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Facebook Fiasco – how to turn negative into positive

Posted on 7th November, by Tom Williams in Interviews. 17 Comments

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“Fiasco” is probably a bit harsh…but the truth is many colleges are afraid of a social media “Fiasco”.  You know how it goes…you do a quick cost / benefit analysis where you can’t quantify the benefits but the potential costs seem readily apparent.  Management’s decision is simple and easy – Stay Away from Social Media!

I recently interviewed Rachel Reuben, Director of Web Communications at SUNY New Paltz.  Rachel has recently gone through a challenging situation with the New Paltz Facebook page, where she had to make some tough decisions.  I wanted to share this case study with you in hopes of dispelling some of the fear of Social Media.  Here is how one university encountered a situation, dealt with it appropriately and came out ahead.

On Oct 26th, the following post appeared on the college Facebook Wall.  For those who are unfamiliar, the Wall is an open forum where anyone can post and anyone can respond.

I’ve called, I’ve e-mailed and I’ve visited just to get my one question answered about Communication Disorders. It was finally answered at the open house but I was again presented with the extremely smug attitude that I got on the phone and via e-mail. I love the area and would have loved to live there while attending school but after the terrible unfriendliness I’ve experienced I no longer want to attend your school. I am so disappointed that you would treat prospective students in such a way.

A posting such as this may be enough to send some admission offices into a tail spin.  The folks at SUNY New Paltz, however, kept their heads on straight.  They did NOT delete the posting, even though they had the power to.  Instead, they responded to it:

We’re genuinely sorry to hear about your experience, and quite surprised as well. The Office of Undergraduate Admission and the Welcome Center strive to provide excellent customer service to every prospective student and visitor we talk to, e-mail, and meet. It’s extremely rare we hear this kind of feedback, but do appreciate you taking the time to do so, and for visiting us yesterday.

This was a brilliant response.  They didn’t fire back, they apologized and in doing so, took the higher ground and defused the anger.  They also took the opportunity to point out that a bad experience is a rare event.  This genuine response to a negative comment actually builds credibility with readers.  They ended the post with a “thank you” – very well done New Paltz team.

However, just when they thought it was over, this post showed up from another person just 4 hours later:

I remember the smug, nastiness of the staff when I attended there. That doesn’t surprise me. However, the campus is beautiful, the atmosphere is inspiring, and the courses offered are intriguing.

At this point, Rachel and the team realized they needed to take a different approach – quickly.  The last thing you want is a huge dialog with a dissident.  That just provides more and more opportunity for negativity and increases the chances that you will “fight back”.

The tactic used  was “ignore and bury.”  First, the team wrote a lengthy informational wall post to push it down from the top of the wall.  They reached out to their student bloggers and asked them to “promote” their latest blog on the wall.  Out of luck, a random student posted a question to which the team provided a fast response.   In less than 24 hours, the negative comments had been pushed off the screen into the archived detail, virtually eliminating their visibility.

Here is a recap of how to deal with negative wall posts that we learned in this case study:


Respond appropriately to the person, apologize, discuss the matter honestly, say you will take action, thank them for their post.  If the negativity starts gaining momentum, quietly and tactfully bury the postings.


Retaliate, justify, minimize or scoff at the writer.  Most importantly, unless there is foul language or content that vioates your policies – DO NOT delete the posting as censoring breeds distrust.

It’s important to note that New Paltz has 670 Wall posts on their Facebook Page.  This is the first time they have encountered “in your face” negative comments.  This means that 99.7% of the time, the postings were positive.  0.3% of the time they were not.  I like those odds.

Has anyone else experienced a Facebook moment like this?  How about something similar on a blog comment or twitter?  Please share with us how you dealt with it!

Related posts:

  1. NACAC comes up short on Blog, but gets it right on Facebook

17 Responses to “Facebook Fiasco – how to turn negative into positive”

  1. EddieM says:

    Great post. I am going to keep this one in mind when we have a similar issue on our pages. I think that the answer was perfect, even if it was a bit “marketing speak” toward the end.

  2. Ann says:

    Our school was recently considering a name change and this was very unpopular with students and alumni. Some of them voiced their concern (read: anger) on our fanpage wall. I responded with the appropriate news stories for complete info/facts, and also provided the contact info for the appropriate channel. There were no more snarky comments, so hopefully that was effective.

  3. Tracy M. says:

    Great advice, and kudos to Suny New Paltz for not overreacting. I run the blog for UT’s business school, and thankfully my boss has been great at allowing open discussion, good and bad. We hosted an economic forum the day the bailout passed, and we received some snarky comments on our blog about it. But other readers pushed back and left intelligent answers, and the post is still getting comments, a month after the event.

  4. Jenny B says:

    What a great post. I join you on commending SUNY New Paltz on how they handled this situation. This is on the minds of many of our clients… great to have another example to share with them.

  5. Erin says:

    Great post! I often work with our automotive dealerships to monitor and protect their online reputation. Figuring out how to deal with negative reviews/posts is a fine line that requires responsiveness and transparency. While the feedback is always appreciated, some posters would rather smear a business then receive a call from the GM/CEO to assist with their customer service issues. Glad to know I’m not the only out there trying to figure this out!

  6. This is a great example of positive engagement. I am going to bookmark this example for clients who are afraid of negative posts.

  7. Toma Bonciu says:


    I this is a classical situation when if you respond to fire with fire nothing good comes out. I have to admit that while I was reading the article I was trying to anticipate the reactions. At the first answer it was easy but the second one tested their skills.

    Thank you

  8. Tom Williams says:

    @ Ann – Thank you so much for sharing! I can imagine something as personal as a school name change could really get the emotions going. Glad to see you approached the negativity in a similar fashion to SUNY New Paltz and were able to defuse and push it off the page. Nicely done.

  9. Tom Williams says:

    @ Toma – thank you for joining the conversation all the way from Romania! I RSS’d your blog this evening.

  10. Great article! Cool heads always prevail. This was one great example of how to do it right.
    The thing with anger and spite is that focusing on an attempt to damage your public face causes tunnel vision. Anonymous angry poster becomes almost blind to any strategy.
    If you have that cool head and don’t get lost in their game, you will always find ways to diffuse and deflect.

    Just my 2 cents.

    Apolinaras “Apollo” Sinkevicius

  11. Bradjward says:

    You missed the larger part of this situation: using another social media tool (twitter) for feedback on situation from other professionals.

  12. [...] Just Seen a Face:  Tom Williams presents Facebook Fiasco – how to turn negative into positive posted at InnoGage. Tom provides an Interesting case study about handling a Facebook disaster. Many [...]

  13. Tom Williams says:

    @Bradjward – I wanted to keep the post focused on a tough social media situation and how a school dealt with it appropriately. What you raise is a great topic for another blog post – “Tapping the social media sphere for feedback and assistance”. Hummm maybe I’ll write about that!

  14. [...] doing it right: I love this example of SUNY New Paltz and left it strategically under the noses of my previous employer’s management team. [...]

  15. [...] of the time they won’t.  Tom Williams of Innogage documented SUNY New Paltz’s “Facebook Fiasco” back in November, when they received negative wall posts and how they dealt with the [...]

  16. [...] doing it right: I love this example of SUNY New Paltz and left it strategically under the noses of my previous employer’s management team. [...]

  17. Jon Kidder says:

    Great post! Thank you this really helps!

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