By Julie Bennett

Of all the questions we are asked in our media training, this is one of the ones that causes much concern. 

The shortest of short answers is: Do not engage. 

But that’s easier said than done, and in fact, it is not always appropriate. 

Dealing with keyboard warriors in the media is different to dealing with them on your own social media accounts, mostly because you have more control on your own accounts. You can delete or hide inappropriate comments, block or ban users, unfriend them, limit what they can and can’t see, in short you can very easily walk away, Renee. Not that doing any of these things is necessarily the right way to handle those sorts of situations, but it’s possible. 

It’s not possible when someone makes a derogatory comment about your business, or something you have said, in an article published online by a media outlet. 

The first thing I’d like to say is try not to take the comment or criticism personally, even when the comment seems very personal. If it’s very inappropriate, flag or report it to the media outlet, just as you would if it appeared on your own accounts. 

Then take your time thinking about whether or not to respond. Some comments are so obviously designed to inflame or stir the pot that other readers will likely recognise them for what they are. These comments are usually left well alone. 

However, some comments are simply ill-informed and responding to them may help clear up some misunderstanding about what you have said. 

If you decide to respond, remember that what you say will be public and people will be judging you on how well you do it. One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard in relation to this was to write a response you can be proud of. This means answering rationally and intelligently. That said, I don’t think there’s much merit in continuing an argument online. Answer the comment once and if the debate looks set to continue, offer the poster the opportunity to discuss their particular gripe offline.

I recently interviewed 64 Media client Neil Macdonald, CEO of The Advisers Association, for our Centre Stage podcast. Neil has been on the receiving end of negative online comment from time-to-time. He said that although he was once advised not to read the comments, he does – for two reasons: One, to understand the diverse views that people hold and two, because negative comments may be based on false perceptions. This, he said, actually represents an opportunity. “You can often get the gem of your next article, or your next release from those comments.” 

To hear more insights from Neil, tune into our podcast.