Dealing with Negative Commentary on your YouTube Videos


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In 2013 Google forced users to sign up for and sign into their Google Plus accounts to leave comments on YouTube; a platform they had only recently acquired. Many have argued that this was in part to create more transparency and less anonymity around YouTube commentary, which Paul Tassi writing in Forbes describes as “some of the worst on the internet, full of memes and crudity and all around terribleness.” The more cynical amongst us concluded that it was probably just another way for Google to get more people to sign up to their ailing Google Plus platform.

Whether or not Google’s attempt to neuter some of the nastier elements of YouTube commentary has worked, you can rest assured that once you upload your video onto the web’s second biggest search engine, you are exposing it, and therefore yourself and your company, to all and sundry. Of course it’s more likely than not, that it won’t attract any negative commentary at all, but it’s always wise to be prepared. Below is my guide to help you navigate through the seas of vitriol that can so often be YouTube’s comments section.

Identifying the Nature of the Commenter

Identifying the nature of the comment, and indeed the commenter, is always the first thing you need to do. Despite their seemingly disproportionate presence on so many YouTube comments boards, it’s important to realise that most people aren’t trolls and most negative commentary isn’t trolling. In fact there are many shades to negative commentary; from the constructive and genuine to the downright vicious and threatening. Identifying where abouts your negative comments sits on this continuum is the first step towards effectively dealing with it.

Always avoid gut reactions. They will make you look unprofessional and hot-headed and only incite more negative commentary. As a rule, if the comment doesn’t warrant an answer then don’t lower yourself. If it is genuine criticism though, then there is every chance you could turn it to your advantage.

Repurposing Negative Commentary into Positive PR

In an article I wrote for Search Engine People, I explained three distinct tactics to joining the conversation, in order to deal with negative reviews and commentary and attempt to convert them into positive PR opportunities.

Understand your Audience

As we’ve already mentioned, understanding the commenter and the audience they’re attempting to address, is key to effective engagement. Cultural and social factors can come into play here as well. If you’re dealing with someone to whom English is clearly a second language, then whatever you do don’t correct them on their grammar as you’ll come out looking petit at best or xenophobic at worst. If the commenter has taken offence to the satirical nature of your video, or misread the subtext, then don’t rubbish their opinion. People can be sensitive and if they are it’s best to let them be. If you can’t do anything about their problem and you stand by your video then avoid engagement. More often than not, other commenters will voice their opinions when these kinds of views surface.


If the comment is a genuine complaint and one that you feel you can address, then start by apologising. This can often serve to disarm negative commenters and take the wind out of their sails. Even if you feel the complaint or comment is a bit unfair, unless it’s obviously designed to cause offence or wind you up, then say you’re sorry they feel that way, before saying anything else.

Address the Problem

Most importantly, you then need to address the problem. By offering to listen and then look into the problem you might not win over the commenter, but you could well convince a small percentage of people who see the exchange that you care about your customers, your brand and will bend over backwards to address people’s issues.

Comment Moderation

Unfortunately a lot of YouTube commentary is created with the sole purpose of being annoying, upsetting, controversial or even intimidating. And make no mistake, trolls revel in what they do and will not listen to reason and will not engage with you in reasonable debate. Their modus operandi is to wind you up, no matter what.

The best way to deal with trolls therefore, is to deny them the oxygen of attention and simply remove the platform upon which they can spout their self indulgent abuse. YouTube has its own comment moderation functionality, which allows you to do just this by removing comments, reporting spam and abuse or banning users from your channel. The usefulness of these options is only as effective as your ability to respond quickly to nuisance comments and once someone starts the ball rolling, it’s often not long before other trolls are attracted to the melee (trolls attract other trolls and they often hunt in packs).

A more powerful but indiscriminate tool in your YouTube armoury is the ability to set all comments for approval in the advanced settings. Whilst this might see off any potential troll problem, it will also see off any chance you have of legitimate free flowing commentary on your videos between genuine viewers and therefore the possibility that any interesting discussions on the comments section will attract more viewers to your brand.

In short, it’s better to try and live with trolls than cut off the rest of the world in your efforts to silence them. Paul Simon once sung ‘I am a rock, I am an island’. Your company’s YouTube channel should be a hive of activity and interesting and reactive commentary. It is not a rock, nor should it ever be an island.

Pick your Battles (or knowing when to give up)

I thought I’d end with an example of how negative commentary can go viral and
how to deal with it both calmly and professionally.

When founder and CEO of Social Media Examiner, Michael Stelzner, found himself at the centre of a whirlwind of mockery off the back of a somewhat cheesy social media themed jingle performed at a marketing event he was involved in organising, he decided to button down the hatches and ride out the storm. And it certainly turned out to be some storm. As a result of the negative commentary, more and more people began to pick up on the video and share it. It wasn’t long before the short and completely innocuous clip went viral, receiving 75k views on YouTube on the first day. Such is the nature of viral tipping points, it soon drifted onto the radars of national and even international news outlets like the Huffington Post, CNET and Mashable, as well as spawning the inevitable YouTube spoof video.

“Phil [Mershon] and I had a discussion as to whether to close off the comments, but I didn’t feel that was appropriate,” Stelzner explains. “To date, our video has been viewed nearly 500,000 times, with just over a 1,000 comments. At one point it ranked #15 worldwide. Someone has even made an acoustic version of it, which is quite good.”

They say that all publicity is good publicity but that’s easy to say when you’ve never had negative publicity on this scale. By ‘immobilizing his entire team’ Stelzner managed to ride out the storm and just let the fire burn itself out without becoming involved. The lesson to take from all this though is that by remaining calm, composed and not reacting aggressively (or even at all) to the vitriol and sarcasm levelled against them, Stelzner and all involved probably came off pretty well in terms of brand recognition.

It seems that whatever you do then, however niche or targeted at a specific industry or community your video is, sometimes find funny or amusing for all the wrong reasons and will let you know in no uncertain terms. With this in mind, I think it’s important that when it comes to negative commentary on YouTube we should all learn to pick our battles.

Joe Cox
Joe Cox is Head of Content for Bristol digital marketing and SEO agency, Bespoke Digital and has written extensively on SEO, social media, digital marketing and PR for the likes of Smart Insights, AdAge, Marketo, Social Media Today and Search Engine People.


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