to find the “THIS IS WHAT I WOULD DO” POST?

    Don’t stop the entertainment, great blog 🙂


  7. I don’t have a problem with traffic as long as it’s achieved with long-term results in mind and not fad-following, spammy, or traditional cliquey circle-jerk tactics. But this is more of a commentary blog than a tutorial-based one. You might want to check out another one I contribute to – It’s still heavy on commentary, but there are more tutorials there (tips on better blog launches, other writers have compared Facebook features, etc.). Might be more to your liking. But it’s a direction I’ve considered taking this blog as frankly I find the nonsense in social media to be exhausting. So it may become more of a how-to site yet.

  8. Thanks Jen, I’ll check it out, I really want traffic, but I want to do it right, my problem is that one guys says to something or fail and the next guy says do that thing and you will fail… I want to strangle SEOs for the way THEY do it, I’m am sick of learning the way they want me to do it so they can make money.

    Thanks again for the link.


  9. If anyone ever says you have to do something — as in use a specific method or tool — or you’ll fail, they’re full of shit. Period.

    As for SEOs, I believe in ignoring 99% of them. I’ve met some decent ones through my work who I’ve learned a bit from. But in the end, I’ll tell you the same thing I’ve been telling people for years, and the only thing that’s held true consistently over those years:

    Give people quality content.

    It’s that simple. I know “quality” is subjective, but if you don’t feel like you’re giving 110%, it’s not enough. That can mean educational, informational, or just entertaining content. It can be text, audio, video, images, etc.

    You’ll do some initial work spreading the word — I find good old networking is the best. It’s not a quick process, but it’s the only consistently sustainable one. That content is what makes you successful in social media (it’s the kind of thing people want to share), just like it’s the one thing making sites stable in the SEO game (especially with Google finally going after shallow content sites like mills, which some of us have been asking for for years now).

    The biggest thing I would suggest is turning a basic site or blog into more of a resource site. I have a post scheduled to go up here tomorrow, so I’ll write more about that and a few other suggestions for improving content for better long-term traffic via sm and seo and post it tomorrow morning to give some more specific advice.

  10. I took a quick look at your site, and can already see quite a few suggestions I’d make with everything from branding to the site structure that could help with rankings and overall appeal to social media users by giving them more to share. Would you object to letting me use it as an example in tomorrow’s post? I’d offer the basic tips and then give more specific recommendations to your site.

  11. Are you kidding me!?!?! I would have an orgasm if you did that.

    I have tried to deliver quality content… at least I have a product to show, if you look at the people who are ranking for managed account blog, you will see most of them are trying to show you how to trade or make you sign up for a news letter, they are not even offering managed accounts. I am just trying to give them actual managed accounts, with good managers, without making them jump through hoops. Anyway, I would take any suggestions to make my content better and any suggestions to make my site better. Thank you so much.

    But still even if my content is miles above my competition… how will anyone know if I have 0 traffic, I am a networking retard.

    I look forward to your post.

  12. That’s the common “chicken and egg concern” — wanting content to bring in traffic but needing existing traffic to bring in content. I’ll make sure I talk about in the post later. 🙂

  13. Even I liked the question been asked in the beginning because he don’t want to delete it and show only the good image. As an audience/ customer/ viewer, I think deleting the comment is like not being accountable to your mistakes and not welcoming the criticism. If you cannot take it then you probably shouldn’t have been there at first place. Take it or leave. I liked this article focusing if the comment is really derogatory or not, as many people consider even a suggestion as derogatory. Ben there, done that!

    • Thanks for stopping by Jay. You’re right. It’s easy to lump all unpleasant comments together. But ignoring the ones that might actually help improve your company or brand doesn’t make a lot of sense.


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