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Today's Practice | Sep 2015

A Survival Guide for Negative Reviews on Social Media

Be sure to separate the trolls from the genuine critics.

“I would never, ever recommend anybody to go to this clinic. They are overpriced, and when a friend of mine had complications after surgery they couldn’t have cared less! They’re butchers! Don’t go there!”

It is likely that the above fabrication is your social media nightmare. Unfortunately, such messages may be more plausible and widespread now than ever before, given that social media provide all people the opportunity to spill their guts in public. This article outlines LEAP, a short procedure that can help you get through a situation such as this with limited damage.

For starters, keep calm—breathe in, and breathe out. Do not let your emotions get the better of you. If you sense that you are too emotional to respond properly, take a step back and sign out until you feel calm again. Before you react, you need to investigate the situation. Could the allegation be true? You need to find out whether this is a genuine critic or a troll.

At a Glance

• When faced with a negative review that leaves you too emotional to respond properly, take a step back and sign out until you feel calm again.
• Distinguish general critics from trolls: A patient is not a troll, and any comments from patients should be taken seriously, even when you feel the allegation is not completely factual.
• The quickest way to silence a troll is to ignore it and to round up some people who truly care about you and your business and ask them to write positive comments on your profile.
• Consider using the LEAP procedure when responding to critics.


A troll is someone who insults and criticizes people on social media or other Internet forums just for the fun of it, not with the intent of conducting a reasoned conversation or alerting people to a real problem. The intention of a troll is to cause disruption.

The first questions you need to answer are these: Do I know this person? Is he or she a patient? Check your files. A patient is definitely not a troll, and you should take any and all comments from patients seriously, even when you feel the allegation is not completely factual.

If you do not know the person and the name does not show up in your files, do online research. Check out what other people are saying about you, and see what you can find regarding the profile of your critic. If you can answer “yes” to all five of the following questions, you have a genuine troll on your hands:

Question No. 1. Is his or her criticism unfounded?

Question No. 2. Is he or she the only one expressing this criticism?

Question No. 3. Is the criticism expressed in a rude, unconstructive manner?

Question No. 4. Is he or she being repeatedly negative and rude?

Question No. 5. Is he or she rude to other people or companies?


When you have convinced yourself that you are dealing with a troll, you must never feed it by replying. Do not attempt to make conversation. A troll is not interested. It will use your good intentions to fuel another row. The quickest way to silence a troll is to ignore it.

The only thing you can do here is to round up some people who truly care about you and your business and ask them to write positive comments on your profile. Do not delete the negative remark, but rather put it where it belongs: in perspective.

If the troll will not rest and continues to write ugly comments, consider blocking the account. Social media platforms such as Facebook give you several options, including hiding comments without alerting the writer, blocking, and/or reporting the person.

The LEAP Procedure

• Listen
• Empathize
• Apologize
• Problem-Solve


If you are not convinced you are dealing with a troll, take a different approach. You need to communicate—big time. The best thing to do is to try to take your dealings out of the spotlight.

First, though, you should never delete a negative comment. This will upset your critic and encourage him or her to slander your image even more persistently. Your public profile must show that you take the comment seriously, but simultaneously you need to move the conversation away from your public profile. For example, you might reply, “I am very sorry to hear this. Could you send us your phone number in a private message so that we can call you and look for a solution together?”

Contacting a critic is never easy. In every clinic, some people are more suited to take on this task than others. It requires patience, diplomacy, and a lot of genuine empathy. Does anyone in your clinic have these qualities? If so, good. If not, you are in trouble. Consider these as must-have qualities the next time you are recruiting.

Have a plan in your head when you make a difficult call like this. At Finger Talks, we suggest using the LEAP procedure:

Listen. Take your time and listen. Tell the patient that you have read his or her remark on social media and that you are interested to hear the full story.

Empathize. While listening, try to see the patient’s point of view.

Apologize. When you have the full picture, and if the complaint clearly involved a mistake from your side, acknowledge and apologize. If you are convinced the issue was not because of your wrongdoing, but you can nonetheless relate to why the person is upset, apologize for his or her being upset, but also tell your side of the story. Be brief, kind, and polite about it.

Problem-solve. Finally, offer a solution. Ask if there is anything you can do to make the patient feel better. Ask what your critic would consider a good solution to the situation. At the end of the conversation, ask whether your critic is willing to revise the negative online comment. You can ask for this, but you cannot force it. In my own experience, people rarely refuse to take away their negative comments when you have made a good LEAP. Sometimes they have even replaced the negative comment with a positive note or recommendation.


None of us is perfect. We are all human and want to be heard. Good communication is essential for any business. Where, when, and how we communicate matters. Sometimes social media can be exquisite communication tools; sometimes you need to pick up the phone—a private medium—and let people know that you hear them. n

Geert Nijst
• Communication Strategist, Finger Talks
• Financial disclosure: None