email inbox

How to Manage Negative Comments on Email + Social Media

This post was written with support from Sarah Dunlap and Tori Baskind.

Poltergeists, Trolls, and other Disturbances conspiring against your force for good. What to do about agitators, argues, and the misinformed on your email list and social media—and how to manage negative comments.


An email is finally approved and hits inboxes. A social post makes its way to Facebook. You read through responses to date, and there it is — the dreaded complaint. A pit in your stomach emerges. We’ve all been there. 

Some feedback can be constructive and reasonable, others not so much. But as marketers and fundraisers, we’ve grown accustomed to the few grievances that occasionally arise. We’ve developed thick skins. But how do we convince other stakeholders who don’t necessarily see that one unpleasant email or disagreeable post for what it often is simply a blip on the radar?

These are a few “disturbance profiles” we commonly see.


Here are just a few to be on the lookout for: 


Volume Averse Unsubscribes 

These folks have grown less and less engaged with your work over time, and they may be reaching out to say they’re seeing “too much email.” 

Increased user frustration may indicate this person has felt irked for a long time, unbeknownst to you. Before you completely rethink your email volume and outbound schedule, consider helping that constituent “manage their preferences” so that they can receive a streamlined, reduced overall email messaging cadence. Also consider the number of unsubscribes you typically see in a given month. If this person hadn’t personally reached out to leave the file, would you be concerned? This particular subscriber may not have understood how to opt out of your communications. So determine ways to reduce friction throughout the unsubscribe process moving forward and create a user-friendly experience to lessen the number of emails you receive on this topic. 

Be sure to benchmark your unsubscribe rates against annual industry averages to gauge your progress! And remember: If they don’t want to be on your email list, you don’t want them there, either. 


Strident Opponents of your Work

If your mission focuses on reproductive rights, climate action, racial equality, or other high-octane points of national conversation, you’ll become acquainted with antagonists across your channels. These subscribers are bound to negatively react to your emails, social posts, and the like. In fact, they likely signed up to receive your content with that very purpose in mind. Our advice: It’s okay to acknowledge negative responses and establish a constructive dialogue when appropriate. It’s also okay simply to unsubscribe, delete, or ignore constituents who show constant acrimony toward your work. You have a job to do! 


Fundraising Fatigue 

It’s a common grievance, especially during high-volume fundraising campaigns: “Stop asking me for money!” Often, fundraisers are wary of alienating their overall donor-base. For this reason, feedback like this can feel frightening. Our findings? The majority of responses we receive on this topic come directly from prospects, those who have yet to make their first gift to your organization. We must also keep in mind the total volume of feedback like this when compared to the bigger picture. 3 disinterested responses out of a file of 20,000 subscribers are less than 0.02% of complaints. The returns you’ll see on the fundraising appeal in question— think revenue, new donors, etc. — should outweigh the negatives from the few critiques received.

How to Handle Negative Comments


Engage the agitators! (bandwidth — and patience — permitting), especially where others can see. The facts are on your side! Use ‘em!

Your social post conveys the facts, and someone is spreading misinformation by questioning its accuracy or asserting the opposite. Although there may be a tendency to ignore an argumentative comment to stay above the fray, this moment could be an opportunity to showcase your position as a thought leader, armed with facts about your mission. This conversation should never become combative. Remember to stay classy, and be polite, compassionate, and professional when these situations arise.  If the debate should garner attention, ensure you’re representing the values of your organization. 


Suppress arguers from your email file, and focus on those who do care about your work.

Yes, unsubscribe rates and the number of complaints you receive are something to consider when evaluating a campaign, but they are just two KPIs that should be considered when determining campaign success. Don’t forget open rate, click-through rate, conversion rate, and, most importantly, response rate when considering performance.


Develop canned response/talking points

Ensure people maintain positive associations with your organization by considering, and responding to, reasonable complaints and feedback. People want to feel heard, and a simple, short, and candid response can go a long way in repairing a strained relationship with one of your subscribers. 

These responses don’t necessarily need to be custom-tailored every single time. Developing a list of common responses is not only a great preparedness exercise in the long-term, but also will save you time and energy when questions and feedback arise.


Don’t worry too much: Keep the focus on the positive! 

Every organization that talks publicly about their work has trolls. They simply come with the territory. Don’t let them upend your strategy! Show tried and true examples of impact across your channels with an eye on your followers and subscribers who care. The majority of those opted into your channels want to see what you do and how their commitment is making a difference. Strident opponents of your efforts won’t have a leg to stand on when responding to content like this. Tangible examples of impact are difficult to dispute.  Plus — more importantly — this content cultivates the constituents you should care about: Those who want to contribute to your mission, not tear it down. 

So don’t let the trolls, poltergeists, and other disturbances conspire against your force for good! Deal with them, or choose not to: but whatever you do, don’t let them shape your strategy. Because you have important work to do — and on behalf of the world, let us at Media Cause be the first to say thanks. 


Looking for more digital marketing advice? Check out our resource hub.



Related Posts