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Photo courtesy of Sharon Mollerus (creative commons)

Yep, they are negative. It says so right here “negative comments”. But you can approach them as if they were a positive and I think you should because:

Negative comments are an opportunity to connect with people.
In a world where engagement is so very important, any opportunity to connect and engage is definitely worth the time.

It’s like when my wife says, “I wouldn’t tell you this if I didn’t care about you.”

So sometimes the purpose of a negative comment is to communicate about something an outsider perceives as negative to your business or image. You probably don’t want to hear about the negative but by learning about it you can make things better for the future.

Negative comments are an opportunity to share your passion and understand theirs.
Listen, if people didn’t care, they wouldn’t leave comments. You could take their negative comments as “I wouldn’t take the time to say this to you if I didn’t care what you are talking about.”

This means they are passionate about what you are talking about. I believe that people are as passionate about food as they are about religion, music and sports. You need to be sensitive to this information – passion can start a conversation with someone – even if it starts in a negative way.

Ray Prock, dairy farmer from CA, says this about negative commentary that he’s ran into:

“Don’t write off a relationship with someone just because they have different beliefs.  Do you remember that magnet experiment in science, the one where the same polarity repels itself and the opposite polarity attracts the other? The same can be said for relationships, find common ground outside the subject area involved to connect. Work towards a trusting friendship then use that trust to help re-enter the polarizing conversation.

Do not be afraid of taking time to build the relationship, Rome was not built in a day and you will not change someone’s beliefs that quickly either. As the relationship grows the trust will soon give way to influence and that is where you can work to help someone understand why you believe what you believe.”

Negative comments are an opportunity to share your insights into how your farm works, how their food is made, how your cows are treated, how much you care about your business, etc…
A negative comment can come off from someone’s lack of understanding – and you can share insights into how your farm operates.

I prefer to share insights over informing your readers that you are going to educate them on food production. By the simple fact they are reading and communicating with you, you can assume they are educated and informing them that you are going to ‘teach’ them usually gets them defensive.

Their thoughts and opinions may differ from you based on where they have received their information so approach those differences by sharing, not attacking their knowledge or education level. People need to know that you care about their opinions and that you empathize with them before they’ll care about your opinion.

Negative comments can give you insight on how you are coming across to others.
I think Mike Haley sums up this point best in his blog post on AgChat:

“The first step begins as you are writing the blog post, as the tone in which a post is written can set the stage for others to comment, either positively or negatively. If a post is written to talk WITH the readers and respect their opinions, instead of talking AT them, readers tend to think more critically about what was said. It encourages your readership to engage in positive and constructive conversations that remain respectful, even when opinions on the subject can defer greatly.”

I’ve seen Mike in action on blog posts and in comment sections, talking with people in a very respectful manner about their point of view. So I thought it would be great to interview him for this post and ask him directly about how he deals with negativity.

He says, “The biggest goal to any type of online social conversation is not converting people to your point of view rather it’s about opening up the dialogue – it’s a two way street.

Don’t spend so much time trying to get people on your side, instead spend quality time on the conversation. Everybody can be right – everyone’s opinion matters. When you treat negative comments in this fashion, then it’s much easier to get common ground.”

Janice Person, who has a great deal of experience with negativity, is in agreement with Mike. Her best advice comes down to:

“When you look at comments, it’s important to get a little broader perspective when the critics pop up. Maybe they have just heard something for the first-time and are really upset. If you always treat people respectfully, you are more likely move the conversation forward. They may seem aggressive or emotional to me but I need to think about how everyone else reading the exchange will view it. If I set the baseline of respectful dialogue, I can help hold others to it. That means I need to know when to step away for a bit sometimes as people may be pushing my buttons.”

Sometimes negative comments are NOT an opportunity.
Sometimes when you answer back and try to listen the other person will not engage, they are looking to just to use your platform to get their point across.

We call these people trolls.

All they look to do is to use your platform to attack you, to hijack other conversations, to incite anger in you or others and, generally, just be a nuisance.

When it comes to this type of behavior, you don’t have to put up with it or engage in it – actually, that’s the worst thing to do because that’s what the troll wants. To actively see you get upset.

How do you know if someone is a troll?

Check their information with a simple Google/social media search. If you can’t find them, then consider the conversation is over. Remember you can always walk away – it’s tough sometimes but it might be better in the end.

As you get more experience on the internet, you’ll start to know who are trolls and who is genuinely interested in having a conversation with you.

How to deal with troll comments, posts and tweets?

There’s a old saying out there that “never wrestle with a pig, you are going to get dirty and the pig likes it.”

In other words, don’t stoop to their level of fighting because your reputation will be damaged more and that was their intention in the first place.

Carrie Mess has a great point on how to deal with trolls.

“Don’t be afraid of the delete/block button. Some people’s comments are not adding to the discussion. If a comment is completely out of line, insulting or over the top, delete it and block them.”

So what do you think, do you think negative comments are opportunities to engage or should we avoid them at all costs?

In my next post, I’ll go through the steps that I use when dealing with comments – it’s a simple social media flowchart but it can help guide you on whether you should answer back or delete that comment.