The rise of negative comments on brand-owned social media ads

September 29, 2020 · READ

Trolls who get a thrill from malicious behavior. Activists with a specific agenda. Customers with a reasonable complaint. It’s an unfortunate reality that just about every brand with a social media presence has been on the receiving end of negative comments. You may know this from firsthand experience, or perhaps you’ve hoped that people simply don’t read the comments. 

If so, we have bad news for you: they do read the comments and they affect how your brand is perceived.

In our recent consumer survey, we found that nearly three-quarters of respondents read the comments on the social media ads they come across in their news feeds. More than half say they’ve noticed an increase in derogatory, offensive, or hurtful comments in those ads, and more than half also say they’re less likely to make a brand purchase after they see negative comments about that brand online.

Brands can’t simply cross their fingers and hope for the best. With a proactive approach, there is an opportunity hidden within the negative comments that you shouldn’t ignore. It starts with understanding consumer expectations. 

The likely culprit for the rise in negative comments

People expect brands to state values explicitly and stand for them consistently. In the Kantar Consulting Purpose 2020 poll, 61% of Gen Z consumers claimed to “like brands that have a point-of-view and stand for something.” Where once brands used to play it safe so as not to offend anyone, today, they’re realizing they have to take a stand.

The way hundreds of brands take a stand on societal issues, particularly this year, has ushered in a new era of brand engagement. It’s a delicate balance to take a critical societal issue and connect it with your brand in a meaningful way. Consumers expect you to not only figure out that balance, but also to be accountable on smaller issues—down to every last criticism on your social media ads. This has likely contributed to the rise in negative and hurtful comments.

Consumers expect you’ll do the right thing… Fast

Among this rise in harmful content, social media engagement probably continues to be an important goal of yours. It’s a goal for your consumers, too. It’s not just on ads, either. It extends to brand-owned social media pages, as well.

Best practice is to respond quickly to negative comments if they are a legitimate complaint, but if it’s an instigator posting contrary to your own brand guidelines, it’s oftentimes appropriate to simply remove the harmful content. The challenge is in how quickly this is done.

Nearly two-thirds of people hold brands responsible for addressing inappropriate or negative comments made on their owned social media pages—and 63% expect brands to address them within an hour. 


There’s an expected immediacy to social media communication that has nothing to do with store hours or time zones, which is why more than half of people believe companies don’t do enough to combat negative comments made on their social media pages. In fact, 60% said how a company or brand responds to inappropriate or harmful comments on its social media pages affects their loyalty to them.

If you respond, consumers are forgiving

It’s not only important that you act fast, it’s also key to say the right thing. While not every critical comment targeted at your brand’s social media ads will escalate—in fact, most won’t—it’s important to note that, according to our Crisis Impact Report, one in three (37%) consumers are likely to unfollow a brand that handles an incident poorly, and one in four (25%) are likely to actively post something critical in response. 

Interestingly, consumers who claim to have made a purchase even after they saw complaints or negative comments were more likely to have shared negative comments themselves about a brand or organization on social media. In fact, 22% admit they’ve definitely shared negative information about a company and then later found out it was untrue. Perhaps this is why they’re inclined to give a brand a second chance. 

When it comes down to it, it’s how you respond to negative content that’s key. When done well, brand values are at the forefront without having to be explicitly conveyed, which garners the support of consumers along the way. Handle it poorly, and you risk losing social media followers and potentially customers, too.

Rise to the challenge of social media moderation

The challenge, of course, is how to deliver near-instant responses to negative comments on your social media ads. To respond well and within reason, you must have all the facts. That’s why it’s critical you’re able to identify the details of harmful content immediately—within minutes or even seconds. 

You must have a proper early-warning risk intelligence solution that combines the scale of artificial intelligence with the human intelligence context needed to assess digital chatter, respond appropriately, and remove any harmful content. With audiences increasingly demanding more social media engagement from brands, the ones that have a plan to act fast, armed with the right information, are primed to meet and exceed those expectations.

You can’t avoid negative comments on your social media ads. But, you can take a proactive approach to handling them well and, if you do, will convert skeptics into loyal fans.

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