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035 - How to deal with anti-vegan comments on your social media posts

Dealing with negative and anti-vegan comments. If you promote your business on social media, then at some point you will inevitably get someone writing an anti-vegan comment on one of your posts. The first time this happens to you it can be really distressing and your first reaction might be to go full-on vegan Rambo in response! You reply with links to studies, YouTube videos and before you know it there’s an absolute train wreck happening on your company’s social media page.

So in this session, we’re going to count to ten and look at better ways to deal with these kinds of comments. Because, most likely, your company has appeared uninvited in this person’s news feed meaning YOU might actually be the intruder here. So should you just delete these comments, or should you try to engage with them to bust some vegan myths and plant some seeds? And if so, how do you do it whilst keeping your inner keyboard warrior at bay?

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Episode transcript

Hello and welcome to episode thirty-five of The Vegan Business Tribe Podcast with myself David Pannell, co-founder of Vegan Business Tribe.  If you have a vegan business, or are thinking of starting one, then Vegan Business Tribe is here to support and inspire you not just to build a vegan business, but to build a SUCCESSFUL vegan business.

Now many podcasts start out with some adverts and promotions, but I’m going to start with an advert for ourselves because if you are trying to grow a vegan business at the moment then did you know you can also connect with an amazing community of other vegan business owners by becoming a member of Vegan Business Tribe for just £12.99 a month.  That’s the equivalent of buying a single cup of coffee a week from your local coffee shop.

And as a member, you get full access to all our regular content, our regular networking meet-ups and business clinics with myself and Lisa and access to our VBT community hub – where you can talk to and get support from other vegan business owners who are on the same mission as that you are.

And did I also mention that all members get full access to our vegan marketing course?  So if you just don’t know where to start with marketing a vegan business, this course will take you from knowing nothing to having a full marketing plan.

And whilst I’m in a promotional mood I also wanted to give a big shoutout to our two newest Vegan Business Tribe Patrons – now, we owe a lot to our patrons because these are our members who give a bit extra every month to help us on our mission of skilling up and championing the vegan business scene.  And these are Nick Mayhew who runs VFin and Peak Business Finance – so if you are looking to raise capital for a vegan business, maybe you need to buy equipment or need to take out a loan, then take a look at peakbusinessfinance.co.uk and know you will be dealing with a great ethical vegan just like you.  And our second new patron is Keith Lesser from Vegan Accountants – and if you need help with getting your accounts in order then Keith really is the man to talk to.  he’s always giving great advice to our members in our community hub and I always use Vegan Accountants as an example of just how far the vegan business scene has come – yes, we even have vegan accountants now.  Just take a look at veganaccountants.co.uk to book a chat with Keith.

And we’re always really grateful to our members and our patrons, because they are the people who mean we can keep recording this podcast every week and putting out all our content and just generally doing everything we can to support vegan business worldwide. Just go take a look at veganbusinesstribe.com for more content and information on how you can join our mission too.

OK – so one thing that’s been coming up recently in our business clinics is vegan businesses using social media to promote themselves.  And it’s a great fit for many of us – social is a great place to find customers who are on the same mission as you are.  But if you promote your business on social media, then at some point you will – inevitably – get that one wise guy or wise gal making anti-vegan comments on your posts.  We’ve all seen them, sometimes they are just single words like ‘bacon’ but other times they can be quite strong comments – sometimes even graphically so.  They might attack you personally, or your company, or even your customers.  They will post photos of slices of ham or of a cooked steak and it’s really surprising sometimes what people find acceptable to write on a social media post – a business social media post at that – when their name and profile picture is RIGHT there next to the comment they have just written!

And if you haven’t come up against this yet, then you are doing really well – although that might also be a sign that you are not getting yourself out there enough yet – but for most of us, whether we’re running social media adverts, or we’re building up an audience on Instagram or we’re running a Facebook group – if you are leading with a vegan message, at some point you are going to come up against the AVT – or the Anti Vegan Troll.

So, in this session, I want to really talk about this – because we get it a lot ourselves at Vegan Business Tribe.  We do a lot on social media, we run adverts, we share a lot of posts – and quite often myself and Lisa’s face might be on those posts.  And I can tell you, some people just don’t hold back!  We’ve been told we’ll be out of business in a month because veganism is a myth. We’ve had people telling us to enjoy our sprout soup because they will be tucking into a juicy steak that evening.  I’ve even been called a bald single hippy because my face happens to be on the cover of the podcast!  Bald, well – I’d prefer to say I have a shaved head but I’m going to struggle to argue with that one – single though, well Lisa is literally stood with me on our page’s profile picture.  And this is the thing, it is SO easy to take these comments personally.

And the FIRST time this happens to you, it can be really distressing. Especially if someone has commented on one of the posts from your business that the whole world can see. They might have made a personal attack, or they might have put a really long post quoting research or linked to very spurious studies to try and ‘prove’ you wrong.  And your first reaction might be to go full-on vegan Rambo on their comment, you come in with studies of your own, you link to videos on YouTube and before you know it there’s an absolute train-wreck happening on your company’s social media page.

And that’s what we’re going to talk about how to avoid.  There’s a time and a place to get into arguments, and your business page isn’t usually that place. Imagine if you had a real-world shop – would you get into a wrestling match just to prove someone wrong who had walked in and disagreed with you?  No, there are far better ways of handling the situation that don’t involve you losing your cool or smashing up your shop in the process.

Of course, you CAN just delete these comments – and sometimes that IS the best way to deal with them.  But if you know me, you know how much I like to see everything as an opportunity. And in many cases, someone making these comments on your social media posts can be just that.  It can be an opportunity to engage with someone who has misconceptions about what veganism is and who vegans are – as well as an opportunity to better connect with your own tribe.

But in order to get to that level of ‘zen’ when we can start to interact rationally with these kinds of posts, it’s first really important to understand why these comments happen.  Because you’re probably viewing the comment as someone coming onto your post and attacking your view of the world when in reality, the complete opposite is usually true.  It’s YOU who has likely come uninvited into their social media space with views that go against THEIR worldview – and in some cases might be in direct opposition to how they make a living and provide for their family.  And the reason this is probably the case all comes down to social media algorithms.  Let me explain.

If you run an advert for your business on Facebook for example, it lets you choose what audience you would like to show that post to.  So you might select ‘people who are interested in veganism’.  Because if you have a vegan product, or you sell a service to other vegans then that’s a really obvious place to start with your targeting.  You want all these lovely vegans to see what you are selling and rally around your mission and your cause with all that vegan love and goodwill!  However, how does Facebook know who’s interested in veganism?  Have you ticked the box on your profile to tell Facebook you’re a vegan?  No, of course you haven’t because there isn’t one.  Facebook believes that you are interested in veganism because you interact with posts about veganism.  You comment on them, you give a reaction.  Maybe you post a lot about veganism, because that’s what vegans do.  Well, do you know who else comments on lots of vegan posts and talks a lot about veganism on social, media? People who HATE vegans – that’s who. They select the ‘laughing’ reaction when one of their friends shares something about vegan eating – so Facebook thinks they must love that topic.  They write really long comments and have long, in-depth arguments on other adverts that are targetting vegans.  So Facebook thinks “this person always gets really involved with anything about the vegan topic, so if someone is trying to target people interested in veganism then I am DEFINATELY going to show this person that advert!”.  And it is one of the really ironic facts that the more someone gets angry and comments and argues on posts about veganism, the more posts about veganism that person sees in their newsfeed.  And before they know it they are surrounded 24 hours a day by these bloody vegans.

So, we need to understand that, to these people, we are entering their social media newsfeeds completely uninvited.  We might as well just walked into their house and put up a vegan poster in their living room and then not understood why they were shouting at us to get out.  So it’s important to realise how your post got in front of this person in the first place.  Is it someone who just set out to be disruptive – and you do see this.  People purposely join vegan Facebook groups just to post a photo of some meat because they think it’s funny, but for the vast majority – you, or rather the platform, have brought your company uninvited into their social media feed and their comment is a reaction to that.

Once you start from that point of view, then you can start to view negative comments in a different light and deal with them in a different way.  Let me ask you, before you went vegan yourself, what was YOUR opinion of vegans?  Did you think they were a great bunch of people and you wish you could be more like them or did you think they were a bunch of tree-hugging hippy snowflakes?  Because I can tell you – my view was that veganism was a fairly extreme view.  I thought it was an interesting idea, but I also thought that it wasn’t right to try and force your way of life onto other people.  I knew where my food came from.  I knew beef was a cow, I knew bacon was a pig.  And I knew that cows happily lived in fields eating grass all day and enjoying the sun because I saw them whenever I drove past my local farms. I also knew they enjoyed being milked because – gosh – those udders looked so heavy so imagine the relief when the kind farmer takes all this excess milk away.  And were your own views of veganism much different before something happened in your life to set you on your plant-based journey?  Did you think vegans were a bunch of preachy millennials trying to take away your Sunday lunch and mocha latte?  Do you now realise how wrong YOU were, not because you were a bad person, or because you were unethical but just because that is how vegan has been portrayed in the media and that’s the only information you had?  We have faced a lifetime of being told that we need dairy and meat in our diets to stay healthy – even by our national health service. Every supermarket has hidden the reality of what goes on in these industries and instead given us pictures of happy animals running around fields looked after by caring farmers.  And I bet that challenging those views yourself wasn’t easy.

And maybe you will say, well yes, but you would never go and post negative things on a company’s social media – but what if it felt like you were surrounded by it all the time?  And getting yourself into this frame of mind, that you might actually be having a conversation with yourself from five years ago, really helps when engaging people who are making anti-vegan comments. Because as I always say:  the heart of veganism is showing compassion to all species – and that includes your own.

OK – so now we’ve taken a few deep breaths and we’ve resisted the urge to go full-on keyboard warrior, what are the options of what you can actually do when this happens to you, when you get one of these negative comments.

Well, the first option is just to delete it. And if you are using Facebook mobile, then there is currently a really useful ‘delete comment and ban user’ function – and sometimes this is the best thing to do. If it’s abusive, swearing or threatening then a business post probably isn’t really the place to engage with that kind of stuff, so you might want to just get rid of it. And if you choose to delete any anti-vegan comment then no-one will judge you for that, sometimes you just don’t need the hassle. 

But, because we’re a vegan business, then if the person posting is at least keeping it clean, then to me this is an opportunity not just to engage and educate and bust some vegan myths, but also to prove your vegan credentials with your own tribe. Sometimes I’ve not seen a comment someone has made on one of our posts until the next day – and I’ve found that someone else has already done my job for me!  Another vegan has seen the comment and already engaged and maybe even said the things I’d actually liked to have said but as the business owner, it probably wasn’t right for me to say it!  And this is important – don’t let that one negative comment weigh too heavily.  As a vegan business, you will probably find that for every one negative comment, you will receive 10 positive ones from your customers about what you are doing, about your product and your mission.  So you need to keep that in perspective – and sometimes just letting a comment stay there for a while means that your own tribe rallies around you to take that comment on so you don’t have to.  If you do find that you are a bit of an ‘energy sponge’, then make a conscious choice to take on the energy from the positive comments and not the negative ones. As I said: remember that for many people, you’ve come uninvited into their social space so don’t take it personally if they push back against that.

But, if you’re up for the challenge and you decide you do actually want to reply to a comment and engage with the person who has made it, then there are a few things you can do to – hopefully – increase the possibility of making it a useful exchange.  And the first tip I will give is to engage these kinds of comments as a real person, not as a business.  You will be amazed what a difference putting your first name at the end of a response can make.  All of a sudden they realise they are not just raging at a blank space or a faceless business, but that their comment has been read by a real person.  And this is where it is really useful to have learnt a few of the tools of the vegan street activist.  If you have ever got involved with a Cube of Truth with your local Anonymous for The Voiceless group, they will have given you support and training of how to engage with people on the topic of veganism.  Myself and Lisa attended one of their workshops and the strategies we learnt there have been really useful in engaging with people who comment on our social media posts.  Because the main thing you are combatting when trying to engage someone about veganism is this person’s preconception that you are DIFFERENT to them.  Very few people are vegan from birth, but many people think vegans are a different species – and it’s your job to show them you are not. And the best way to do that is to agree with them.

Now, I know this sounds counter-intuitive – but if someone ever says to me they think veganism is extreme, the first thing I do is agree with them.  I say, I know – that’s EXACTLY what I thought.  If someone says that vegans shouldn’t push their views on other people, I happily chime in – I KNOW, that’s exactly what I used to say. As I said earlier – remember what your views of veganism were before you became vegan yourself.  Put yourself in their shoes.  Because if you can do that, you can show them there’s a path that leads from where they stand to where you are now.

So agree with their comment.  Tell them that’s exactly how you used to feel.  Tell them that if someone had told you a few years ago you would be vegan that you would have laughed at them.  There is nothing more disarming to someone making anti-vegan comments when they realise that, actually, the vegan they are talking to is someone who is just like them.  But then tell them what you learned that made you change your habits, and do it in the nicest possible and conversational way.

Because you are NOT trying to change this person’s mind in the comments section of your post – that’s just never going to happen – you are simply trying to plant a seed.  Think back to your own plant-based journey: you might say that you turned vegan because you watched a documentary but what caused you to go find that documentary in the first place?  At some point, the idea that being vegan is actually pretty normal and not extreme was planted in your mind – so be the encouraging vegan you wish you had met before you turned vegan yourself.

On one of our adverts for Vegan Business Tribe someone did indeed make the comment about how all vegans ate grass, so I replied saying that’s exactly what I thought before I went vegan – but here’s the photo of the vegan fish and chips I’ve just finished off and I never thought I’d be able to have food like this!  The person didn’t type a reply but ‘liked’ the photo as a response.  Person nudged ever so slightly, mission accomplished.

Also – don’t take someone’s comment necessarily as negative if they are challenging your vegan views.  Take a step back and work out if this person is actually looking for an answer to a question.  For example, in one of our Facebook posts we featured Fungtn Beer, which is a vegan real ale company, and someone commented about how vegan food is such a sham because how can beer not be vegan?  So again, I used my standard response of “Hi, David here, and thanks for engaging – because that’s EXACTLY what I used to think…” before explaining how I first found out beer can be filtered through fish bladders or use dairy to give it a thicker body and how gross that actually is.  In that exchange, the person actually thanked me for taking time out to answer the question “unlike other vegans” they had met.  If someone comments vegan food is a rip off because it’s so expensive, tell them that’s what you used to think and then explain what you eat.

You won’t win them all – you might not even win half.  For every person whose perception you manage to nudge, other people will come back with a picture of a leg of lamb or a long post telling you that you’re damaging your health with links to spurious studies.  And I do always want to thank these people for being so concerned about my health – and I want to ask if they also show such concern to their other friends who live on chips and Red Bull about if they are getting all the nutrients they need.  But I don’t.  Because you always have to remember, you are not just talking to this person in the street or at a barbeque – you are in the comments section of a post from your business.  And this isn’t the time or place to get involved in an argument.  In fact, I usually set myself a ‘one reply only’ rule.  I will reply to the original comment they make but don’t reply to any follow-on comments – unless they specifically ask for more information. It just avoids the exchange becoming an argument.

And you might think what’s the point in engaging at all?  Why not just delete the comments or ignore them – and as I said before, that is a genuine option.  Just delete the comment, ban the person and save yourself the hassle.  But remember that for every person who leaves a comment, probably another 20 people had the same thought but don’t leave a comment.  But those will read your answer.  Maybe they thought that cows just made milk, because that’s what cows do. I know it sounds stupid, but that’s what I thought before I went vegan.  I never realised that the only reason a cow is making milk is because that cow has just had a baby.  And the only reason I am having that milk on my cornflakes is because the baby has been taken out of the picture.  I really wish someone had pointed that out to me many many years ago.  Because then maybe I would have realised that veganism wasn’t anywhere near as extreme as the dairy industry.

And the important thing is that your fans and potential customers will see these answers too.  If they can see that the owner of the business understands veganism, if they are ethically vegan themselves and taking the time out to engage the people making anti-vegan comments instead of just deleting or ignoring them, then they will really connect with you and your company better.  I’ve written replies to anti-vegan comments on some of our Facebook adverts, put my name at the end, and the response has had 20 or 30 likes from other people who also saw the ad.

So, engaging people in your social media comments can be a good thing for your business.  And the same applies for people who send you messages with anti-vegan views too.  You can set yourself the same rules, agree with them, talk to them as a friend and then tell them how your opinion changed.  And again, don’t get dragged into an argument – it’s not the time or place.  And if you get sent a message that is obviously negative or abusive, then just delete it once you realise that’s the tone.  Just because someone spends a long time writing a message doesn’t mean you have to spend a long time reading it.

But you can also avoid getting these comments in the first place if you manage to keep your posts in front of your target audience better.  As I said at the start, the social media platform’s algorithms for who they think are vegan are not brilliant, and they pick up as many angry farmers as they do people on a plant-based journey.  So if you’re having problems with negative comments on your adverts then try different types of targetting.  If you are using something like Facebook Audiences, then try targetting people who like an obvious vegan page, so select people who like people who like and follow The Vegan Society for example.  You can also upload your own contacts list, so if you have built up a list of potential customer’s email addresses through your business that you have already established are vegan or interested in plant-based (for example, people who came to your stand at a vegan market) then upload that as your audience.  And if those people are on Facebook or Instagram using the same email address, then Facebook will show them your advert.  Or you can use a Facebook pixel on your website, meaning the platform will show your adverts just to the people who have already been to your website.  And if you don’t know how to do all these things, then let me introduce you to Google and YouTube.

But however you choose to handle these kinds of comments, don’t fall into the same ‘them and us’ trap that they have fallen in to.  I don’t like to say someone isn’t vegan, I like to say they are not vegan YET. They are real people too, who just haven’t yet made the same connection we have.  The person who commented that I was a bald, single hippy was actually really apologetic when I replied and they realised the person in the picture had read their comment. Remember, there is no such thing as ‘them and us’; there is only ‘us’.

OK, so let’s just go back over what we’ve covered in this session with a few takeaway bullet points of how to deal with people making anti-vegan comments on your social media.

  1. It can be distressing when you first start getting these comments, but take a deep breath, count to ten, and don’t take it personally. The last thing you want is a complete train wreck on your company’s social media page.  Keep your inner keyboard warrior at bay, there’s no need to go full-on vegan Rambo!
  2. Remember, you can just delete these comments.  And sometimes that’s the best way to deal with them.  You might not be in a place to engage with them right now, so if this is the case then just delete and block and avoid the hassle.
  3. However, these kinds of comments can also be an opportunity to engage with someone who has misconceptions about what veganism is and who vegans are – as well as an opportunity to better connect with your own tribe.
  4. If you do engage, then remember there’s a good chance that YOU are the intruder here.  You probably came into this person’s social media feed uninvited because the platform has wrongly assumed they are interested in veganism, and their comment might be a response to that.
  5. Before you respond to a comment, just take a moment to remember what your opinions were of vegans before you were vegan yourself.  How different is this person’s view from your own view a number of years ago?  Frame your response with that in mind.
  6. Don’t let negative comments weigh too heavily. Just remember all the amazing comments you get too and I am pretty sure that the positive ones far outnumber the negative ones. Don’t forget that.
  7. Be a person when you reply.  Add your name to the end so they know they are talking to a real person. Tell them you used to think exactly what they think and then tell them why you changed your view.  If they ask a question, even in a negative way, then give them the answer to that question, bust some vegan myths – don’t just attack the fact they have asked the question.
  8. You won’t win them all, but don’t try to either.  You are not looking to completely reverse someone’s opinion on veganism in the comments section on your company’s social media post. You are just looking to plant some seeds in the kindest most compassionate way.
  9. Your responses are not just addressed to the person who made the comment, they are also for all the other people who had the same opinion but didn’t comment. Your replies are also partially for your actual target audience too, to connect with them better and show that the company is run by ethical vegans just like them.

So, this is an interesting conversation to have.  Because you have to remember that you are in control of most of what happens on social media.  Most, if not all, of the platforms have very good controls for you to block, ban and delete comments and messages and sometimes that’s the best approach.  But I’m always asking what it means to have a vegan business.  Is it enough just to have a vegan product, or as a vegan company should you be trying to bring more people to veganism?  Should you be looking to engage people and educate them so that they can learn what you learnt?  Should your company set out to actually create more vegans, because if so – sometimes the comments section on your social media posts might not be a bad place to plant those seeds.

And that is it for another episode, thank you for keeping with me right to the end but don’t turn off just yet because I’ve got one last favour to ask you.  If you found this episode useful, or just the podcast in general, then I would really love if you could share it with other vegan business owners you know.  Post it in your WhatsApp group or share it on your OWN LinkedIn account – and maybe have a go at answering some of the comments from your non-vegan friends! Also, if your platform allows you – such as iTunes – then I would love it if you left a 5 star review, just to show other people that this is a podcast worth their time.

And finally, don’t forget – if you’re not signed up on the website yet then you can just sign-up for our weekly email and access to our free content by becoming a ‘fan’, or if you want to get full access to our community and to be able to chat with myself and Lisa about your vegan business then you can also join as a member for just £12.99 a month – and I can’t stress what a good investment that is, we’ve purposely kept it as low and as affordable as we can, like I said it’s the equivalent of buying a cup of coffee from your local coffee shop once a week.  Just go take a look at veganbusinesstribe.com and I really look forward to seeing you over there.

So, thank you for your time – I always hugely appreciate you listening, I know how busy your week is, and I will see you on the next one.

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