Friday, October 1, 2010

Should You Censor Negative Comments On Your Facebook Fan Page?

Last night someone posted a rather aggressive comment on our Facebook fan page. The comment was essentially a protest piece about animal rights. We lost some sleep about whether we should delete the comment, pretending it never happened, or whether we should leave it up and respond. We decided to leave it up this time, but we’re undecided about what to do in the future. We’d love to share our thinking and get your feedback.

Before we get into the merits either way, here’s the comment, along with our response:

We really struggled with this. On one hand, we want to be transparent about our business, and we certainly care about animal rights too. On the other hand, we need to put food on the table; and that happens to involve selling leather shoes. Fueling a debate about the realities of where leather comes from -- dead animals -- probably isn’t good for business. (And for the record, we’re pro-animal rights, which is why we’ve been spending a lot of time trying to research how we can release a vegan range of design options in the future. It’s actually much harder than we expected but we’re getting there).

Here are two opposing perspectives about deleting comments from your Facebook fan page, as argued by Michael, Mike and Jodie.

Which do you think is the right approach?

You Shouldn’t Delete Negative Comments

If you’re going to create a forum where customers can discuss your business, you should be open to allowing that discussion to be negative. There’s a limit, spam, swearing and hate posts should be deletable, but not general complaints or ethical discussions about your business.

Deleting ethical discussions about your business is a slippery slope. Should BP censor discussions about oil spills they cause? If the Bhopal Disaster happened in the era of Facebook would we have thought it reasonable for Union Carbide to censor discussion on their Facebook page? In our view, using animal leather in our products is not as bad as these other examples, but for animal rights activists it might be. I don’t want to live in a society where ethical debates are censored in any way, so I don’t think businesses should censor these discussions on their Facebook page.

From a purely business perspective, am I going to trust a company that deletes posts they don’t like from their Facebook page? There are lots of positive comments on our Facebook page, but if a customer knows or suspects we’ve deleted one post we didn’t like, how can they trust that we haven’t deleted 10 times as many bad posts as there are good posts on our page?

We should actually take this comment on board and use it as constructive feedback to continue our work on offering vegan shoe options to our customers. We’ve been working on this for a year now, people clearly want it.

Sure, our Facebook page isn’t the ideal place for an animal rights debate, but a good, well thought out comment that shows we listen to our customers adds value to our brand.

You Should Delete Negative Comments

Your Facebook Fan page is a haven where your true fans can gather to celebrate your business. You must absolutely not let it descend into a place where anyone can simply drive by and spray venom on everyone else.

If someone wandered into your physical store and started yelling about animal rights, you would quickly show them the door. If they refused, you would call the police. You definitely wouldn't allow them to leave a poster on your front window. Why is online any different?

By all means you should allow your true customers to air grievances (“where is my order, dammit??”), but general or unconstructive rants are something entirely different.

It’s also appropriate to delete posts that are disrespectful to your community. This particular comment crosses that line. To our shoe-loving fans, it’s a personal affront, implying they are outdated, “disgusting” and “cruel” for wanting leather shoes.

We’re also extremely unlikely to ever sell shoes to this person. She’s loudly mocking our business, and for a brief moment her opinion is proudly displayed at the top of our fan page. She’s welcome to protest issues, but could she please do it elsewhere?

If you still don’t agree, just try thinking of a horrible post you would undoubtedly censor. I guess the question is, where is the line? For different businesses, this is going to vary. It’s up to you as the business owner to decide what the rules are.

My advice? If a comment isn’t constructive, you should remove it, ban the user, and don’t look back.

We had quite a lengthy debate about this last night and all 3 of us could have ended up going either way. In the end we decided to leave the comment up and put it to this blog to help us determine what we should do next time. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

VEGAN UPDATE: We've added additional vegan materials, had our vegan range approved by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and launched a page with additional information about our range of vegan shoes here.


  1. Fascinating topic. When you utilise social media in this environment, I think you automatically accept that you are going to get a myriad of different comments. The challenge with these is that social media puts them infront of the eyes of all your current and potential customers, whereas previously they would have been water cooler chat.

    My thoughts would be that you have the power to mediate these, but to delete would be wrong* (*few exceptions for racist or inaapropriate comments that were irrelevant to business). So in mediating, I think you have a marketing and communication tool which you can use to your advantage as you did with the snake skin chat. Ultimately you have to bite your tongue, as your real views can't be fully revealed, so you become quasi-politician, but you answer it. With lots of words like "understand", "empathise" and finishing with a "however" to close the loop.

    The great thing for you should be that most of these comments are thoughts that other customers might have, but not so savagely presented. So your calm and collected response is in line with you brand of prestige and quality, and it gives you an outlet to remind customers that you invest significant time in sourcing great materials from responsible suppliers, which suddenly becomes a positive differentiator.

    I'd liken it to tripadvisor or eatability. When I see a negative comment I get bothered. When I see a mgt response to it, I am warmed. It's either wrong or its been dealt with.

  2. Nope don't delete it- how can you claim to be transparent and in touch with people if you don't address their concerns? Sure if they're outright abusive but i think this (as you did so) was the perfect platform for you to address concerns that other likers of your page may silently have.

    We advise in our business for businesses to respond to negative feedback online- you gotta take the good with the bad and chances are someone will be impressed that you actually DEALT with the comment rather than deleting it and become a customer.

  3. I think that you should leave the most of the comment displayed on your facebook page but I would delete the part which describes your product as generic etc- she is clearly taking a stab.

  4. I think if the comment is defamatory or contains inappropriate or irrelevant flaming, it should be taken down.

    However, I think legitimate complaints should be left and responded to. I agree that your response to the complaint would help to mitigate any detrimental effect of the original comment. As an example, I think the response you guys made to that comment was great - addressed the complaint in a genuine manner, wasn't condescending and was helpful in giving her a method to communicate directly with you guys if she wanted to take the conversation further.

    It's a tough decision, especially because when it's in writing, it's pretty permanent whereas a screaming crazy is only there of that moment!

  5. Great post. I agree with the previous comments - if it it is defamatory, inappropriate or blatant trolling, take it down. If it is critical or negative, leave it up, but respond to it.

    The manner in which you engage with your customers is what builds your brand. No company is perfect and everyone knows you can't please all of the people all of the time. But open, honest communication always builds trust.

    You guys put me on to the Zappos book - Delivering Happiness, from a previous post. What would they do in this situation? They'd leave it up.

  6. Responding professionally to negative comments is more 'comforting' for potential consumers, IMO, because a fan page of just 'sweetness and light' is untrustworthy.

    Animal Welfare is a topic close to my heart, yet I still consume and use ethically produced animal products, that's why we (humans) still have incisors.

    Seeing this post and your response to it would make me trust ShoesOfPrey more, not less.

    Great to hear you are seriously investigating Vegan alternatives. While I would never plan to eat vegan, buying clothing that complies to their principles would be of great interest.


  7. PS - might slightly inflame the original poster when you sent her the email address "hunter" - LOL

  8. I think it really depends on the comment. I had a similar dilemma recently with my FB group Glamazon Shoes where in response to a size 13 shoe pic, someone had written "Size 13?! I could use those for water-skiing! LOL" I left it for a while debating whether or not to delete - free speech vs not-nice comments etc. After a while I ended up deleting it as it was less to do with my not agreeing, and more to do with the fact that it was quite offensive and those of us with big feet have suffered enough in the past with comments etc. and should not have to keep enduring this treatment in a 'safe haven' group.

  9. Really tough call because of the added slap re: generic products.

    I'd say you're right as a general rule to leave all posts up.
    This is pretty close to the line of being 'deletable' but doesn't quite cross it.
    I guess it's one where you trust in the intelligence of your customer /fan base to read the post (and your response) for what it is.

    I think you've done exactly the right thing in this case.


  10. Hi Guys, great post and a real ethical dilemma many businesses face using social media. I don't think you should delete negative comments. Agree that if posts are defamatory, racist or similar that should be deleted or modified but I think censoring comments from your customers and followers would be against the spirit of social media. I think your response was professional and adequate and should go a long way to show your customers and followers how you like to do business, which from what I can see is with openness, honesty and integrity.

  11. Hi all, some really great comments and thoughts from everyone here, thanks so much, we appreciate it. It sounds like the consensus is that the approach we took was the right one. If the comment was a bit more extreme to include swearing and abuse then taking it down might be the right way to go, but as it stands it's an angry criticism and in the spirit of social media, one that should be addressed rather than deleted.

    Thanks again everyone, should this come up again we'll take the same approach with the added confidence that plenty of smart people agree it's the right one!

  12. Glamazon shoes - That's a really interesting scenario you mention. I think deleting the post in that case is reasonable and the right thing to do. Unlike ours that post is not a criticism of your business but falls into the non-business related inappropriate category a number of commenters mention as a time when deleting is the right thing to do.

  13. Hey Foxy, Knappster, and Jodie,
    Personally, I don't think truly negative comments should be on your Facebook Fan Page or any company's Facebook Fan Page. However, this comment doesn't necessarily disparage you or your service or idea, just the source material for a particular shoe material. She's not screaming 'Shoes of Prey is a bad company. Don't buy from them. etc etc." She has instead brought up a point that I think many people can probably relate to in this 'pro-animal rights age.' However, it's YOUR business. it's always up to you guys to determine what comments get to stay up and which don't. If it were my company, I would actually not leave the comment up but address it via a post. Maybe start off stating, "a potential customer brought to our attention our lack of vegan shoe options. At this time, we're looking into it and since we're pro-animal rights, we hope to have more options available by the start of the new year." This way, you're still being transparent and still addressing the issue, letting us and your fan base/customer base KNOW your stand on this issue and what you're doing to reach your goals.
    I love that you guys share your issues with us, no matter how trivial. Good luck, love your work ;) and hope you guys are all doing fabulously well :) Cheers!

  14. In addition, keeping up the comment also wins major points with your customer base in regards to transparency. But to be honest, I think the transparency would be pretty much the same even if you didn't leave it up and just addressed it as a post. Just my 2 cents! :)

  15. i have the rest of the week off work and so it is quite indulgent to sit here at home this morning and contribute to your debate! ha

    i used to have to make the same tough decisions when i was in charge of a very active online fan forum for a band i played in (back in pre-facebook days). in the music or sports or quasi-celebrity sort of industries i think it very common to get a lot of negative online posts because people seem to get very passionate and like to trash talk what they don't like. we found that usually the negative posts would just further engage our positive supporters to come to our online defence. as long as the conversation didn't escalate into breaking our forum rules (i.e. no illegal type hate mail, etc) and was posted in the correct forum category for general discussion then we would keep it up. however, it wasn't really appropriate or useful in that instance for us to respond to it as the band (i.e. online post: "your band sucks!", the band: "ummm, no we don't"). we just ignored it, there are always haters out there! they weren't our fans and they weren't going to stop others from liking our music, attending our gigs, or buying our products.

    after some internal debate, and assuming this is currently a rare occurrence in your online forums, i think i would have done the exact same thing as you guys have done by leaving it on and publicly responding. i think a real positive of your company is that you appear as a small and personal business, which i think helps build trust and more of a cozy/friendly relationship with your potential customers. as such, i like and appreciate the full transparency of the way you dealt with it. as jess pointed out, the post isn't just bashing the company. despite a few little digs at you, it is focussed more on the material complaints (which to me seem valid and acceptable to express).

    if i was a girl about to buy a pair of snake skin shoes and then i read your post i don't think it would deter me. people aren't dumb, if you're interested in these sorts of shoe materials then you've likely already made your own mind up on the associated ethical debate and you won't be phased by a simple protest post.

    in response to the statement in your "delete it" argument: i would compare the online post to a customer coming into a store and raising a debate with the store manager. a few customers might overhear (the analogy for you would be a few readers above and below the post will see it) but the manager would still engage them in conversation and NOT just simply show them the door.

    if the person was coming in with a bull horn yelling stuff and wearing a billboard of some bloody dead animal then the manager would quickly show them the door. in the online world, i would consider this equivalent to either simply posting a bunch of graphic pro-animal links or perhaps to a repeat offender (repeat poster) spamming the page.

    there is certainly no clear-cut answer out there for this issue. there is "a line" somewhere, but for me personally that line was not quite crossed in this instance. my opinion would change if this type of post became more frequent though.

  16. You did the right thing leaving it up. Like a few other people have said, the only comments that should be removed are those that cross a legal line or are clearly defamatory and unrelated to your business.

    A critical step that hasn't been suggested so far is to draft a policy that specifies your commitment to being transparent, but also details exactly what sort of comments you will delete. Post this somewhere on your Facebook page so that there is no question why a comment gets removed (should that need arise).

    Secondly, draft a another social media policy for your internal reference. This one should go into more detail around the various types of comments (positive and negative) that you can reasonably foresee and a agreed method for responding to each type of comment.

  17. I think the essential question is: what is the purpose of the fan page, and further, what is the purpose of the company/product? It seems somewhat plain to me that the very term 'fan page' would lend itself to some form of selective membership or comment eligibility. Your objective is to earn money by providing a service. Whilst you would like to carry out the objective with the least amount of offence or confrontation, you are not a forum for controversial discussions, and if you tried to be you would not really do the issues justice anyway and consequently may have a negative impact. In order to be such a forum your priority would have change, and you would inevitably have to change the entire structure of the service you're providing, rather than primarily focus on the service your business currently provides. You are not silencing critics by deleting their posts, as there are many forums and outlets designed specifically for them to voice opinion and even fight for their beliefs. Furthermore, you are not empowering them by leaving their posts their. Your business page therefore does not need to divide its purposes and attempt to become a forum for controversial discussion. Not because you are afraid of losing sales, but because attempting to do these issues justice in such an environment would in fact still not do them justice. If someone walked into a store and made negative comments about certain products they wouldn't type out that customer's words and post it in their window, so why should you leave the comments?

  18. As a business decision I think you made the correct play. Leaving the comment up is unlikely to cost you any customers and leaving the comment visible along with your response seems unlikely to earn you new customers, so I think it's zero sum in that sense. Where it works for you is in potentially strengthening your relationship with existing customers through increased respect for you on account of your transparency, much in the way Google's 'don't be evil' motto provided them great mileage over the years.

  19. I have just posted on another blog of yours and, having signed up to your blog, came across this post.

    Firstly I commend you for attempting to be transparent, to care and for publicly having this discussion. I sense you are definitely coming from a great starting point. You are not, however, going as deep as you could go - allow me to shed some light.

    The issue you should be thinking about is not weather to leave negative comments up or not but weather you really are 'pro animal rights'.
    Selling leather shoes and not being vegan yourselves (as at least one of your staff has professed) out and out means you are not 'pro-animal rights'. That is trying to have your cake and eat it too. Yet you have a desire to be. The Question is, is that desire real or just a fabricated desire in order to please all potential customers, to cover all your bases, to be seen as that which you wish to be seen as - without actually being that which you wish to be seen as?

    Look deeper at what you are ACTUALLY, who you are TRULY and why it is that in this world a person who tries to save whales, goes home at night and eats steak (it is not necessary in order to maintain health), why a person tells themselves they are kind, caring and intelligent yet happily and joyously without thought consumes the flesh of another living creature - legal or not. That is hypocrisy. Integrity and caring, intelligence and compassion are bigger than law. Some laws allow people to eat dogs (disgusting to most westerners), and western laws allow the killing and eating of cows (sacrilege to other cultures). Are you people who are merely going to abide by laws, sway a little to please as many potential customers as you can by using the 'right' phrases or are you people who can rise bigger, be a leader of not just the shoe industry (I am guessing you would like that otherwise you would not be approaching business in the way you are), but also become leaders of humanity (which, for a vary rare and strange reason I feel that you, in your hearts, wish to be - if I did not feel that, trust me I would not waste my time writing this at 1am).

    Saying you are 'pro animal rights' is a very 'in' thing to do - Everyone in business wants to be politically correct, care for the environment etc, basically whatever will make money and make customers satisfied - but you cannot with any integrity and truth behind your words say you are pro-animal rights yet with your personal actions, behaviors and business promote the use of, adornment with and profit from the death and abuse of other living creatures.


  20. Are you going to rise and be leaders not just of your industry but of your species? Are you brave enough or do you still need to sit in a small place and say 'it is too hard to source alternative materials'? while advocating and inflicting pain, suffering and the ultimate abuse - death, on your fellow earthlings? Are you big enough to eat 2 minute noodles every day for a year (or whatever it takes) while you really do what needs to be done and find the people you need to find, or manufacture what needs to be made in order that you may stand tall and strong and proud, be leaders and not make excuses based on food-on-the-table arguments? Until you make the commitment within yourselves to struggle for integrity and greatness beyond the norm, without compromise, you will forever be a victim of circumstance - needing to sell leather and snake skin, telling yourselves and everyone else you care but never really acting upon that, eating animal products yet trying to convince the world you are caring, intelligent and successful. Are you big enough? Or do you need more time in the never-land of complacency and mediocrity. Supermarkets promote healthy LIVING, yet profit from DEATH. That is mediocrity, it is the norm.

    There are millions of people who will buy animal free shoes. Make them the best in the world - why compromise your integrity, your humanity, compassion and desire to be leaders of your species in a real and true way by diluting your integrity with a sales mix that is a mediocre hypocrisy? - that is not a dig by the way - I refer not to the style of your shoes when I say that, but to the materials they are made of :)

    Don't waste time discussing whether or not to leave 'negative' comments up on facebook - rather, invest time in discussing who and what you actually are, and whether you are content with continuing to operate as individuals and as a business with hypocrisy and complacent mediocrity always on your shoulder. If and when you decide to let go of H, C & M, you will no longer have to concern yourselves with what is the right thing to do, you will simply know it, the path of action will be clear and obvious. and anyone who leaves 'negative' comments you will stand securely and strongly in knowing that you are clear of any need to debate what to do, or weather you are pleasing the right people. It is not science, it is not spirituality, it is simple observable reality.

    Are you big enough to see clearly?



  21. Some more great comments here, thanks everyone.

    Aaron, I wanted to specifically talk to yours as clearly you're very passionate about animal welfare, and hats off to you for that.

    I think we start this discussion from very different places. For me, while I would describe myself as 'pro animal rights' that extends to how animals are treated, but not as far as wanting the human race to turn vegan, which I think it your stand point. While I think yours is a very commendable and compassionate view, it's not one I share.

    My take (and I responded similarly to your comment on our other post) is that as a race we evolved to be omnivores. While most of us now live in a position where we can go without eating meat, not starve and still have a balanced diet, I don't think there is a moral requirement that we switch to veganism. I think animals should be farmed, treated and killed with respect, and I try to avoid products where that isn't the case. While I have a lot of respect for vegans, it's not something I want to do myself, and because of this I don't strive to take a leadership position on it.

    The same goes for our shoes. We are actively pursuing a vegan shoe offering because we want to give people the choice to purchase vegan shoes if they want to, however we don't plan to switch to a vegan only offering. Unfortunately sourcing high quality vegan materials is not a simple task, they tend not to breathe properly and are more uncomfortable to wear and product quality isn't something we want to compromise on, so a vegan shoe offering is taking us longer to provide than we would like. Once we find good suppliers I'll be happy to share those with other shoe manufacturers should they also want to offer vegan shoes.

    That said, it's also been pointed out to me that vegan shoe materials are generally made from oil based products, and as we've seen with he BP oil spill, oil isn't exactly an animal friendly product either. I think the best approach to helping the environment and animals is to purchase less. And to that end I think our business encourages this. Our products are, for the most part, made to order so we don't end up with excess stock that we need to discount and sell to people who would otherwise not buy an extra pair of shoes. We also allow customers to order exactly the shoe they want, so they don't need to compromise and can order 1 pair of shoes to go with multiple outfits meaning they should be able to buy less shoes. And finally our shoes are handmade and well made so they last longer than most shoes on the market.

    While I accept your point of view and respect your passion for animal rights Aaron, I hope that helps to explain my point of view on the matter. I don't see my stance as being hypocritical, it's just not at the extreme end of the spectrum like yours (and I don't mean to use the word extreme in a negative light). Compared with your views mine may be more mainstream and in that sense mediocre, but I don't think they're immoral.

    This is an interesting discussion though so if you'd like to talk through the issues more feel free. I don't mind discussing on this blog post or via email -

  22. I've been on other review websites and I shared a negative experience about the businesses which can help the business improve. (My complaint was about how unprofessional the service was and how the employees could have handled things better). Well, the comment (which was squeaky clean and did not contain any obscenities) was removed from the review site. This business that I've complained about removed it, not once, but twice. I feel if the person who is writing the review complaining about poor service and how it can be improved in an appropriate way, then the comment should be left alone. If it does become obscene, then the comment should be removed.