It happens to all of us. We type up a long comment or reply that’s less than fair, and it all goes downhill fast.

Social media arguments, flame wars, Reddit witch hunts and other nonsense can waste time and tarnish any person or business.

There really is such a thing as bad press.

Fortunately, it’s easy to neutralize the potential damage of an inflammatory remark or incident online, as long as you stay mature and professional. Here are five important things to remember.


1. Be as Friendly and Factual as Possible

Often when replying to something, we can develop negative assumptions about the messenger. Remember the distance between you and your detractor/detractors. Maybe they meant to be helpful, and if they aren’t, respond as if they’re trying to be. For example, thank customers for honest feedback, and seek to resolve the issues they’re unhappy with. Never lie or make up stories or it will all blow up in your face, like with Amy’s Baking Company.

2. Be Prepared to Apologize

There is no shame in acknowledging that you offended someone. If you make any kind of risqué joke, chances are someone will respond harshly, or worse, post it to a community that will respond harshly together. No matter your intentions, someone might be having a bad day or just doesn’t like you or your company.

People like to contribute to interesting things, and a person being up front, honest, and apologetic is not interesting. This works well with especially inflammatory individuals, because it puts the spotlight on their hostility compared to your professionalism.

3. Just Walk Away

Sometimes the difference between smooth sailing and months of negative news articles about you is whether you should have walked away. Some people argue for years online over nothing. If you are in a serious situation that has gathered a lot of attention, try to spend less and less time each day bothering with the issue. Giving it your time is giving it more credibility.

4. Understand the Community Context

Reddit has its own system of communication and etiquette that can look pretty confusing and strange to outsiders. Every internet community is different, so remember that any intense reactions from certain ones might not be as big of a deal as you think.

Many communities have bad sides full of trolls, just looking to prompt a reaction. Some people troll out of malice, and others are like prank callers, but assuming that it’s all in good fun can turn things around very quickly.

5. Recognize Hot Buttons

Religion, politics, education, children, personal health, these are all things that people can invest a big portion of their personal image toward, and when you say something that contradicts that image, they perceive it as an attack. Someone could argue that a person looking for a master in taxation online is saving lots of time and money, while someone who identifies with the college scene could take offence. Both sides can recognize the benefits of either option and reach an understanding.

Have you gotten in a nasty argument online that threatened your reputation? Let us know how you handled it.