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Public Consultation

Troll Control II: Dealing With Legitimate Critics



The lighter side of protests

Some people just want to be heard. Flickr image by sheiladeeisme

Last week, we looked at 5 tactics to help deal with trolls and other dissenting commenters. Of course not all dissenting commenters are trolls. Some are critics with legitimate issues.

In most consultations you will run into critics who have a legitimate issue or problem with your proposal and are looking to voice their concerns. Such commenters are trickier to deal with. Shut them down and the legitimacy of your whole consultation is thrown into question. Allow them free rein and your engagement efforts can be sidetracked.

So, when confronted by negative comments during online engagements, here are some basic steps you can take:


Be Prepared

Before engaging residents, make sure you are ready. Remember that residents are different from financiers, politicians or even the general public. As such they will have different questions and concerns. If residents do not feel that the information on the topic relates to them, they are more likely to get critical.

The material you present and post should not simply be recycled from previous presentations. It should be customized (or at least edited) for the forum at hand. Also, don’t try to hide or bury contentious issues. If you are transparent from the start, residents will be more likely to trust and engage civilly with you. They still may not agree with you, but they will be less likely to try and subvert the project.


Be Authentic

The only thing critics hate more than having their comments deleted is getting a rote, pre-prepared response. Try to respond to each concern individually on your page. At the very least, validate their comment and point them to additional resources that address their question. This may be time-consuming, but it will show that you are listening. This could ward of more robust attacks later on.


Employ Diplomacy First

Not everyone is going to offer unabashed support for your proposal. Forum members realize this. If they see nothing but positive comments, they’ll assume  you are censoring the bad comments. A negative post can even be a good thing, as long as it is addressed with understanding and respect. Often times a pointed question is simply a way of getting attention and testing your commitment to engage. If the concern is credible, consider asking the commenter how you can work together to address it.

But be sure to be sincere and truly prepared to work towards a solution. Empty commitments will only lead to further dissent down the road. Even if the concern is irrational, taking the time to talk with them may make them feel less hostile towards your proposal. They will be less likely to further disrupt the discussion. While you may ultimately agreed to disagree, by respecting their position and taking the time to respond, you will enhance your integrity with the community.


Keep the Conversation Relevant

It is important to keep the conversation on track. In most online forums, there are individuals looking to switch the discussion to their pet peeves. This could include your company, your industry, or even projects completed unrelated to yours. It is important to deal with such commenters quickly. While the tendency may be to ignore them, most of these type of critics are only looking for acknowledgement. Avoiding them will only encourage them.

An effective method is to respond to their comments in kind terms. First, offer to continue the discussion offline (if it is about your organization). You can then note the need to respect other participants time by keeping the thread on track. Other commenters will be grateful that the distraction is over.


If Critics Gain Traction, Respond Accordingly

PlaceSpeak provides a safe forum to genuinely engage with residents. But it won’t always restrict discussion to the platform. If expressions of concern grow beyond the engagement forum, so should your response.

Consider adding extra content to your topic page with a specific response to the concern. Creating a video from your CEO with an official response may be a good idea. Prepare a sharable rebuttals, not only for the forum, but for other online sites such as your website or Facebook page. Depending on the scale and importance of the concern, you may even want to prepare a media release or an editorial in a local paper.



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